Jemel Roberson had dreams of becoming a police officer. He was killed by one.
The 26-year-old was working as an armed security guard Sunday when he tried to intervene during a shooting outside a Chicago-area bar. Officers arrived, and — officials later said — saw a man with a gun. A Midlothian police officer opened fire after ordering the man to drop the weapon.
That man was Roberson. He was trying to subdue one of the suspects, investigators later said, when the officer shot him. Roberson later died at a hospital.
Now — amid an uproar and questions about police training and operations — the city’s police chief said he is mourning the loss of Roberson.
“What we have learned is Jemel Roberson was a brave man who was doing his best to end an active shooter situation at Manny’s Blue Room,” Midlothian Police Chief Daniel Delaney wrote Tuesday on Facebook. “The Midlothian Police Department is completely saddened by this tragic incident and we give our heartfelt condolences to Jemel, his family and his friends. There are no words that can be expressed as to the sorrow his family is dealing with.”
The department has not released the name of the officer, who has been put on administrative leave.
According to a federal lawsuit filed by Beatrice Roberson, her son was working security early Sunday at Manny’s Blue Room Bar in Robbins, Ill., when “some patrons shot the bartender and others were shot.”
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Illinois, says Roberson’s civil rights were violated.
Family attorney Gregory Kulis said Roberson’s mother just wants to know “what happened and why it happened,” adding: “If somebody took your son, you’d want answers, too.”
Investigators said the police response began after reports of gunfire in a dispute at the bar after 4 a.m. on Sunday. Officers from two departments, including Midlothian’s, arrived to find Roberson armed and trying to subdue a suspect in a parking lot.
The officer who killed Roberson “gave the armed subject multiple verbal commands to drop the gun and get on the ground” before he fired, according to a preliminary report by the Illinois State Police that cited witnesses. Officers provided medical aid to multiple victims, including Roberson, the report found.
But the report did not say how long the officer waited before he fired or whether he identified himself as a police officer. Investigators also appear to distance officers from accountability to determine who is a threat, and who is not.
Roberson wore “no markings readily identifying him as a security guard,” the report found.
Witnesses have also said they tried to warn officers that Roberson was trying to help.
“Everybody was screaming out, ‘He was a security guard,’ and they basically saw a black man with a gun and killed him,” Adam Harris told WGN.
Kulis, the family attorney, said Roberson was doing what he was supposed to when he was shot and killed.
“He was a hero. He probably saved lives,” Kulis said.
People close to Roberson said he had hoped to become a police officer. “And lo and behold, a police officer comes in and kills him,” Kulis said. “That’s a tragedy.”
The incident closely tracks with theoretical situations that advocates have suggested would curtail violence — a weapon is drawn, shots are fired, and then a “good guy with a gun” steps in to help before the police can respond.
That ideal doesn’t account for the chaotic unknowns when police arrive and can’t tell a “good guy” with a gun from a “bad guy” with a gun.
The incident may become a touchstone in a persistent debate about how places such as schools, nightclubs and houses of worship should steel themselves against gunmen.
That debate has gained urgency during the past year, as President Trump and others have repeatedly said security guards — specifically armed ones — could have prevented the nation’s mass shootings; this year, Trump tweeted his support for the controversial idea of arming teachers.
The Sunday incident has already provoked concerns that black men — even when legally carrying firearms or employed in positions that allows their use — can still become targets for police fire.
Roberson’s friends said he had talked all his life of becoming a police officer.
“Now you have to question the police and what they’re actually doing,” said Christian Torres, 21. “This is someone who was on their side.”
Roberson had a valid gun owner’s license but did not have a concealed-carry permit, WGN reported. In Minnesota in 2016, Philando Castile was killed by an officer during a traffic stop seconds after he told an officer there was a weapon in the car.
The Cook County Sheriff’s Office and the Robbins Police Department, neither of which responded to requests for comment, are investigating the shooting that first drew the police to the scene, Delaney said.
Illinois State Police will investigate Roberson’s killing by the Midlothian officer.
Roberson is one of at least 840 people who have been shot and killed by police so far in 2018 and one of at least 19 in Illinois, according to a Washington Post database.
At least 181 of those shot and killed by police this year — 22 percent — were black. The U.S. population is about 13 percent black.
More than half of those killed — 459 people, including Roberson — were said to be armed when police killed them.
The oldest of four children, Roberson grew up in Wicker Park, a neighborhood in the North Side of Chicago about 27 miles from Robbins. His family said he was in law school and was a role model for his peers, inspiring young men to become involved with the church.
“He was dedicated to the Wicker community in a real positive way.” said Malik Harris, 20, a cousin of Roberson’s.
The Rev. Marvin Hunter told the Associated Press that Roberson played organ at his church and others in the area. He called him an “upstanding” young man who was working to regain custody of his son and earn money for a new apartment.
Hunter is the great-uncle of Laquan McDonald, a black teenager who was shot and killed by a white Chicago police officer in 2014.
Michael Brice-Saddler, Mark Guarino, Justin Jouvenal and Wesley Lowery contributed to this report.