Was Paul O’Neal Shot in the Back by Chicago Police? Was It Ruled a Homicide?

Paul O'Neal, Chicago police.

Paul O’Neal graduation picture from Chicago Excel Academy. Photo provided by Zhivago Short.

Community outrage is growing in Chicago after Chicago police shot 18-year-old Paul O’Neal in the back after he fled a traffic stop.

The Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office has determined that O’Neal was shot in the back, according to The Chicago Sun-Times and CBS’ Chicago affiliate.

Police say O’Neal was “unarmed,” according to ABC 7.

On July 30, Chicago’s police chief suspended the police powers of a third officer involved in the shooting. The day before, on Friday, the chief had only suspended the police powers of two of the three officers.

Paul O'Neal

Paul O’Neal in a poster on his cousin, Zhivago Short’s Facebook page. (Facebook/Zhivago Short)

Chicago’s Independent Police Review Authority released body cam and squad car videos relating to the police shooting, although the actual shooting was not captured on camera, said The Chicago Tribune. The IPRA head called the videos shocking and disturbing, The Tribune said.

The videos show officers using expletives after O’Neal was shot among other graphic details. Watch the videos here:

Tensions have risen to the degree that a fight broke out at a vigil for Paul O’Neal. Watch:

The shooting is still under investigation, but here are the preliminary answers to some key questions that have emerged, according to news media accounts:


Was O’Neal shot in the back?

Yes, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner, said The Sun-Times and CBS local, Chicago. Wrote the CBS affiliate: “An 18-year-old man fatally shot by Chicago Police officers Thursday night in the South Shore neighborhood died of a gunshot wound to the back, an autopsy has found.”

The Cook County Medical Examiner confirmed to Heavy that O’Neal was shot in the back. The autopsy report has not yet been released, however.


Why were three officers relieved of their police powers?

The Chicago Tribune says that police say preliminary investigations found they violated department policies. Wrote the Tribune: “A third Chicago police officer has been relieved of police powers after department brass made the preliminary determination that officer and two others violated policy when they fired their weapons.” The Tribune attributed the comment to the police spokesman. Police have not specified the policies or preliminary findings in detail at this point.


Was O’Neal’s death ruled a homicide?

Yes, by the medical examiner, according to The Chicago Sun Times. Wrote the newspaper: “The Cook County medical examiner’s office ruled the death a homicide.”

However, it’s important to remember that the medical examiner definition of homicide is different than a finding of criminal responsibility (which is determined by prosecutors). The medical examiner’s homicide definition means “the killing of one person by another, rather than a shooting death in a suicide or accident,” said The Chicago Tribune.

Whether the death was caused criminally is a determination prosecutors make, not medical examiners. Chicago’s Independent Police Review Authority is also reviewing the shooting death.

The Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office also confirmed to Heavy that the manner of death listed for O’Neal is “homicide.”


Why Did Police Encounter O’Neal?

He was in a stolen Jaguar. According to WGN, “The shooting happened at 7:30 p.m. July 28 after police spotted a stolen Jaguar near 73rd and Merrill. According to the arresting officers, as they got out to confront O’Neal, he put the car in drive and side-swiped a squad car and a parked car. That’s when the officers fired.” Some officers suffered non life-threatening injuries.

However, the multiple videos now show that O’Neal was shot after a foot pursuit ignited. The videos also show that the Jaguar smashed head-on into a police vehicle and that officers fired their weapons at the car as it drove toward and also past them.

Chicago media initially said that O’Neal was the driver; for example, ABC 7 reported, “O’Neal was driving the vehicle, which crashed into a police cruiser and then sideswiped another before two officers started shooting from inside their car. A third officer got out of their car and fired, what police believe, was the fatal shot.” However, O’Neal’s cousin, Zhivago Short, told Heavy, “He wasn’t the driver.” There was also another teenager in the car. The exact chronology of events remains under investigation.

The Chicago Tribune now reports that, “O’Neal struck two Chicago police vehicles in the sports car, and two officers fired at him while he was in the car, authorities said. O’Neal fled from the car, police said, and a third officer chased him behind a home. After O’Neal refused to stop, the officer shot him.”

That officer’s body camera did not capture the actual shooting, but body cameras from two other officers who also fired their weapons were released. Chicago has a police policy that “explicitly bars police from shooting into a car when the vehicle represents the only danger,” says the Chicago Tribune. The video captures officers swearing at O’Neal as his wounded body lies face down.

You can learn more about the O’Neal shooting here: