There’s no question that Chicago police detective Dante Servin killed Rekia Boyd when he fired five shots at a group of people in a dark West Side alley. The question is whether his actions were justified because he had a reasonable fear that his life was in danger.
We’’l never know the answer, because Cook County Judge Dennis Porter got stuck on a different question: Should Servin have been charged with a more serious crime than involuntary manslaughter?
Servin’s trial ended Monday with a directed verdict of not guilty because Porter decided prosecutors had aimed too low.
That ruling creates a frustrating and perverse outcome: An innocent woman is dead. The man accused of causing her death through his reckless behavior is acquitted because the judge found his actions “beyond reckless.”
Servin was off duty and in his personal car when he got in a shouting match with the group in March 2012. His lawyers say he drew his gun and fired when Antonio Cross pulled an object from his waistband and pointed it at Servin. Boyd was hit in the back of the head. She died two days later. She was 22.
After three days of testimony, Porter abruptly ended Servin’s bench trial. He said prosecutors had shown “beyond a reasonable doubt” that Servin killed Boyd, and that the officer fired the shots knowing they were likely to cause great bodily harm or death. Those elements would add up to first-degree murder, the judge said, unless Servin could prove he acted in self-defense. But Servin never had to make that case.
To win a conviction on the involuntary manslaughter charge, prosecutors needed to prove that Servin acted recklessly – without regard for the risks.
Citing case law, Porter said the charge was inappropriate: “The act of intentionally firing a gun at some person or persons on the street is an act that is so dangerous it is beyond reckless; it is intentional and the crime, if there be any, is first-degree murder.”
Servin couldn’t be convicted of first-degree murder because he was charged with involuntary manslaughter. And he couldn’t be convicted of involuntary manslaughter, Porter said, because there was no evidence of reckless behavior.
The cases Porter cited involve defendants who had been convicted of first-degree murder and argued on appeal that a judge should have instructed the jury to consider returning a conviction for the lesser offense of involuntary manslaughter.
The appellate courts said the evidence supported a first-degree murder conviction and the defendants weren’t entitled to be tried on a less serious charge. Their convictions were upheld. Servin’s outcome turns that on its head.
We asked around and found some attorneys who agreed with Porter’s reasoning and some who didn’t. It’s not subject to appeal, because Servin was found not guilty. The case is over.
So we all have to live with what the judge acknowledged is a lack of closure.
That’s regrettable given the nationwide clamor over police shootings in Ferguson, Mo., New York, Cleveland and elsewhere, and the uneasy relationship between police and the black community in Chicago. It had been nearly 20 years since an off-duty Chicago cop faced criminal charges for fatally shooting a civilian.
Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez says she believed she had an involuntary manslaughter case, not more. She’s taken heat from some who thought the charges were too soft. If the takeaway for prosecutors is to err on the side of overcharging from now on, who could blame them?
Servin did not help matters with his comments to reporters after the verdict. He repeated his contention that Boyd’s death was an accident – let’s be clear, the judge said no such thing – and said he was lucky not to be “a police death statistic.”
“Antonio Cross is a would-be cop killer, and that’s all I have to say,” Servin said.
Servin was making an off-duty burger run in his personal car when the confrontation occurred. He was not putting his life on the line to serve and protect.
Cross is not a would-be cop killer. His “weapon” turned out to be a cell phone. An aggravated assault charge against him was dropped in March 2013, the same day the city agreed to a $4.5 million wrongful death settlement with Boyd’s relatives.
It’s too bad this case turned on a technicality instead of the merits. For Boyd’s family especially, the lack of resolution is hard to accept.
Whether Servin’s actions were reckless or worse isn’t the real issue – it’s whether they were warranted at all.
- Chicago Tribune