WILLIAM A. YODER McLean County State’s Attorney Law and Justice Center, Room 605 104 West Front Street, P O Box 2400 Bloomington, Illinois 61702-2400 Telephone: (309) 888 – 5400 FAX number: (309) 888 – 5429 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org June 11, 2009 – PRESS RELEASE – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Re: January 5, 2009 Police involved shooting of Robert E. Sylvester Sr. On January 5, 2009, at approximately 1:30 pm, an armed robbery occurred at the Check ‘n Go on West Market Street in Bloomington. Subsequently, Officers from McLean County Sheriff’s Department, Lexington Police Department, Bloomington Police Department, and Normal Police Department as well as Troopers from the Illinois State Police were involved in a traffic pursuit of the robbery suspect, Robert E. Sylvester. The traffic pursuit ended when Sylvester ran over stop sticks and subsequently crashed his car near mile post 162 on I-55. Sylvester exited the vehicle with what appeared to be a handgun in his hand. After jumping over the median wall, Sylvester ran across the northbound lanes of traffic on I-55 and pointed the handgun in the direction of motorists and pursuing police officers. Several officers (three from three different departments) fired their weapons at Sylvester, fatally wounding him. The Illinois State Police Division of Internal Investigation (DII) conducted a thorough investigation which included 1009 pages of reports and interviews. This investigation was presented to the McLean County State’s Attorney’s Office for review on April 23, 2009. Findings of McLean County State’s Attorney Bill Yoder: The DII investigation into the shooting death of Robert Sylvester, Sr. clearly shows that the police were justified in their use of deadly force and were acting appropriately within the line of duty under the circumstances forced upon them. No criminal charges or any further action in regard to the shooting will be taken by the McLean County State’s Attorney’s Office. “It is regrettable that Mr. Sylvester’s crime spree and final actions of January 5, 2009, compelled law enforcement officers to use deadly force to protect the public. The use of deadly force is the most difficult decision ever faced by an officer. In this case the criminal left officers no choice but to take this ultimate action to protect the public. My sympathy goes out to the surviving family of Mr. Sylvester. My respect and admiration goes out to these Police Officers for their actions on January 5, 2009.” State’s Attorney, Bill Yoder. Summary of DII Investigation prepared by First Assistant State’s Attorney Kim Campbell: On January 5, 2009 officers from McLean County Sheriff’s Department, Lexington Police Department, Bloomington Police Department, and Normal Police Department as well as troopers from the Illinois State Police were involved in a traffic pursuit of an armed robbery suspect, Robert E. Sylvester Sr. Stop sticks were deployed by NPD on I- 39 in an attempt to disable Sylvester’s vehicle. Both passenger side tires were flattened after Sylvester drove over the stop sticks and eventually drove his vehicle into the cement median wall on I-55 southbound at approximately milepost 162 immediately adjacent to Normal Community West High School. Sylvester exited the vehicle with what appeared to be a handgun in his hand. After jumping over the median wall, Sylvester ran across the northbound lanes of traffic on I-55 and pointed the handgun in the direction of motorists and pursuing police officers. Several officers (three from three different departments) fired their weapons at Sylvester, fatally wounding him with two gunshot wounds, one to the leg and a fatal wound to the head. A Normal Officer, Bloomington Officer, and ISP Trooper, were identified as having fired at Sylvester. The Normal Officer fired two rounds (.45 caliber). Neither of those rounds were conclusively identified. The Bloomington Officer fired four rounds (.40 caliber). One of those fired bullets was recovered in a home not far from the scene. Another bullet that struck the home was not identifiable nor could it be eliminated as having come from the Bloomington Officers weapon. The other two rounds fired from the Bloomington Officers weapon were not recovered/identified at the scene. The bullet that entered Sylvester’s leg shattered into 3 fragments and was not matched to either the Normal or Bloomington Officers weapon. The Illinois State Police Trooper fired one round, which was recovered from the fatal wound in Sylvester’s head. This round was compared to and identified as being the round fired from the Illinois State Troopers weapon. There was also a .38 caliber live round recovered from the scene, not near Sylvester’s body, that is of unknown origin. Sylvester’s gun was later determined to be a BB gun which had had its barrel drilled out so that it appeared to be a real firearm. Sylvester was a suspect in the following armed robbery cases that have been closed due to his death: BPD 200819137(12/3/08 National City); BPD 200900225(1/5/09 ChecknGo); NPD 200819418 (12/9/08 US Bank); NPD 200819733(12/16/08 FreeStar Bank); NPD 200820241(12/31/08 US Bank); NPD 200820245(12/31/08 CashStore). Sylvester was being followed by local police agencies as a suspect in the ChecknGo armed robbery immediately preceding the chase/shooting. Investigation: The following items were provided by DII of the State Police and reviewed by the State’s Attorney’s Office during and after this investigation: Volumes I and II of the Division of Internal Investigation A. Interviews (transcripts of DVD interviews) of numerous police officers from the following agencies: 1. McLean County Sheriff’s Department 2. Bloomington Police Department 3. Normal Police Department 4. Lexington Police Department 5. Illinois State Police Law enforcement interviews of the above officers revealed that police began pursuit of Sylvester, an armed robbery suspect, in the city of Lexington. Pursuit continued westbound on PJ Keller Highway, then onto Southbound I-39. Sylvester displayed a handgun during the pursuit and nearly caused several crashes. Stop sticks were deployed by the Normal Police Department, which caused Sylvester’s passenger side tires to go flat and ultimately caused him to crash his vehicle into the median cement wall. He then exited his car with the gun in his hand, jumped the median and ran across northbound lanes of traffic on I-55, pointing the handgun in the direction of oncoming motorists and pursuing police officers. Witnesses related police called out “Police, drop your weapon!” Officers fired their weapons when Sylvester failed to do so. Aid was rendered to Sylvester and EMS was dispatched. Much of the decedent’s actions after leaving his car until being shot are captured on still photography by a Pantagraph reporter at the scene. A search of decedent’s vehicle located a Daisy Powerline Air Pistol box and receipt for purchase and $2420.00 in cash. Sylvester’s wallet also contained $2150.00. A Daisy Powerline 008 .177 cal air pistol was recovered close to decedent’s body at the scene. A check of Sylvester’s bank records showed a check he had written to Dick’s Sporting Goods on December 30, 2008 for the amount of the air pistol. B. Interview of a southbound motorist. The motorist was driving a tow truck southbound on I-55 when he saw Sylvester behind him with police in pursuit. The motorist attempted to slow down Sylvester with his truck, and prevented him from exiting onto I-74. When Sylvester passed the tow truck driver, he pointed a handgun at him. The motorist did not witness the shooting. C. Interview of David Proeber, Pantagraph photographer. Proeber heard the pursuit on the scanner and traveled to I-55, stopping on the shoulder and taking pictures. He observed Sylvester approaching Southbound, driving with a handgun in his right hand and witnessed Sylvester’s crash. Proeber witnessed Sylvester exiting his car, jumping the concrete median, pointing the handgun at police cars, and running across the northbound lanes of traffic. When Sylvester approached Proeber’s stopped car, Proeber ducked down and stepped on the gas pulling further down the interstate before stopping and continuing to take photographs. Proeber did not witness the shooting. D. An Illinois State Trooper became involved in the pursuit of Sylvester at milepost 164 and was aware Sylvester was armed with a handgun. After Sylvester exited the car with his gun, the Trooper exited his car, unholstering his weapon, a department issued Glock .40 caliber handgun. Sylvester jumped the median wall and then pointed his gun at a car sitting on the shoulder. The Trooper pursued him; the stopped motorist (Pantagraph reporter Proeber) drove away and Sylvester then turned toward pursuing officers and pointed the handgun at them. He also pointed his handgun into the direction of oncoming traffic. Fearing Sylvester was going to shoot one of the cars’ occupants; the Trooper fired one round at Sylvester, who immediately fell to the ground, dropping his weapon. The Trooper handcuffed Sylvester and administered first aid. Blood/urine samples collected from the Trooper pursuant to ISP policy the night of the shooting tested negative for any alcohol/controlled substances. E. A Normal Officer and a Bloomington Officer also fired their weapons. The Normal Officer saw Sylvester display a handgun in his right hand during the traffic pursuit. The Normal Officer observed Sylvester crash, jump the median wall, pointing his gun up into the air, and then pointing it at the newspaper reporter’s car. He observed Sylvester pointing his gun at oncoming traffic as well. The Normal Officer jumped the median wall and unholstered his weapon, yelling, “Freeze Police” or “Police Freeze.” Sylvester turned around, saw the Normal Officer chasing him, and then pointed the gun straight at the officer. The Normal Officer, fearing he was going to be shot, fired twice at Sylvester. The Normal Officer also heard another shot. The Bloomington Officers incident report indicates he was aware Sylvester was armed with some type of handgun, and saw the handgun in his hand when he exited his vehicle and jumped the median wall. The Bloomington