A Chicago police officer will not face criminal charges for fatally shooting an unarmed man. Cook County prosecutors said Tuesday that an extensive review showed the officer reasonably mistook a cell phone for a gun pointed at him on a darkened street.
Officer Gildardo Sierra killed Flint Farmer, 29, after firing a total of 16 shots in June 2011. The shooting was the third, and second fatal shooting, in six months by Sierra. The incident was caught on video and has raised questions whether or not the shooting was justified.
Farmer’s death prompted police Superintendent Gary McCarthy to tell the Chicago Tribune the shooting was a “big problem” and that the department made a mistake in allowing Sierra back on the job after the first two shootings.
But county prosecutors said their two-year investigation of the third shooting showed Sierra had reason to believe that Farmer was armed and dangerous. Of the 16 shots fired, Sierra hit Farmer seven times, including three in the back when Farmer was already on the ground shot. Prosecutors said they did not think they could prove that shooting was unreasonable, which is a key component of proving the incident was a crime.
“Although Officer Sierra was mistaken in his belief that Flint Farmer had a gun, not every mistake demands the action of the criminal justice system, even when the results are tragic,” State Attorney Anita Alvarez said Tuesday in a letter to McCarthy.
Farmer’s father, Emmet, cried when told about the decision.
“That’s just horrible,” he told the Tribune. “I’ve seen the video. My son is lying on the ground and Sierra fires three bullets into his back. You can’t tell me its self-defense. I don’t care how quickly the whole thing happened. You can’t shoot a man in the back and call it self-defense. My son didn’t even have a gun.
The city of Chicago paid Farmer’s family $4.1 million in damages in December 2012.
The shooting occurred on June 7, 2011 when Sierra and another officer responded to a domestic disturbance call allegedly involving Farmer and his girlfriend. When they arrived, Farmer fled the scene, but was followed by Sierra. Farmer pointed his cell phone at Sierra, who shot all 16 rounds from his handgun.
Prior to the third shooting, Sierra wounded another man in a shooting in March 2011 and killed another, Darius Pinex, 27, in January 2011.
Sierra is now on desk duty, according to WGN-TV. He could still face administrative discipline when the Police Review Authority finishes its investigation.
Sources: Chicago Tribune, WGN-TV