Sixteen months ago off-duty Chicago police officer Joseph Treacy and police sergeant Thomas Derouin shot and killed 25-year-old Joshua Beal on the corner of 111th and Troy in the Mount Greenwood neighborhood. The shooting was the culmination of a chaotic confrontation between officers and members of Beal’s family who were in a motorcade leaving Mount Hope Cemetery after a funeral for Beal’s cousin.
The shooting—which happened in broad daylight in front of dozens of witnesses—immediately became a lightning rod for the rancor over police misconduct that had enveloped the city since the release of the Laquan McDonald video just a year prior. The day after Beal’s death, activists took to Mount Greenwood’s streets to protest what they saw as another unjustified police killing of a black man. But residents of the largely white neighborhood home to many police and firefighters met demonstrators with outrage, hurling racial slurs and maintaining that Beal got what was coming to him for pulling a gun on the cops.
From the start, accounts about what happened on November 5, 2016, have varied greatly. Witness statements and videos capturing parts of the incident seemed to do as much to clarify as to confuse. But the official narrative of the events quickly took shape.
Police officials claimed that the confrontation began when an off-duty firefighter told the driver of a car in the funeral motorcade that it was blocking a fire lane on 111th Street between Albany and Troy. Officials said that the occupants got out of their car and “a verbal and physical altercation” ensued with at least one off-duty cop who identified himself. They said that an off-duty officer at a nearby business also came out to help when he saw the fight and was attacked. Shortly after that, they said, a CPD sergeant who was driving by on his way to work saw Joshua Beal with a gun in his hand. Police officials said that officer “announced his office” and began shooting when Beal didn’t drop his weapon.
Within hours of the incident, a police spokesman asserted that at least one off-duty officer—the sergeant who shot Beal—was in full uniform during the melee, implying that members of the Beal family knew he was a law enforcement representative yet proceeded to disobey commands. That detail was later repeated again and again in media coverage of the event.
However, a Reader review of 911 calls, videos from the scene, and the officers’ own reports indicates that neither of the cops who shot Beal was in full uniform. None of the 28 callers to 911 indicated that anyone had a gun or fired shots other than two white men in plainclothes dress (who matched descriptions of Treacy and Derouin). Relatives have maintained that neither Beal—an Indianapolis resident who they say was licensed to carry a firearm—nor any other family members involved in the confrontation realized they were dealing with cops. They say the incident started when an off-duty officer ran one of the cars in their motorcade off the road, then waved his gun and shouted obscenities as other family members confronted him. They claimed the officer—later identified as Treacy—didn’t show a badge or identify himself as a cop. They said he pushed a 17-year-old girl in their party to the ground and pointed the gun at her face.
Relatives acknowledge Beal had a gun but say he only grabbed it out of his car in response to actions by the police in plainclothes. While maintaining that Beal pointed a gun at the cops, prosecutors in the case against Michael Beal (Joshua’s older brother, who was arrested after the shooting) have also said that Beal could be seen opening the slide of his gun, sending bullets tumbling to the ground. This raises questions as to why police then shot him. A gun police said was Beal’s was eventually recovered from the scene of the melee in a “slide-lock” position, indicating it wasn’t ready to fire.
While police officials and 19th Ward alderman Matt O’Shea argued the shooting was justified within the first few days of the incident, an independent investigation into the officers’ involvement in the fight and shooting is still unresolved. The incident occurred just as the Independent Police Review Authority—which used to investigate all officer shootings—was being overhauled as part of the city’s police reform efforts in the wake of the Laquan McDonald scandal. The probe has been handed off to the new Civilian Office of Police Accountability, which has yet to weigh in.
Both officers Treacy and Derouin are now back on patrol after a mandatory month of desk duty. But even before this incident, both faced dozens of misconduct complaints and claims they used unnecessary force. They never faced any discipline for those cases.
Neither a Chicago police spokesman nor a lawyer for the police officers responded to requests for comment.
Beal’s death has left his family devastated, and has eroded their confidence in the legal system. Beal’s brother Michael, arrested for allegedly attacking Treacy, is now fighting felony charges.
“I take over seven depression meds, and every night I have nightmares,” says the Beals’ mother, Tiffaney Boxley, 43. “I wake up screaming my baby’s name in the middle of the night.”
While a wrongful-death lawsuit has been filed on behalf of Beal’s five- and three-year-old sons, they are unaware of the details of what happened to their father: “They want to know when he’s coming home, they don’t really understand the concept of death yet,” said their aunt, Cordney Boxley, who still breaks into tears remembering the details of that day.
The first of the 28 calls to 911 that were made in connection with the incident and released by IPRA came at 3:02 PM on November 5, 2016. A woman described “a fight between African-Americans and a white guy in a car” at 111th and Troy, “across from the fire department.” The next call came 16 seconds later, from a man who identified himself as an off-duty police officer with star number 17619—Joseph Treacy’s badge number, records show.
“I’m getting encircled,” Treacy said in an agitated tone, “by two cars of people. These motherfuckers. You need to send the police to 111th and Troy right now before someone gets shot.” As the dispatcher tried to collect more information, Treacy repeated that he was “getting attacked by about 12 motherfuckers in a car,” adding that they cut him off the road—with one car coming up behind him and another pulling up to the side. “And now they’re running up on another person,” Treacy says, his voice rising. “I’m telling you, you gotta get the police here now. Aw, this is fucking ridiculous—” A clicking sound can be heard as voices intensify in the background. “Do you have your weapon drawn, sir?,” the dispatcher asks, but Treacy doesn’t respond and the call ends.
In the ensuing two minutes, ten more 911 calls come in describing a fight involving 15 to 20 people, blocked traffic, and two different men with guns. One caller describes a white man in a red T-shirt and blue jeans with a gun. Another says there’s a short-haired man with a gun (she doesn’t identify his race) wearing a black shirt and blue jeans.
At 3:04 PM, two women call to report a man in a red shirt with a gun, their voices rising in distress as they see him start to shoot.
Twelve calls pour in after shots are fired, reporting, besides gunshots, “people on the ground fighting,” “two people with guns,” and someone on the ground “being held down.” One woman says she’s inside Joseph’s Restaurant nearby. “There is a total race thing going on,” she says. “There’s some white guy with a gun and then there’s some other Hispanic guy with a Sox jacket shooting back,” she says.
None of the callers report seeing a black man with a gun.
Before 3:15, two distressed 911 calls come in from Beal’s family. In one, a woman calls, shouting hysterically: “They just shot my brother! They just shot my brother!” then repeats “Josh” several times and yells “Get away from my brother, don’t touch him” at someone.
The final call came from a woman who says that her nephew has been shot and that she’s in a car with his mother.
Not a single caller reported the men shooting or waving guns as being in uniform. Later that day, a CPD news release about the incident described the involvement of an “off-duty police officer” who’d been inside a nearby business, as well as a sergeant on his way to work. Neither was named and their appearances were not described.
Cell-phone video before shooting
Meanwhile, a cell-phone video from the scene quickly emerged and was first published by the Chicago Tribune on November 7. It showed a white man in jeans and a red T-shirt (who has since been identified as Treacy, Beal family attorney Blake Horwitz said) running up to a group of black men and women, pointing a gun, and shouting “Get the fuck back!” and “Shut the fuck up!” Drouin, who’s wearing a black unzipped White Sox jacket and black baseball cap, can also be seen in the video, though without a visibly drawn weapon. Other apparently unarmed white men as well as black men and women shout at one another in a chaotic scene amid stopped cars. The video briefly captures a long-haired black man in a light-colored long-sleeved shirt on the passenger side of one car momentarily raising his right arm, a dark object resembling a gun in his hand. Moments later, the camera pans down and you can no longer see anyone—exactly as gunshots ring out.
At 8:43 PM on the night of the shooting, Sergeant Thomas Derouin completed a tactical response seport—required paperwork anytime an officer uses force. In it he said that he was off-duty, and he checked a box indicating that he was not in uniform when he shot and killed Joshua Beal. Derouin also checked boxes stating that Beal “did not follow verbal direction” and presented “imminent threat of battery.” He indicated that Beal “use[d] force likely to cause death or great bodily harm” in the form of a firearm. Derouin reported that he fired seven shots from a distance of ten to 15 feet. The report was reviewed and signed by Lieutenant Timothy J. Smith, and approved by Second District commander Terence V. Williams about two hours later.
Derouin also completed an officer’s battery report on which he indicated that he was in “citizen’s dress” and “off duty” during an encounter with a “man with a gun” who held an “officer at gunpoint.” He said he was not injured.
Smith completed a tactical response report for Joseph Treacy and also approved it at 10:45 that night, a few minutes after signing off on Derouin’s. Smith noted that he was assisting Treacy due to the officer “being injured and then medicated at hospital.” The report was nearly identical to the one Derouin filed, but didn’t specify that Beal had a firearm. Treacy’s officer battery report, also completed by Smith, did note that he had been held at gunpoint by a 25-year-old black man and suffered minor injuries.
Meanwhile, by 11 PM a much more detailed narrative of the incident was reported in internal documents by investigator Lawrence Santoro from the medical examiner’s office, who attributed the information to Area South detective Melvin Branch. A third, unnamed, off-duty cop is placed on the scene besides Treacy and Derouin. Santoro wrote that after he came out into the street from a nearby business and became involved in an altercation with members of the funeral party, “unknown offenders began to strike him multiple times.”
Here, for the first time, a claim was made that Derouin was “in full uniform,” indicating that this is what Branch told Santoro.
“After several verbal commands to stop the physical altercation, the off-duty sergeant observed Beal standing with a handgun in his hand,” the investigator wrote in paperwork obtained by the Reader through a Freedom of Information Act request. “After loud verbal commands to drop the handgun, Beal refused.” It’s also the first report that claims Beal “fired at the off-duty sergeant one time.” The report continues: “In fear of his life, off-duty Chicago police sergeant (in full Chicago Police Uniform) returned fire, striking Beal multiple times.”
While the report notes that both Derouin and Treacy’s handguns were recovered from the scene, the investigator writes that it’s “unknown if both Chicago Police Officers shot at Beal.” The investigator also reports that a third handgun “was recovered on the street within close proximity from where Beal was discovered. Beals [sic] handgun was recovered in a slide rock [sic] position.” (A “slide-lock position” is how a gun looks either when it has fired its last shot or when it’s loaded but has been disassembled to remove any rounds in the chamber.)
The medical examiner’s autopsy details that three of eight bullets that hit Beal lodged themselves inside his body—in his right shoulder blade, left buttock, and pelvic cavity. The bullets broke his right collarbone, the bones in his right forearm, and the back of his rib cage, grazing his liver and piercing his heart, right lung, and prostate. They tore through the muscles of Beal’s right arm and left leg. He died from massive blood loss. His toxicology report came back clean.
Michael Beal was arrested at 3:10 PM on November 5, just minutes after seeing his brother killed. Treacy said in a report he completed the next day that Michael Beal had fought with him over a weapon and placed him in a chokehold.
WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT
A video taken after the shooting and released by investigators.
Neither the 911 calls nor Treacy and Derouin’s reports would be released until January 5. But an official narrative of the event solidified through dozens of news reports and statements from CPD spokesman Anthony Guglielmi, as well as witnesses’ shaky cell-phone videos.
The day after the shooting, Guglielmi told reporters that both off-duty cops had fired their weapons at a man with a gun, and said police thought the man’s weapon had either fired or misfired during the incident. He told the Tribune that the sergeant, later identified as Derouin, had seen the fight while driving by 111th and Troy before stopping to intervene. He “gets out, [then] announces his office in full uniform” before the shooting took place, Guglielmi said.
By Monday, November 7, after tumultuous protests broke out in Mount Greenwood over the incident, screen grabs from a bystander’s cell-phone video were widely circulated on the Internet, with claims that they showed Joshua Beal holding a gun.
“If that individual did not display that weapon, did not point that weapon, we wouldn’t be here today talking about what we’ve been talking about the last 48 hours,” 19th Ward alderman Matt O’Shea told the Chicago Sun-Times that day. Guglielmi continued to assert to reporters that the off-duty cops involved in the incident had announced that they were police officers and that the sergeant was in uniform.
Beal’s brother, meanwhile, was given a $500,000 bond on November 8, though he had no prior criminal record. (The Chicago Community Bond Fund would bail him out a few days later.) In court, assistant state’s attorney Lorraine Scaduto said the incident began after cars in the Beal family motorcade were driving erratically and someone blocked a fire lane, according to media accounts of the hearing. She described four—not two—off-duty cops on the scene, and said one had pulled out his gun and identified himself as a cop while holding his badge. She said another cop was attacked and punched by nine people from the funeral party. (No further information about this alleged assault on a police officer by a group of people has ever come to light.)
