Ruling: Aurora officer justified in firing gun the night of Anthony Martell's death


Aurora Police Officer Jason Woolsey was justified in firing his weapon in the direction of Anthony Martell Oct. 4, during a foot chase and gunfire exchange on Aurora’s East Side, according to findings from an Illinois State Police investigation reviewed by the State’s Attorney’s Office.

Martell fatally shot himself in the head after the chase, which stemmed from a “reasonable suspicion” stop on the car he was a passenger in, according to police.

“It’s obvious that any time an incident like this occurs, that it is going to put a tremendous amount of pressure on the officer who was involved,” Aurora police spokesman Dan Ferrelli said Monday. “Looking at the big picture, we were beyond confident that the officer was compliant with all procedures and laws. (But) it doesn’t make it any easier when he is under a microscope like that.”

The agencies conduct independent, thorough reviews, Ferrelli said.

State police completed their investigation in late February, exonerating Woolsey of any wrongdoing, and passed its ruling on to the State’s Attorney’s Office for review.

In a letter to Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman March 8, Kane County State’s Attorney Joseph H. McMahon wrote that the office had reviewed all of the state police investigative reports, videos, photographs and applicable law, and that Woolsey was justified in firing in the direction of Martell after Martell first shot at Woolsey. Martell then tried to enter a home, where residents confronted him.

“Aurora police officers came to the aid of those homeowners and Mr. Martell shot himself with his own gun,” according to the letter, signed by McMahon.

Martell’s cause of death was ruled a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, and a report made no note of other injuries, said a spokesperson for the DuPage County Coroner’s Office, which performed Martell’s autopsy Oct. 6.

Martell, 18, was the passenger in a 2003 Chevrolet Impala stopped by an Aurora police officer at 8:41 p.m. Oct. 4 near North Avenue and South Fourth Street, authorities previously told the Beacon-News.

The traffic stop was based on “reasonable suspicion,” Ferrelli said Monday. Woolsey was watching a home in that neighborhood, near North and Fourth, because of reports of gang activity and narcotics dealing, when the Impala circled the block twice, which seemed suspicious, Ferrelli said.

The driver, a 36-year-old woman who police described as an acquaintance of Martell, fully cooperated with the initial investigation and was not charged, Aurora police previously said.

When the officer approached the car, he smelled marijuana coming from inside and asked Martell to step out, police said.

The officer involved, identified as Woolsey in McMahon’s letter to Ziman, was 37 years old at the time, had been with the Aurora Police Department for nine years and is assigned to its community-oriented policing unit, according to Aurora police.

As Woolsey was talking with Martell, the younger man ran away westbound on Fourth Street, and the officer ran after him, according to police.

During the chase, Martell turned and fired more than one shot at Woolsey, who returned fire, according to police. Neither struck the other, State Police spokesman Master Sgt. Jason Bradley said.

Minutes later, responding officers found Martell apparently trying to get into a home on the 200 block of South LaSalle Street, according to police. When officers confronted Martell, he shot himself in the head with a handgun, according to police, who also said they found a weapon at the scene.

Several officers witnessed Martell take his own life, Ferrelli said.

Martell was airlifted to a suburban hospital, where he was pronounced dead the following morning.

Aurora police, as is their standard policy, initiated an internal investigation into the incident and temporarily placed the officer involved on modified duty, although the officer has been back on full duty for several months in the same area he was previously assigned, Ferrelli said.

While it took more than four months for state police to complete their investigation, that timeline involved tracking down many witnesses, as the chase happened in a residential area, Bradley said.

“We don’t want any surprises,” Bradley said.

hleone@tribpub.com

Twitter @hannahmleone



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