Crime

Family says trooper shooting suspect heard a bang, thought someone was breaking in

Raw video from scene where Illinois State Police officer was shot

An Illinois state trooper was shot in East St. Louis on Aug. 23.
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An Illinois state trooper was shot in East St. Louis on Aug. 23.

The family of the man charged in the shooting death of an Illinois State Police SWAT trooper said he was awakened by a loud boom and thought someone was breaking into his East St. Louis home when the trooper was shot.

The suspect, Christopher Grant, 45, has been charged in the death of Trooper Nicholas Hopkins, 33, of Waterloo. Hopkins and other SWAT operators had gone to 1426 N. 42nd St. to serve a search warrant about 5:30 a.m. last Friday.

Grant is being held in the St. Clair County Jail on $5 million bail.

Christopher Grant’s brother, Torrance Grant, spoke to the Belleville News-Democrat on behalf of the suspect’s family. Torrance Grant said the family believes that Christopher was asleep in the home and that he thought someone was breaking in his house. He said when another brother talked to him by phone, Christopher was crying and was devastated.

“He had no idea that the person coming into his home was a police officer. He would have surrendered,” Torrance Grant said.

Brendan Kelly, acting director of the Illinois State Police, said he could not comment on the specifics of a pending criminal case.

However, he did say the SWAT team executed a “no-knock” search warrant, which he said is a “tactically necessary and often-used tool” to protect the public and police.

“Law enforcement officers are authorized to use ‘no-knock’ search warrants when specific facts show that if notice were given, a weapon would be used against the officers executing the search warrant or against another person,” he said.

Hopkins and Suspect
Illinois State Police Trooper Nicholas Hopkins, left, was fatally shot Friday while serving a search warrant in East St. Louis. Christopher Grant, right, was charged in connection with the killing. Provided

Kelly said a no-knock search warrant also is authorized when there is an imminent danger that evidence will be destroyed.

“It is important for the community to know that ISP Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) operators train for and are deployed to only the most-perilous missions, including hostage and barricade scenarios as well as high-risk execution of search warrants,” said Kelly, the former St. Clair County state’s attorney.

“The safety of the public, including suspects, is at the heart of this operation. Every day, ISP SWAT operators face danger bravely, professionally and with tremendous skill, to make our communities safer and more just. ISP SWAT is the best in the state. And, when you are facing the worst of the worst, you send the best of the best,” he said.

Torrance Grant said his family wants the Hopkins family, their community and the East St. Louis community to know they are hurting over the pain and suffering the Hopkins family is going through.

“We send our deepest condolences to their family,” he said.

Torrance Grant said their mother is in deep pain over the situation.

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A law enforcement officer armed with a rifle walks from the crime scene Friday in East St. Louis. Carolyn P. Smith Belleville News-Democrat

“We don’t have nothing but the utmost respect for law enforcement. When something happens that’s who we call. We all depend on the police to be there to help keep us safe.

“We are not just grieving because our family member is locked up. We are grieving because of the whole situation. Someone has lost their life. We feel sorry for the officer, his wife, kids and his family,” he said.

“We know a lot of people don’t want to hear our story, but we want the Hopkins family to know, our family is mourning, too.

“Every time I see or hear something pertaining to that day, I cry. It is very sad. We want the community to know. We always knew it was not something he would do.”

Torrance Grant said the family questions the way police do surprise visits to residences.

“We are not only fighting for the rights of my brother, his freedom. We are fighting to get the procedure changed,” Torrance Grant said. “Going into these high-crime areas at that time of morning when people are in their deepest sleep, is a mistake. People on both sides (residents and law enforcement) are going to get killed. People in these high-crime areas protect their homes with guns. Some have guns. Some of them don’t.”

Illinois State Police Acting Director Brendan Kelly on August 23, 2019, announced the death of SWAT Trooper Nicholas Hopkins, who was shot during an exchange of gunfire when officers were serving a search warrant in East St. Louis, IL.

East St. Louis Police Chief Kendall Perry said he was not aware that the no-knock search warrant was being served at the house on North 42nd Street. But, he said it was not an unusual circumstance.

“It’s not out of order. That’s a covert unit and they operate like this,” Perry said.

Asked whether he thought there would be changes in the way search warrants are served as a result of this case, Perry said he didn’t know.

“I really can’t say. I think this situation was the worse-case scenario,” the chief said.

“Anytime you put on a uniform and deal with high-risk situations, you understand you have a chance of something like this happening,” Perry said.

Torrance Grant said: “I guess the point of serving these search warrants early in the morning like that is to catch people. If you wake people out of their sleep like that, people aren’t in their right frame of mind. This procedure needs to be looked at.”

Suspect’s brother owns the house

Torrance Grant said initially when he saw the house on television, he didn’t realize it was the same residence where his brother Christopher often stayed.

St. Clair County property records show the house belongs to Patrick Grant, another brother. The records also show that taxes on the property have not been paid.

Torrance Grant said when he realized that was his brother Chris’ home, he stared in horror, but never thought the shooter could be his brother.

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Here’s a view of the back of the house on North 42nd Street where the trooper was shot. Carolyn Smith csmith@bnd.com

“It was not in his character to shoot a police officer. I was thinking one of the other guys who frequent the place may have done it. I was sure it was not something Chris would do.

“I cried because I heard that a state trooper had been shot. That’s not his character. He would not shoot a police officer just to get away. My mom had five boys and all of us were raised right. If we do something, we were taught to stand up and be men and take our punishment. That’s what we do,” he said.

According to St. Clair County Circuit Clerk records, Grant has had multiple criminal charges levied against him, including a 2003 felony conviction for the manufacture, delivery and possession of narcotics near a school for which he was sentenced to four years in prison plus fines. He also was convicted of attempting to resist or obstruct a peace officer in 1998. That case was also investigated by Illinois State Police.

Torrance Grant said when he heard that police suspected someone was still inside, and with all of the stuff they were doing at the house — throwing tear gas bombs, flash bangs, ramming the house with a battering ram to get people inside to surrender, “We thought aloud he’s still in there and they are going to kill him. When I heard my brother was locked up, I had deep feeling of relief because he was alive.

Waterloo Police Ribbons
Waterloo Police draped black and blue ribbons on the department’s welcome sign Saturday as a show of support for Illinois State Trooper Nick Hopkins’ family and colleagues. Hopkins was shot and killed in East St. Louis Friday, Aug. 23. Kavahn Mansouri Kmansouri@bnd.com

“The picture I saw of him being arrested showed he just woke up. I was thinking someone was there and they got away. They kicked in his door. His bedroom is in the back of the house near the back yard. I know back there, you can’t see and can barely hear anything.”

Torrance Grant said the brother who spoke to Christopher Grant said he is deeply remorseful that the trooper was killed.

He said his brother’s intention was to protect his home and his body, “That’s a terrible neighborhood,” he said.

Torrance Grant said when you are poor and live in a neighborhood like that on North 42nd Street, where gun violence and illegal drug activity are prevalent, people have to have a means of protecting and defending themselves. He said people who can afford to live other places don’t have to think about their daily survival in what he called the “wild, wild southwest.”

More than a 1,000 attended the candlelight vigil for Trooper Nick Hopkins on the former Waterloo high school football field. Trooper Hopkins was shot and killed on Aug. 23 while serving a warrant in East St. Louis.

“I would like to talk to the Hopkins family to let them know we truly will be watching the funeral procession and the whole thing. We are also praying for the family to just understand the situation. We hope they will check into the procedure that law enforcement uses to serve search warrants, too, and see what they feel about it. I know they’re mad at my brother and hate him. But the system itself needs to be criminalized. The procedure they use is just very dangerous and wrong. It has to be looked at and changed. That’s where both of our families have to work to change this,” Torrance Grant said.

Grant’s son was convicted of murder

This is not the first time a member of the Grant family has been accused of murder.

Christopher Grant’s son, also named Christopher Grant, was convicted of killing 19-year-old Robert Christman during a carjacking attempt in 2015 near the City Museum in downtown St. Louis. The younger Grant was 21 at the time. In 2017, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison after pleading guilty to a reduced charge of second-degree murder, attempted robbery, a weapons charge and armed criminal action.

Speaking of his nephew, Torrance Grant said, “He is dealing with his punishment for his actions. We are trying to be there as a family for him. But, his crime is not a reflection of my brother’s situation.”

Torrance Grant said his nephew’s crime has a lot to do with the area he came from and the friends he chose.

“He was young. A lot of young black guys choose the easy way out through crime. I feel like they are dealing with post traumatic stress disorder because of the environment they are forced to live in or try to survive in every day,” he said.

“We don’t have the money or the resources, the programs for that. People are getting worse and worse until they ... use drugs as pacifiers,” he said.

BEHIND OUR REPORTING

Why did we do this story?

Public interest in the story of Trooper Nicholas Hopkins and his death remain high in Southern Illinois. We are continuing our reporting on the investigation and the region’s sweeping and heartfelt response to the trooper’s shooting death.

Regarding this article specifically, we interviewed Christopher Grant’s family to find out what Grant told them about the shooting and how it may have happened. We have an obligation as a news organization to dig deep into major stories, including getting all sides and asking the tough questions.

We reached out to Brendan Kelly, acting director of the Illinois State Police, for context and comments on the family’s statements. While Kelly said he couldn’t discuss details of the pending criminal case, he did say the SWAT team used a ``no-knock” search warrant and explained to the public why they are deployed in `` only the most-perilous missions.”

Kelly’s comments gave BND readers their deepest context to date about the SWAT team’s use of a ``no-knock” warrant in this case.

Carolyn P. Smith has worked for the Belleville News-Democrat for 18 years and currently covers breaking news in the Metro-East. She graduated from the Journalism School at the University of Missouri at Columbia and says news is in her DNA.
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