After being shot 25 times by Chicago police officers two years ago and surviving, Howard Morgan went on trial last week. On Monday, April 23, selection of a jury was completed and the trial is being heard at 26th & California in Judge Clayton Crane’s courtroom #201. There are six blacks on the jury.
On Monday, April 30, Austin Weekly News attended the all-day proceedings. On this day, two of the four officers involved in the shooting, Nick Olsen and Eric White, testified. A previously missing witness, Cherise Rush, was also in the courtroom, though she was dismissed until the following week.
The prosecutors had each officer explain their current positions on the force and their duties the night of the shooting (Feb. 21, 2005). Both officers had only been on the force two years when the shooting occurred. First to testify was Nick Olsen who also was shot in the arm the night of the incident. Both Olsen and White were assigned to the Target Response Division, which specializes in targeting violent crimes in high-crime areas of the city.
Responding to the prosecutor’s question as to what drew his attention that night, Olsen stated he and his partner (White) observed a squad car following behind a van while they were in a marked squad car in the alley at 15th Street. They went to assist the squad on 19th and Lawndale. Officer Olsen stated he got out of the squad car and pulled his weapon. He alleges the offender (Howard Morgan) was pushing away the hands of an officer named Finley from the other squad car. While the four officers were attempting to arrest Morgan, somehow Olsen was shot in the arm. Olsen said many officers were involved in tussling with Morgan.
The prosecutor held up the sweater and shirt of Olsen, showing the bullet holes. After being treated at Mt. Sinai Hospital, the officer was released and returned to the station for “roundtable” explanation of the incident.
Morgan is being represented by attorney Sam Adams Jr., Sam Adams Sr., and former judge Leo Holt. During cross-examination by Sam Adams Jr., the officer explained why he signed a report that stated he was signing under duress and not voluntarily. First he stated he had been advised by Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) that if he didn’t, he could lose his job. Then after questioning by Adams, he stated it was suggested by his superior officers. Olsen said that once Morgan started shooting at them, he was on the ground facing north. He told Adams he tried to run for cover heading north, the same direction of the alleged gunfire.
When Adams suggested to Olsen that he might have been shot by “friendly fire” from his fellow officers, he denied it, although he also stated he did not actually see Morgan shoot him.
During the afternoon session, Olsen’s partner, Eric White, testified. Like Olsen, he was assigned to the Target Response Division and both officers had been on the force for two years at the time of the Morgan shooting.
White explained that as he and his partner (Olsen) got out of the car at 19th and Lawndale, they could see the driver of the van (Morgan) in a conversation with two other officers but could not hear the words. However, “he seemed agitated,” White said.
He explained that one officer told Morgan to put his hands on the van, which he did. Then he alleges the defendant started moving his arms, and he went to assist Officer Finley. Morgan and Finley fell on the ground, he said, and “we were all giving multi-commands to stop resisting. Finley said, ‘He’s saying he is an officer.’ I was afraid he had a gun.” White said he hit Morgan with a closed fist to the back of his head, but that didn’t stop him. He had a gun pointed at Officer Ridley, and I said, ‘Gun, gun!’ I drew my pistol and I heard a shot. I shot directly into the defendant’s back, but that didn’t stop him,” stated White. “The other officers that were on top of him all scattered. The defendant started shooting at Ridley. [Morgan] was on the ground. He got back up on his feet. He was in between two cars. I could not tell if he would keep on shooting.”
White added, “I thought my partner was going to die. I drove him to the hospital. I was met by several officers. I had a wound to my leg.”
During cross examination, Adams Jr. wanted to know if Officer White reported hearing gunshots. White said “No.” The attorney also tried to get a clearer understanding of how White and fellow officers were trying to reason with Morgan. White recalled, “I said give me your hands. We’ll try to work it out.” Adams Jr. also brought up the fact that White shot through a building on Lawndale. White said he felt badly about that.
It was also brought out during Adams’ questioning that high-ranking police officials came to the scene on the night of the shooting. Supt. Phil Cline as well as Fraternal Order of Police President Mark Donahue were present when White went back for a walk-through that night.