A black Chicago-area church musician and security guard killed by a white police officer as he tried to stop a shooting at the bar where he was working was covering extra shifts to buy his infant son Christmas presents, his loved ones said.
Jemel Roberson’s girlfriend, Avontea Boose, told CNN that the 26-year-old part-time security guard was trying to earn extra cash to make their 9-month-old son, Tristan’s, first Christmas a special one. Boose is pregnant with the couple’s second child.
Roberson was on duty at Manny’s Blue Room Lounge, in Robbins, just after 4 a.m. Sunday when a man walked in and started shooting. Roberson, who was armed, had subdued the gunman outside the bar when officers from Robbins and nearby Midlothian arrived on the scene.
A Midlothian police officer shot and killed Roberson. Boose told CNN that she was stunned when she learned he would not be coming home.
“A family member called me and told me. I just broke down crying in the bathroom,” Boose told the network. “For a long time, I was in the bathroom.”
Midlothian Police Chief Daniel Delaney on Thursday praised Roberson for his actions when gunfire broke out at the bar.
“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,” Delaney said in a statement posted 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 investigation into Roberson’s killing was immediately turned over to the Illinois State Police, while the Cook County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the shooting inside the bar. Four people, including the gunman, suffered injuries that were not life-threatening.
A news release from the Illinois State Police states that the preliminary investigation showed the unnamed gunman entered Manny’s and opened fire, striking multiple patrons. Officers from Midlothian, Robbins and other suburban departments converged on the scene while the incident was ongoing.
“Upon his arrival, a Midlothian police officer encountered a subject in plain black clothing with no markings readily identifying him as a security guard, armed with a gun in the west parking lot,” the news release said. “According to witness statements, the Midlothian officer gave the armed subject multiple verbal commands to drop the gun and get on the ground before ultimately discharging his weapon and striking the subject.”
After the fact, the officers learned Roberson was a security guard subduing someone he believed to be involved in the initial shooting, the news release said. Officers provided first aid to multiple gunshot victims at the scene, including Roberson.
The news release contradicts previous reports in which witnesses said Roberson was in some type of uniform, which included a hat with the word “Security” on it. Witness Adam Harris told WGN-TV that Roberson had the alleged gunman on the ground, holding him there with a knee to the back, when he was shot by the police officer.
“Everybody was screaming out, ‘Security! He was a security guard!’ Harris said. “And they still did their job and saw a black man with a gun and, basically, killed him.”
CNN reported that Delaney said the unnamed Midlothian officer, who has been placed on administrative leave during the investigation, has been with the department nearly four years. A patrol officer, he also leads a regional SWAT team, the chief said.
The man also has three years’ experience with a different agency.
Roberson’s family has filed a lawsuit in his death seeking $1 million in damages. The family’s attorney, Gregory Kulis, said he feels that the officer who shot the young musician did not make a proper assessment before firing his gun.
“Jemel was trying to save people’s lives,” Kulis said, according to CNN.
The ACLU of Illinois issued a statement from Karen Sheley, director of the organization’s Police Practices Project, that said Roberson should still be alive.
“Working as a security guard while black should not be a death sentence,” Sheley said in the statement. “In this case, police were more dangerous to him than an active shooter who he apparently subdued.
Sheley said the police shooting was avoidable.
“Here, a police officer’s assumptions about Mr. Roberson, apparently impacted by bias rather than a clear-headed assessment of the situation, resulted in a tragedy,” she said.
Roberson was a gospel musician who played keyboard and drums at several churches in the Chicago area. According to CNN, he was scheduled to perform at one of those churches later on the morning he was killed.
Boose described him as a “protector of everybody.”
“To anybody he knew, he got close to, he was a protector,” she said.
Roberson planned to become a police officer, his friends and family said.
“He was getting ready to train and do all that stuff, so the very people he wanted to be family with took his life,” the Rev. Patricia Hill of Purposed Church told WGN.
Boose said life will never be the same for her son, who keeps asking for his father.
“My baby’s not going to have his father for Christmas, his birthday, any holidays anymore,” she told CNN.