The FBI is investigating yet another Chicago police shooting, this one from March 2013 in which a man involved in a brief high-speed chase was killed by two officers who fired 19 shots. The Chicago Tribune reported Saturday the officers’ account of the incident began falling apart almost immediately when no gun was found in the victim’s possession.
The fatal shooting of Esau Castellanos, a Mexican immigrant and father of three who delivered pizzas, crashed his Honda Civic on the city’s Northwest Side following a chase that reached speeds of 80 mph and began about 3 a.m. March 16, 2013, the Tribune said. The officers involved claimed Castellanos, whose blood alcohol, records show, was more than twice the legal limit, opened fire on them as they approached the wreckage. They fired at Castellanos, hitting him three times.
However, the Tribune said the FBI two years ago opened a file into the incident at the behest of the Independent Police Review Authority following an investigation that determined Castellanos was unarmed. The FBI had no comment on why the investigation was taking so long, the Tribune said.
Castellanos’ death was the second fatal police shooting in three days, local WBBM-AM reported at the time. The first incident was the result of a domestic disturbance call.
News of the FBI investigation comes on the heels of major protests against the shooting of Laquan McDonald, 17, an unarmed black teenager shot 16 times in October 2014 by Officer Jason Van Dyke. Van Dyke was charged with murder following release of a video showing the incident and apparently disproving Van Dyke’s claims McDonald was advancing on him.
In addition to the FBI inquiries into specific incidents, the U.S. Justice Department opened a civil rights investigation of the Chicago Police Department’s use of force.
The officers involved in the Castellanos case were identified as Shawn Lawryn and Juan Martinez. Castellanos’ family has filed suit against them, claiming the shooting was unjustified.
“The last thing I ever want to do is be in a shootout. I saw a gun. I heard the gunshots. I saw the glass being blown out. I saw him tracking me. I was in fear for my life,” Lawryn, who fired 15 shots, said in a deposition taken last February. No gun, however, was found at the scene.
Family attorney Daniel O’Connor accused police of lying about what happened.
“The city told his daughter that her dad was shooting at the police and that's why he's dead,” O'Connor told the Tribune. “They put it all over the news about how he was a bad guy and how these cops dove for cover and valiantly returned fire. It was a lie.”
Acting Police Superintendent John Escalante told the Tribune when he learned of the FBI investigation he ordered both officers placed on administrative duty.