CALUMET CITY — The Illinois Court of Appeals this week ruled in favor of officers who fatally shot an autistic teenager in 2012, according to court records.
The court affirmed the Circuit Court of Cook County’s previous ruling that the Calumet City officers involved in the fatal shooting of Stephon Watts, 15, were immune from liability for negligence. The court also determined the conduct of the officers did not rise to willful and wanton behavior.
“While the death of this young man is truly tragic, the legislature has determined that defendants should be immune under these circumstances,” the order stated.
The teen’s mother, Danelene Powell-Watts, had sued Calumet City police officers William Coffey and Robert Hynek along with the city. The boy’s parents could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Burton Odelson, the attorney for Calumet City, called the court’s ruling significant for police.
“It states that a police officer can use deadly force if there is a threat to himself or to others around him,” Odelson said.
“Rather than settle cases, like we see in Chicago and elsewhere, we felt the officers were justified. We defended the case, and the court upheld their immunity.”
The Feb. 1, 2012, shooting death of the teen, who had been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, sparked protests at the time. Activists at one point called for a boycott of businesses in Calumet City.
Coffey and Hynek were two of the three officers who responded that morning to Stephon’s home in the 500 block of Forsythe Avenue in Calumet City. The home is about two blocks away from the state line and less than a mile from downtown Hammond.
Stephon’s father, Steven E. Watts Sr., called the department’s non-emergency number after his son refused to go to school. Watts had threatened to take away the family’s computer, which prompted Stephon to lock himself in a room.
Police had previously responded to the home for other calls about Stephon. According to court records, psychiatrists and counselors had told the family to call police whenever the teen became agitated.
The teen eventually got out of the room and went outside. Watts tried to cancel the police call, but officers arrived at the home and wouldn’t leave until they saw Stephon.
Hynek later said it would have been a violation of the law to not check on the teen, because the call came in as a domestic disturbance, according to the court order.
After learning the teen was downstairs, Watts and the officers walked to the home’s basement. Watts was allowed to speak to his son first, but Stephon approached the officers with a knife.
As the officers began to back up, Hynek fell back onto the stairs. According to court records, Stephon at one point was on top of Hynek while making “slashing” motions. Hynek reached for his gun and shot Stephon. Coffey fired a second shot at the teen after he thought Stephon was trying to go up the stairs, according to the order.
After the second shot, Stephon fell on the floor and died. Hynek had a slash mark on his forearm, but the injury did not require stitches.
The Cook County state’s attorney determined in 2012 that the shooting did not warrant criminal charges against the officers.