A man whose shooting by University of Chicago police nearly two years ago sparked anger at the South Side campus has sued the university and an officer he says pulled the trigger.
Charles Soji Thomas, who faces criminal charges in connection with the incident, filed his lawsuit last week against the University of Chicago, the University of Chicago Police Department and Officer Nicholas Twardak. The complaint, filed in Cook County Circuit Court by attorney Steve Greenberg, alleges misconduct and negligence, among other claims.
It also alleges that, before he opened fire, Twardak said, “We have a mental.” Thomas seemed to be having a mental health episode. Though about 200 people showed up for a demonstration days after the April 3, 2018, shooting, experts have said the officer showed “great restraint” before ultimately pulling the trigger.
Thomas was charged with aggravated assault of a police officer and criminal damage to property for allegedly smashing the windows of two cars and two homes before his encounter with the police. At the time of the shooting, Thomas was a senior at the University of Chicago, according to the complaint.
In a statement responding to the lawsuit, the University of Chicago wrote that its community’s “thoughts remain with all of the individuals involved and their families. The Chicago Police Department reviewed the incident as part of the investigation that led the state’s attorney’s office to proceed with its prosecution, and the university performed a thorough review as well. Both reviews found that the UCPD officer’s actions were consistent with applicable law.”
“Supporting the safety and well-being of those on campus and within UCPD’s extended patrol area is of paramount importance for all members of the UCPD,” the statement continued. “All UCPD officers are required to receive 40 hours of Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) in addition to regular professional training and development programs. This commitment to CIT for 100 percent of officers is unusual for police departments nationwide. The university will continue to work with its community stakeholders to develop appropriate strategies to address this important topic.”
The incident began with reports of a burglary in the Hyde Park neighborhood, where university police were called at 10:12 p.m. to the alley between South Kimbark and South Woodlawn near 53rd Street.
Three officers discovered a young man holding a long metal pipe, breaking car and apartment windows, according to a university official.
Bodycam footage appeared to show the person repeatedly yelling “f— you” before charging at an officer with the pipe.
“Sir, I’m going to need you to drop that weapon. Drop that weapon,” the officer yelled as he walked backward for nearly 50 seconds. “Don’t come at me! Don’t come at me!”
When the man was within a few yards, the officer fired one shot, which university officials later said struck the man in the shoulder.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday, alleges Twardak “was aware that (Thomas) was having a mental health breakdown or mental health issues.” It also alleges Thomas “did not pose a danger or threat of harm” to Twardak or anyone else immediately before he was shot.
It also alleges that “other individuals have suffered injuries at the hands of other officers” working for the University of Chicago or its police department “as a result of the improper use of force and deadly force, including with respect to those who suffer from mental health issues.”
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