According to the News Gazette, Authorities say a review of the fatal shooting of an armed robbery suspect at a Rantoul motel Tuesday reveals that the officer who fired was following orders and protecting the lives of fellow officers.
“Sgt. (Colby) Oleson’s actions were part of an organized, managed response to Graves’ actions, and at this time ... I am comfortable giving a preliminary opinion that Sgt. Oleson’s use of deadly force was legally appropriate,” said Champaign County State’s Attorney’s Julia Rietz.
Rietz was one of several speakers at a news conference Thursday morning at the Champaign Police Department orchestrated to bring a quick resolution in the court of public opinion to the appropriateness of what happened to Darius Graves, 31, at the Days Inn Motel in Rantoul.
“We offer condolences to the family of Darius Graves as the loss of any life is tragic,” Champaign Police Chief Anthony Cobb said in his opening remarks to a room filled with reporters, police administrators, Champaign city administrators and curious police department employees.
Cobb, Rietz and Rantoul Police Chief Paul Farber made prepared remarks, showing still photos of the holdup at a Rantoul restaurant that precipitated the ordeal and video of the end of the standoff.
Also present, but not invited to speak during the news conference, was Urbana attorney Steve Beckett, representing Oleson, who fired the shot that ended an almost seven-hour standoff between a robbery suspect and police.
However, after the others were finished, Beckett said his client, a 17-year member of the police department and a SWAT team leader, was part of a group of officers who were told to respond to the standoff, had been thoroughly briefed by supervisors, and was following the plan that had been laid out by leaders of the METRO team and the Champaign SWAT team.
“As negotiations continued, Sgt. Oleson and his team moved into a position which allowed them to carry out the instructions they had been given. Within a short period, the suspect made the decision to disregard the directions officers had been giving him for the past six hours.”
“Unfortunately, the suspect chose to leave the room in a manner which led officers to believe that he was armed. Recognizing the suspect had eliminated the opportunity to resolve the incident through nonlethal options, Sgt. Oleson was forced to use deadly force, based on his recognition that the suspect presented an immediate threat to the public, as well as officers positioned in the immediate vicinity,” Beckett said.
The veteran attorney said Oleson has been “actively assisting” investigators from the multi-jurisdictional team looking into the shooting as he remains on administrative leave until the team completes its review and the Champaign police do an internal review. Beckett said he had no idea how long that would be.
Champaign police Deputy Chief Joe Gallo said the internal review probably won’t get done until the department has all the information from the multi-jurisdictional team investigation. “That timeline varies with each incident,” he said.
How it began
Farber said the event that sparked the standoff started more than 48 hours earlier.
Narrating as video surveillance of that holdup was shown, Farber said about 10:30 p.m. Sunday, a man entered the Hardees, 326 S. Century Blvd., showed a handgun to the manager and two employees and announced he was robbing the business.
Two employees were locked in a walk-in cooler as a third was led at gunpoint to the register. The robber took cash from the business and cellphones and cash belonging to employees. None of that has been recovered.
The robber was later identified as Mr. Graves by comparing surveillance photos from Hardees with mug shots from the Jackson, Tenn., police department of Mr. Graves.
Farber said Mr. Graves had lived in Tennessee for “quite some time” and had criminal convictions from that state for burglary and domestic battery. Farber said Jackson police also identified Mr. Graves as a suspect in a recent gas station holdup in that city. The chief said he had also lived previously in Rantoul and was believed to have been in the village for a couple of months.
“He had a teardrop tattoo on his face,” Farber said of the mark that convinced Rantoul police that’s who they were looking for.
Farber said after the holdup, investigators from his department received “credible, anonymous tips about who he was” and that he was at the Days Inn.
Using the information they had, police went to the Days Inn about 2:30 a.m. Tuesday and contacted a woman that Farber said had rented the room where Mr. Graves was.
Authorities said he was in Rantoul with a girlfriend, a female cousin and that woman’s boyfriend. Farber said they got a key to the second-floor room with permission from the woman who had rented it. Their first contact with him was at 2:55 a.m.
“The door came open with the chain on. They identified themselves as police. They received challenging words of profanity,” said Farber, including threats of “I’ll shoot you. I’ll kill you. I’ve got a 9 mm.”
That prompted the officers and the woman to back off.
“At one point, he came to the window and pulled the curtain back. They illuminated him and could see the teardrop tattoo visible and were definitely sure this was Darius,” Farber said.
“He became very defiant, threatening to shoot officers and cars,” Farber said.
Consulting with Rantoul police supervisors, the decision was made to call out the METRO team, made up of specially trained officers from several departments. Responding Tuesday morning were officers from Rantoul, Urbana and the University of Illinois police departments and the Champaign County sheriff’s office. The convened between 4:30 and 5:30 a.m.
While Parkland College and Mahomet police also are team members, none of their officers was available, Farber said.
Watching, waiting, negotiating
Farber said a Rantoul officer and later a METRO negotiator were talking with Mr. Graves for a long time when the decision was made to ask for help from Champaign’s SWAT team.
“By 7 a.m., it was time to get our guys relief. That’s a long time for officers in full gear to be set there and waiting,” he said of the METRO effort.
“The negotiations started to fail. We had to elevate our strategy,” Farber said.
Cobb said officers from his department arrived about 9 a.m. and conferred with the Rantoul incident commander.
Negotiations continued to no avail.
After about 90 minutes of Champaign being present, Cobb said, the “joint decision” was made to shoot tear gas canisters into the room in hopes of forcing Mr. Graves out.
Cobb then narrated video that showed Mr. Graves in the window of his room, the curtain pulled back slightly, and his hands on the window.
“He was thirsty and we were trying to get him water. Before we could get it up to him, things started to change,” said Cobb.