Scaduto also said the off-duty sergeant who saw and stopped on the scene while driving to work was in uniform. She said witnesses, including a Chicago fire battalion chief, saw Joshua grab a gun from the backseat of a Dodge Charger and point or wave it at officers while yelling, “You’re not the only motherfuckers out here with guns.” Beal pulled the trigger but the gun didn’t fire, she said; witnesses then saw him pull back the slide of the gun, causing bullets to fall out. She said that Beal pointed the gun at police again after doing this, and said officers ordered him to drop it and shot him when he didn’t. After that, Michael Beal allegedly put an off-duty officer in a chokehold during a struggle with him to gain control of his brother’s gun, allegedly yelling, “Fuck you, you killed my brother, I’m going to kill you.”
The next time the Beal shooting made headlines was in January 2017, when IPRA released its cache of video and audio recordings, as well as police documents. One previously unreleased video showed Joshua Beal splayed out in the road as a white man administers a cardiac massage. Black men and women are seen milling about; one black woman is on her knees screaming next to Beal’s body. The video captures both Derouin (in a backward black baseball cap and unzipped black White Sox jacket) and Treacy (in a red T-shirt), the latter tucking a gun into his waistband. Another white man with a gun briefly appears in the video, wearing shorts and a striped T-shirt with no shoes.
But no one reported the inconsistencies between the Police Department’s prior accounts of Treacy and Derouin’s actions and appearance and the information conveyed by the video, 911 calls, and internal documents. The Tribune reported that the shooting seemed justified to then-police union president Dean Angelo Sr. because Beal appeared to have been pointing a gun. Angelo was quoted as saying, “If that is what happened, how could it be anything but a good shooting?”
Although this incident has since disappeared from the news, the day’s events are a never-ending tragedy for the Beals’ mother. Her stress and grief were exacerbated by the deaths of four more relatives after Joshua. “My family is completely broken,” Boxley says. “We were burying one person and then my son ended up getting killed. Within seven months we lost six people.”
Boxley wore a large, round pin with Joshua’s picture on a recent morning as she sat in a back pew for Michael Beal’s latest pretrial hearing in a stuffy courtroom at 26th and California. He’d driven 200 miles from Indianapolis and now sat expressionless in a row in front of his mother. But his lawyer, Sara Garber, unexpectedly couldn’t make the hearing, and Beal stood in front of judge Carol Howard—who was more than an hour and a half late that day—for about three minutes as another date was set.
“It is a huge tragedy that the Chicago police continue to victimize the Beal family by bringing these unfounded, serious charges against Michael,” Garber later wrote in an e-mail to the Reader. “I am going to do everything in my power to vindicate him and obtain justice.”
Meanwhile, the independent investigation into Joshua’s death has yet to wrap up. According to CPD records obtained by the Reader through a FOIA request, both officers involved in the shooting have long histories of misconduct complaints, including complaints about improper use of force. Twenty-nine complaints have been filed against Treacy since he became an officer in 2006; he’s previously been suspended for drunk driving while off-duty. Twenty-five complaints have been filed against Derouin since he joined the force in 2002. Other than the drunk-driving complaint, none have been sustained against either officer. (That’s not uncommon. The DOJ found that less than 2 percent of complaints filed against CPD officers are sustained.) According to city records, Derouin makes $104,628 per year and Treacy makes $90,024.
The state’s attorney’s office declined to comment on whether or not it’s conducting a criminal investigation into the officers’ conduct, though top prosecutor Kim Foxx ran on a promise to take investigating police shootings much more seriously. The day before her election she told the Sun-Times that Beal’s shooting was “deeply concerning,” and that whether or not it was justified “will be worked out.”
An investigation by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability remains open, but spokeswoman Mia Sissac couldn’t say how much longer it’s expected to take. “I don’t think it’d be prudent to talk about specific investigatory steps at this time,” says Sissac. “We don’t want to rush this.”
Boxley feels like her son’s death is being swept under the rug. “No one from COPA or IPRA has reached out to me since I left their office to give my statement—that was in early 2017,” she says.
