RANTOUL, Ill. (WCIA) — The Rantoul Police Department released body camera footage on Thursday, as well as officer reports regarding an officer-involved shooting that left Azaan Lee, 21, dead earlier this month.
That footage is showing us Lee’s final moments and lets us hear his final words.
“We recognize that it’s a tragedy for the community and it’s going to take time for the community to heal,” Tony Brown, Rantoul’s Police Chief, said.
He feels it’s important for the community to see it to maintain trust with the department.
Brown said his department wants to be as transparent as possible and show the community what happened that night.
On Wednesday, Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Reitz said that the officers’ actions were “legally justifiable.”
Now, the body camera footage gives us a closer look into what happened on Feb. 6.
It was a routine line of questioning that night. Officers had no idea that moments later, a gun would discharge, resulting in Lee’s death.
Brown said it’s a tragedy for the community.
Rantoul officers questioned Lee when investigating a stolen vehicle. Officer Jose Aceves engaged with Lee a few blocks away from that investigation, not knowing that other officers were with him minutes before at the first scene.
Officer Rikki McComas joined Aceves and recognized Lee from before.
She asked him if he had keys, and saw something heavy in his sweatshirt pocket.
“What’s in your front sweatshirt pocket?” you can hear McComas say in the footage.
That’s when Aceves got involved. You can see him pat Lee down on the body camera video.
“You got anything? Don’t hide anything. Pull out what you’ve got. What do you have here?” you can hear McComas say.
That’s when he realized Lee had a gun and things escalated. Lee’s gun went off and hit him in the leg.
Officials said the investigation by the Illinois State Police-led Champaign County Multi-Jurisdictional Investigative Team (MJIT) determined that Lee was shot once by his own gun during a struggle with police officers for that gun. Aceves fired three shots from his own weapon as Lee ran away, but none of the three hit Lee.
Lee was eventually located in a backyard with a gunshot wound to the inner thigh. He was subsequently taken to Carle Hospital in Urbana where he was pronounced dead.
The coroner determined that the bullet fired from Lee’s gun perforated his femoral artery, resulting in his death.
“We have a young man who lost his life. We have a family who’s mourning, and parents,” Brown added.
He said in his five years at the department, they’ve never had an officer-involved shooting.
“Even when their use of force is legally justified, no officer ever wants something like this to happen on one of their calls,” he said.
As a convicted felon, it was illegal for Lee to have a gun. It’s a trend Brown sees growing.
“30 years ago, 20 years ago, it was rare to find someone on a traffic stop or when you get out with someone with a weapon,” Brown said.
But today it’s different.
“Unfortunately, when you’re seeing where we’re encountering so many more handguns either on traffic stops or when we’re dealing with people, it just increases the risk of this type of tragedy happening again,” he said.
Officials said that they released the footage and reports in the interest of transparency, making redactions only for personal or private information. The videos and records are otherwise published online in their entirety.
“Transparency and accountability are among our core values,” said Rantoul Police Chief Anthony Brown. “We know that our community still has questions about this incident. We hope that by making these records available, it will start to provide some additional answers.”
Officer Aceves and Officer McComas are both on paid administrative leave pending an internal investigation by Rantoul Police. They will be investigating whether the officers’ actions were consistent with department training and policy.
Brown said during their leave, they’re required to go to at least one counseling session for their mental health.
Officials said Rantoul Police waited for the conclusion of the MJIT investigation before starting their own in order to avoid interfering with the independent investigators.
Rantoul Police officials added that they continue to be grateful for the community’s patience while the investigation was carried out.
“Even when officers’ actions are within the legal boundaries of their authority, we know there is still healing that needs to take place,” Brown said. “The officers and staff of the Rantoul Police Department are committed to professionalism and community, and we will take an active role in answering questions and responding to the needs of our community as we continue forward.”