Officer observed defendant then run toward a car parked on the shoulder of I-55 northbound while pointing his gun at the driver, when the driver drove away Sylvester turned toward the officers and pointed his handgun at them. The Bloomington Officer jumped the wall, unholstering his department issued .40 Caliber handgun. When Sylvester pointed his handgun directly at the Bloomington Officer, he believed Sylvester was going to shoot him and/or the other officers, and believed it was necessary for him to shoot Sylvester to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or others, so he fired at Sylvester. Sylvester fell to the ground and the Bloomington Officer noticed a handgun on the ground approximately two feet from Sylvester. F. In-car video footage was provided by Lexington police and McLean County Sheriff’s police and was reviewed. Footage from Lexington shows Sylvester travelling at a high rate of speed, swerving toward oncoming traffic, disobeying stop signs, passing vehicles on the shoulder of the roadway. Footage from MCSD shows Sylvester crashing his vehicle, exiting his vehicle with a handgun, running across the northbound lanes of traffic, pointing the handgun in the direction of motorists and pursuing officers, and the officers firing their weapons at Sylvester. G. A family member of Robert Sylvester Sr. was interviewed and indicated he spoke with Sylvester during the pursuit at which time the decedent indicated he was not going back to prison. The family member also indicated he received a voice mail from Sylvester Sr. stating “good-bye, I love you, and God bless you.” The family member also provided DII investigators with a drill bit, which he stated was given to him by another related party, who told him that Sylvester used the drill bit to drill out the barrel of a handgun. The family member also provided investigators with a birthday card that he said Sylvester Sr. had given him in which Sylvester Sr. had indicated he was very miserable and which appeared to be a suicide type message. H. Photographs taken by the Pantagraph reporter clearly show Sylvester with what appeared to be a black handgun in his hand. Crime scene photographs of the air pistol show it to be a realistic looking handgun which officers and the public at the scene would not be able to discern from a real weapon. I. Autopsy and toxicology reports reveal that Sylvester died as a result of multiple gunshot wounds. Blood tests show that in his system at the time of his death were cannabinoids (THC), Venlafaxine (anti-depressant), and caffeine (stimulant). J. Autopsy report and crime scene investigation revealed that the Illinois State Police Trooper fired the bullet that hit Sylvester in the head. The bullet in Sylvester’s leg fragmented into 3 pieces and could not be identified as being fired from either the Normal or Bloomington Officer’s weapons. There was no stipling present at the entry sites of the bullet wounds, indicating that there was no close range firing. This is consistent with the squad car camera’s which documented the shooting and show Sylvester with gun in hand, exiting his vehicle on the highway, jumping the median wall, extending his arm with gun pointing at other cars on highway and turning and pointing towards police behind him just before he was shot. Applicable Law: Under 720 Illinois Compiled Statutes 5/7-5, peace officers in the line of duty may use force likely to cause death or great bodily harm in self-defense only where he or she reasonably believes that he or she is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that such force is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm. Officers are also authorized to use force likely to cause death or great bodily harm only when he or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself/herself or such other person, or when he or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent the arrest from being defeated by resistance or escape; and the person to be arrested has committed or attempted a forcible felony which involves the infliction or threatened infliction of great bodily harm or is attempting to escape by use of a deadly weapon; or otherwise indicates that he will endanger human life or inflict great bodily harm unless arrested without delay. 720 ILCS 5/7-5. The Supreme Court in Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1 (1985) imposes an additional requirement that officers give “some warning” where feasible before using deadly force. Reasonableness must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with 20/20 vision or hindsight. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989). The calculation of whether an action is reasonable or not must take into account the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments about whether to use deadly force in a particular situation in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving. Id. Conclusion: The applicable law as applied to the facts of this shooting clearly show that the police were justified in their use of deadly force.
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