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Forensic police doctor says DeKalb officer choked Elonte McDowell

DeKALB ­ A police surgeon who specializes in strangulation investigations said he believes a DeKalb police officer did choke Elonte McDowell during a high-profile arrest in August, and that there is no evidence to suggest the officer was justified in his use of deadly force.

DeKalb County State’s Attorney Rick Amato brought on William Smock, a police surgeon from Louisville Kentucky to consult on his investigation into the Aug. 24 arrest of Aurora man Elonte McDowell, which gained national media attention after a cell phone video showed an officer appearing to choke McDowell on the ground.

The Aug. 24 arrest of Aurora man Elonte McDowell showed a DeKalb police sergeant wrapping his arm around McDowell’s neck. A DeKalb County Sheriff’s deputy then fired a Taser at McDowell while he was on the ground. McDowell was charged with possession of marijuana with an intent to deliver, and has since plead not guilty, DeKalb County court records show. He’s scheduled for a status hearing Jan. 13. The police sergeant was reassigned to desk duty after the arrest, where he has remained since, Petragallo confirmed.

Smock’s report, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, concludes McDowell was “rendered unconscious as a direct consequence of [the sergeant’s] actions,” the document states.

On Friday, Amato announced a grand jury had declined to indict the officer in the incident. It’s unclear in the FOIA’d documents whether the grand jury was shown Smock’s report, since information regarding the jury is highly secretive.

FOIA documents show Smock has 30 years of experience investigating and consulting on cases involving fatal and non-fatal strangulation victims and in-custody injury and death investigations.

Amato brought Smock into the investigation after an independent review of the arrest was conducted by the Illinois State Police at the request of interim DeKalb Police Chief John Petragallo and DeKalb County Sheriff Roger Scott.

Smock’s assessment was based on video, audio, and recorded evidence of the arrest provided to him by Amato. He described the choking scene in detail in his report, saying McDowell can be heard on video saying “I can’t breathe,” eight times. After the eighth time, the sergeant’s left arm is seen to grasp his right arm which is around McDowell’s neck, tighten his grip, and increase pressure, his report reads.

Illinois state statute 720 ILCS 5/7-5.5 prohibits the use of a chokehold by a police officer during an arrest unless there is evidence to show deadly force is justified.

“Based upon my review of the videos, there is no evidence to suggest that Mr. McDowell attempted to reach for [the sergeant’s] gun belt or weapon,” Smock’s report reads. “Nor is there any evidence to indicate Mr. McDowell attempted to strike or assault the police sergeant or any of the other officers.”

Documents show Amato was attempting to mediate an interview with Smock and McDowell himself, through McDowell’s attorneys, to better review McDowell’s own perspective of the incident.

“Dr. Smock has indicated to me that he is willing to interview Elonte to help complete the investigation,” Amato said in a Nov. 6 email to Antonio Jeffrey, McDowell’s Chicago-based civil rights attorney.

Smock wanted to ask McDowell to describe any physical symptoms or visible injuries he experienced during and as a result of the Aug. 24 incident. After a week, with an apparent lack of response, Amato’s office on Nov. 15 issued a subpoena for McDowell to appear at the DeKalb County courthouse on Dec. 6 for the interview.

It’s unclear from the FOIA’d documents whether McDowell participated in an interview with Smock, or whether he gave personal testimony to the grand jury.

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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