On Sunday, Dec. 27, Bettie Jones, 55, was scheduled to be baptized at New Mt. Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church in West Garfield Park, the same church where her 19-year-old daughter LaTonya had recently been baptized.
But instead of celebrating a baptism, the daughter spent much of Sunday in mourning. She had lost the woman she said was “my heart” and “my everything.”
The day before, on Dec. 26, Jones, a mother of five children, was shot to death after answering the door for Chicago police, who had been called to the apartment by Jones’s landlord and upstairs neighbor. The landlord’s son, 19-year-old Quintonio LeGrier, was carrying a baseball bat and threatening his father, according to police dispatch.
LeGrier — who had graduated last year from Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy with at least a 3.0 GPA, the school’s website shows — had been living with his father while home on break from Northern Illinois University, where he was an engineering student.
Antonio LeGrier told the Chicago Sun-Times that his son, who had spent most of his youth in foster care, was a “whiz kid” who had nonetheless been dealing with some emotional problems. The teenager had been admitted to a hospital this past Thanksgiving and prescribed medication to cope with some of those psychological struggles, his father said.
His mother, Janet Cooksey, told the Sun-Times that her son “could become ‘hyper’ and ‘a little loud’ at times,” but that those tendencies didn’t warrant officer’s bullets.
“When is this going to stop?” Cooksey said. “My son wasn’t a thug on the street or a violent person.”
According to the preliminary statement released by the Chicago Police Department, at approximately 4:25 a.m., officers from the 11th District responded to a “domestic disturbance” on the 4700 block of West Erie. When they arrived, the statement notes, they were “confronted by a combative subject resulting in the discharge of the officer’s weapon, fatally wounding two individuals.”
There were no witnesses to the shooting besides officers on the scene, but police haven’t disclosed any further details — not even the identities of the officers involved. In a statement released on Dec. 27, the department called Jones’s death “an accident” and offered an apology.
Larry Merritt, a spokesman for the Independent Police Review Authority, said the entity has launched an investigation into the murders.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who was on vacation in Cuba at the time of the shooting, called Jones’s family to apologize and in a statement noted that each time an officer “uses force the public deserves answers, and regardless of the circumstances, we all grieve anytime there is a loss of life in our city.”
Family members of the victims who were inside the building when the shooting happened told DNAinfo that Jones was asleep when she received a call from her landlord to open the door for the police. She had answered the door in her nightgown, they said.
Some family members believe police may have shot Jones through the door — they directed media to a small hole in the front door — before also fatally wounding LeGrier.
Autopsy results from Dec. 27 revealed that Jones died from a bullet wound to the chest, while LeGrier died from several gunshot wounds. Both of the deaths were ruled homicides by the Cook County medical examiner’s office.
Larry Rogers, Sr., an attorney representing Jones’s family, was as a baffled by Jones’s death as many of her loved ones and neighbors.
“It’s such an unusual occurrence that an innocent person, who merely answered the doorbell, gets shot and killed the way she was,” he said, adding that he believes Jones may have been shot three times.
Rogers also said that a bullet went “through the house” and into the bathroom of Jones’s first floor apartment, where one of her daughters was at the time. The bullet, he said, could’ve struck her.
“I know there were multiple officers present and we don’t know how many fired,” he said during a Dec. 27 vigil held outside of the apartment building. “We know at least one [officer], and possibly others, [fired bullets] because there were multiple shots fired.”
When asked what kind of confrontation might have provoked the officers’ response, Rogers said he didn’t know.
“I don’t know that there was any confrontation between Quintonio and the police,” he said. “I don’t know that there was any confrontation … before they fired upon him.”
LeGrier’s father told the Sun-Times that he knew the officer who shot his son understood he had made a mistake.
“F—, no, no, no,” LeGrier recalled the officer yelling. “I thought he was lunging at me with the [baseball] bat.'”
During Sunday’s vigil, Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), said the shooting was a “travesty” and “unimaginable.” He said he’d met Jones once while helping her with a building problem she was facing.
“She was a community member and a decent person,” he said, adding that the police department’s attitude has to be held accountable.
“Both the police and the city has to work to change that attitude. Bats don’t equate to bullets,” he said.
Many of the more that 100 people at the vigil also called for widespread reform of CPD’s “shoot first, ask questions later,” attitude. They also noted that the shootings only reinforced the general sense shared among residents of the West and South Sides that the police aren’t to be trusted.
Rev. Ira Acree, pastor of the Greater St. John Bible Church in Austin, said nothing has changed since the Laquan McDonald murder.
“Trigger happy cops are still engaged in senseless murder,” he said. “We don’t trust IPRA. We don’t trust Mayor Emanuel’s hand-picked blue ribbon police accountability board … We don’t trust Mayor Emanuel.”
“They murdered my momma for nothing!” LaTonya Jones yelled from her porch, just feet away from where her mother had drawn her last breaths. “She didn’t do nothing! All she did was open the door and they shot her!”
“It’s unconscionable to many of us how this could have happened given the level of scrutiny on the police department,” said Rev. Marshall Hatch, New Mt. Pilgrim’s pastor. “Given the Department of Justice is in town, how could such a reckless act have happened.”
Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (1st) said that all police officers should be required to wear Tasers and should have to undergo more training in crisis intervention and in dealing with the mentally challenged.
Jones’s family members stated that, as their mother lay dying, the police kept them from her body and handled the mourning relatives disrespectfully.
“One of the daughters asked the police, ‘Why did you shoot my mother?’ The officer said, ‘Your mother’s dead, get over it,'” said Rogers.
Jones’s seven-year-old granddaughter Saniya Marzette, who wasn’t present at the scene of the shooting, recounted what her grieving relatives were told by police.
“They said, ‘Knock it off, yo momma dead!'” Marzette said through sobs.
“When she opened the door, they opened fire on her,” said Theresa Marzette, Saniya’s mother, who also wasn’t present at the scene, but arrived at the house shortly after the shooting happened. “They didn’t ask her any questions. She said, ‘Whoa, whoa, wait a minute.’ The police are worse than the gangs outside. You can’t trust them. You can’t even open the door for them.”
Antiviolence advocate Tio Hardmian, a friend of the Jones family, spoke against CPD’s culture of disrespect toward blacks.
“You have some trigger happy police officers who said, ‘The hell with the national investigation.’ You have a disrespectful culture of police. There are some good police, but a number of them are just disrespectful and have no regard for the black community. They wouldn’t act this way in the Caucasian community. They have no morals or scruples about [killing blacks]. The mindset is shoot first, ask questions later.”
Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Board, who sits on the Illinois Law Enforcement Training Board, pledged to work with the board “to come up with new ways of training law enforcement” throughout the state.
“I asked the board at the last meeting to make a change in the way we’re training our police officers,” she said. “We have some good police officers, but we also have a [a lot of room for improvement].”
Adeline Bracy, a spokesperson for the social justice group Action Now, of which Jones was a member, said the police “have been killing people systematically in all 50 states.”
“They go to the police academy, where they’re trained by some idiots, because they don’t have sensitivity, they kill people and go to State’s Attorneys like Alvarez and they get off,” Bracy said angrily.
Bracy said her group is going to start a massive voter registration drive to vote Emanuel and Alvarez out of office. Hardiman said he’s launching his own operation to pressure some of Emanuel’s largest political donors, such as billionaire hedge fund manager Kenneth C. Griffin.
Meanwhile, Rogers, the Jones family attorney, said there are still a lot of questions that need to be answered by the police department.
“We’re trying to find out who the officers were who did the shooting, where they were positioned, when they did the shooting, where [Jones’s] position was when she was shot — all those are questions we’re looking into.”