A former Illinois police officer has been arrested almost two years after 19-year-old Jacksonville resident Marcellis Stinnette was shot and killed during a traffic stop in Waukegan, according to the Associated Press.
Dante Salinas entered a not guilty plea on Thursday to charges of second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in the Stinnette incident, court records show.
Body, dash camera video released: Images just before fatal shooting of teen from Jacksonville by Waukegan, Illinois police officer
SAO: It was an 'unintentional' gunshot by Jacksonville police that killed suspect on July 30
Lake County State's Attorney Eric Rinehart spoke to reporters after a grand jury indicted the former Waukegan officer in the Oct. 20, 2020, shooting that killed Stinnette, a Terry Parker High School graduate, and wounded his girlfriend, Tafara Williams.
"These shots were illegal, unnecessary and constitute second degree murder and involuntary manslaughter," Rinehart said. "These charges come after months of investigation. ... The second degree murder charge recognizes that he has made claims that he was defending himself; that's why it is a second degree murder charge. He obviously was a police officer allowed to have a weapon."
Justice is finally being served, said Stinnette's sister, Zhanellis Banks, who emphasized that her brother's fatal shooting "definitely shouldn't have happened."
"They have come to the conclusion that without reasonable doubt, he was in the wrong," she said. "Marcellis should not have been killed in no way, shape or form. We have come to the reality of that; our brother is gone. They can never replace him; he is never coming back. Dante Salinas took a lot from us."
Waukegan police said the incident unfolded just after midnight that October when an officer approached a suspicious vehicle with two people inside, but it drove off. Bodycam video of the traffic stop show the first officer questioning Stinnette as he sat in the passenger seat, telling the young man he was under arrest on a warrant before the driver drove off.
"Hey, they just ran me over," that officer radios as the car drives way.
Salinas then found the vehicle after it crashed, with Williams driving and Stinnette the passenger, Rinehart said Thursday.
"The car backed up and attempted to leave the area. The car did not hit Salinas," Rinehart said. "While standing next to Ms. Williams' car and well clear of its path, Salinas fired several shots into the side of the vehicle as it reversed past him."
Stinnette died and Williams was hospitalized with serious injuries, police said. Neither had any weapons, and Salinas did not turn on his body camera, Rinehart said on Thursday.
JSO K-9 Huk seen charging in: Trying to get suspects before being shot in new police bodycam
New details, IDs released in Friday's police shootout: 2 dead, 1 in custody and K-9 wounded
Outside Waukegan police headquarters two days after the shooting, Williams' mother, Tina Johnson, said her hospitalized daughter told her she and Stinnette had not done anything to provoke the shooting, according to the Chicago Tribune.
"When I got there, she said, 'Mama, they just shot us for nothing,'" Johnson said. "She basically said that she pleaded with the police for her life."
The family said the site of the shooting was outside Williams' residence and that the couple was just sitting in the car when police arrived.
In a 2021 news release, Rinehart said that he had spoken to Stinnette's family and expressed his condolences for their loss as well as his "outrage at a system that has been apathetic to Black and brown lives." He stated then that his office did "hear, appreciate, and respect the urgency" to investigate the case, adding that he understood their desire for justice and closure.
Surveillance review lasted nearly two years
Speaking again just before Salinas' Thursday bail hearing, Rinehart said it took almost two years for his office, Illinois State Police and an independent firearms investigator to secure all details in the case, saying "We had to get this right." That included review of some surveillance footage that does not show the shooting, as well as the car Williams was driving and the bullets fired by Salinas, he said.
"The time that we spent investigating this matter has not been a period of healing for her and her family and we understand that," Rinehart said, referring to Stinnette's mother. "... We have stayed in contact with the family through their attorney, but we respect the frustration that some have had regarding the length of this investigation. But we needed to understand the evidence and expert opinions before we could effectively and fairly bring charges to the grand jury."
Banks agrees that the charges took a long time, saying arrests for those who did this and "did not have a badge" are usually booked in jail much faster. But she's grateful, saying the former officer's arrest means justice for Black families who have also faced loved ones wrongly killed by police.
"This is a step in the right direction; it's very progressive," she said. "I am proud that families who will come after me and be subject to the same kind of this brutality will have more of a voice. Now people are seeing that the badge does not mean that you are above the law."
The shooting sparked protests as Waukegan police fired Salinas for what it described at the time as "multiple policy and procedure violations," The Associated Press reported.
The grand jury also charged Salinas with aggravated battery and official misconduct, in an August 2019 incident where Waukegan resident Angel Salgado was tackled and punched in his own yard after an argument with Salinas, Rinehart said Thursday. Salgado suffered a broken eye socket after he was punched in the face, Rinehart calling it a case of excessive force.
Salinas gave himself up on Thursday, ordered held on $350,000 bail at his arraignment, the Associated Press reports. He was released after paying part of the bail, his next court hearing set for Nov. 15, court records show.
firstname.lastname@example.org: (904) 359-4549
This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Jacksonville man's 2020 death in Waukegan sees former officer indicted