While off-duty in 2012, Detective Servin was involved in a fatal shooting which left an unarmed black woman dead. Sitting in his car parked along an alley on Chicago’s West Side, Servin fired five shots, over his shoulder, in the direction of four individuals. The detective maintains that he felt threatened when one of the four, Antonio Cross, pulled a gun from his waistband and charged the car. Police on the scene found a cellphone on Cross, but no gun. Rekia Boyd, 22, was killed.
"Any reasonable person, any police officer especially, would’ve reacted in the exact same manner that I reacted," Servin told reporters on Tuesday. "And I’m glad to be alive. I saved my life that night. I’m glad that I’m not a police death statistic. Antonio Cross is a would-be cop killer, and that’s all I have to say."
Despite going to trial for the shooting, Servin will now walk free after being acquitted by Judge Dennis Porter. That ruling came down to the prosecutors’ decision to charge the detective with involuntary manslaughter instead of murder, and what many see as an unfair legal technicality.
By charging involuntary manslaughter, prosecutors argued that Servin had acted recklessly when he fired his weapon into a dark alleyway. A fair assumption. But according to Illinois law, the very act of firing a gun at an individual is considered "beyond reckless," according to Judge Porter, and "it is intentional and the crime, if any there be, is first-degree murder."
Essentially, aiming a gun is always a purposeful act, and can, presumably, never be considered involuntary manslaughter.
"It is easy to say, 'Of course the defendant was reckless. He intentionally shot in the direction of a group of people on the sidewalk. That is really dangerous…and in fact Rekia Boyd was killed. Case close,'" Porter wrote in his ruling. "It is easy to think that way, but it is wrong."
Prosecutors expressed deep regret over the judge’s decision.
"The state’s attorney’s office brought charges in this case in good faith and only after a very careful legal analysis of the evidence as well as the specific circumstances of this crime," Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said in a statement.
Because of double-jeopardy laws, Servin is completely off the hook. Now that he has been acquitted of the manslaughter charges in the case, he can no longer be retried for murder.
The acquittal was met with anger. A crowd of 40 followed Servin as he left the courthouse, outraged at what was seen by many as another example of a white police officer getting away with the shooting an unarmed black individual. The death of unarmed teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri sparked nationwide protests which were reinvigorated by the deaths of Eric Garner and Tamir Rice, among others.
"He gets to walk out, he gets to go to his happy life – that’s a slap in the face," Martinez Sutton, the victim’s brother, said, according to the Chicago Tribune. "That’s just telling me the police can just kill you, go through this little process, take a two- or three-year vacation and then get back on the force like nothing happened."
George Mitchell, head of the Illinois NAACP, also expressed dismay at the decision.
"This statement – ‘I was afraid for my life’ – it’s got to stop," he said. "It’s got to stop now because otherwise what’s going to end up happening is that police and the community are going to be at odds completely with each other. And there’s no reason for that."