Sissac said that since Boxley wasn’t a witness to the shooting, she wouldn’t be interviewed by COPA’s investigators. Beal’s sister Cordney Boxley, who was at the scene of the shooting, says she also hasn’t heard from authorities since she gave her first statement to IPRA at the beginning of 2017.
“I just feel like they’re really trying to cover their own ass, excuse my language,” the younger Boxley says. “I feel like [the officers] did a lot of things that wasn’t protocol . . . You put these officers out there to serve and protect, but they’re not doing that, they’re harming us.”
Cordney Boxley says that she never saw her brother point a gun at cops that day, but that he did have one that he usually transported in broken-down form. As for the allegations about Michael, she says all the relatives on the scene were in distress. “We were all fighting. Whoever [Michael] was fighting with it was after they shot Josh.” She adds that neither she nor any of her relatives knew the shooters were cops until other police in squad cars began arriving on the scene.
“Being the police, you shouldn’t be escalating whatever situation was going on,” she says. “He never announced himself to us. I didn’t find out he was an officer until [other officers] gave him a [bullet-proof] vest and let him walk the scene.”
Britnie Nelson, the Hickory Hills resident who provided the first cell-phone video of the incident, says she also hasn’t heard from any investigators since detectives came to her house to take a statement a few days after the shooting. She was driving through Mount Greenwood on her way to a haircut that day, and says she heard white people yelling racial slurs at African-Americans.
“I know the area very well and I don’t even ride past,” she says. She decided to start filming and saw Treacy pointing his gun in people’s faces. “He just popped up out of nowhere.”
After the shooting, which she witnessed but didn’t capture on video, she saw the two shooters interacting. One of them “patted the other on the back, like he did a good job,” she says. “He didn’t try to help, he didn’t try to defuse the situation.”
Nelson says she didn’t see Joshua Beal with a gun, or Michael Beal putting anyone in a headlock. “Everybody is lying,” she says. “[Joshua Beal] deserves justice. Whether he pulled out a gun or not.”
Chicago Police Board president Lori Lightfoot declined to comment on the specifics of the Beal shooting. Asked whether she thought it was reasonable that the city hasn’t completed an investigation into a police shooting in this many months, Lightfoot said she couldn’t “put a stopwatch on it and say it should get done in this or that time. What’s important is making sure the process is fair, thorough, and, of course, that it’s done as expeditiously as possible.”
Ashley Phifer, the mother of Joshua’s two sons, filed a civil suit against the city in July. Chicago has paid out more than half a billion dollars to the victims of police violence and their families since 2004. But even if a judge or jury were to ultimately rule in the Beal’s family’s favor, it’s not guaranteed that she will receive any damages; a civil suit filed in 2011 against CPD officer Marco Proano for killing 19-year-old Niko Husband ended without any award of damages.
Phifer’s lawyer, Blake Horwitz, says that Phifer, who witnessed the shooting, is “not in a good way.” An amended complaint filed in February seeks more than $250,000 and alleges that “Joshua Beal was not aware that Officer Treacy was a police officer since Officer Treacy was not wearing a police uniform and did not have his badge displayed.” The complaint further states that after seeing Treacy point his gun and scream obscenities, “Beal removed a gun from the vehicle” in which he had been traveling with Phifer. “After Joshua Beal took out his weapon, Joshua Beal put it away.”
The suit also claims that bullets shot by Treacy and Derouin passed through the car Phifer was in and “within inches” of her body, which appears to be the only accounting on record of what happened to any of the ten bullets fired by cops that didn’t hit Beal. The DOJ report criticized the city for its lack of tracking and investigation of “no-hit” police shootings and weapon discharges. Phifer’s lawsuit cites the federal report and notes that because of the “climate” it described within CPD, “individual officers believed they could act with disregard as to the rights of African-Americans and be supported by the department.”
Joshua Beal, his mother says, was on a good path before the incident. He had graduated from Ivy Tech Community College in the spring of 2015 and was running his own lawn-care and snow-removal business in Indianapolis.
“Justice would be to see those two police officers charged with the murder of my son,” she says. “And I want my grandsons to live the quality of life that they lived when their father was there. He was the sole provider. I think they need to be compensated. All they know is their father went to Chicago for a funeral and he never came home. v