Officials say suburban officer ‘justified’ despite accidentally shooting Chicago music student

WGN Investigates

CHICAGO — The Cook County State’s Attorney’s office will not seek charges against a Des Plaines police officer who pursued an armed and violent bank robber into the City of Chicago and accidentally shot a music student in the process.

WGN Investigates closely followed the case and was first to report questions the student’s family had about the incident. The family of 15-year-old Rylan Wilder questioned why the suburban officer, Jimmy Armstrong, was still involved in the pursuit despite the presence of numerous Chicago police officers.

Police reports indicated at least 20 police units were involved in the pursuit. The robber, Christopher Willis, was armed and led police on a high-speed chase into the city in November 2019. 

Willis shot at a Chicago police officer after crashing his car in front of the Upbeat Music and Arts music store, grazing the officer in the head. 

Surveillance video obtained by WGN Investigates shows Willis then ran through the music store. The Des Plaines officer ran after him and then opens fire with an assault rifle as Willis reached the store’s back door.

The gunfire killed Willis but also hit Wilder. His family has been extremely frustrated by the lack of information — or even a phone call offering sympathy — from Des Plaines police since the incident.

“I don’t want to say they ruined my life, but they took away a huge part of it that I loved and they just don’t say anything,” Wilder told WGN last year. 

The teen needed at least 14 surgeries on his arm and abdomen and has still not regained full movement of his arm. He said police are pretending like the situation did not happen.

Cook County prosecutors have determined Armstrong was “justified” using deadly force against Willis for both self-defense and to stop the armed and threatening suspect who was attempting to escape. 

“Willis had just shot an officer in the head and had previously displayed his gun during the armed robbery and aggravated vehicular hijacking. Thus, Officer Armstrong reasonably believed that when Willis pointed the gun at him — he would shoot,” the state’s attorney’s law enforcement accountability division wrote in its decision.

The state’s attorney’s review also states the Des Plaines officer told investigators he didn’t see Wilder before he opened fire on the bank robber. 

“The angles in the videos support Officer Armstrong’s statement that while he was focused to his right firing at Willis, he did not see [Wilder] to his left. Thus, there is no credible evidence to indicate that Officer Armstrong intended to shoot [Wilder],” the state’s attorney’s decision memorandum said.

The state’s attorney’s officer released a full statement to WGN that reads:

After a thorough review of the evidence, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office determined the evidence is insufficient to support the filing of criminal charges in this case. Pursuant to policies and law enacted at the urging of State’s Attorney Foxx, after making its declination determination, the State’s Attorney’s Office referred the case to the Office of the State Appellate Prosecutor for an additional review. The Office of the State Appellate Prosecutor has completed its review and has concurred that no criminal charges are appropriate. The parties involved have been notified of this decision.

An Illinois State Police lab analysis determined Willis’ gun had been damage by bullet strikes which support accounts that he had raised the weapon at the time Armstrong shot him, according to prosecutors. 

“The majority of the gunshot wounds entered on Willis’ front, supporting that Willis was facing Officer Armstrong when the officer shot the rifle,” they wrote.     

A spokesperson for Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Wilder’s family is now suing a second bank robber who was arrested earlier in the pursuit as well as Des Plaines police.   

“Rylan’s life was changed through no fault of his own due to the reckless actions of the Des Plaines police officer,“ the Wilder family’s attorney Tim Cavanagh said. “We are lucky more kids were not shot as a result of the officer’s reckless actions.”

Des Plaines police agreed with the state’s attorney’s decision.

“We agree with the State’s Attorney’s decision not to file criminal charges against our officer. Officer Armstrong acted heroically to stop an active shooter who had just committed multiple forceable felonies and shot a Chicago Police officer prior to entering the music school. We recognize the serious injury that occurred to student Rylan Wilder during this dangerous incident. The department will not be issuing any further statements about this incident due to ongoing litigation,” Police chief David Anderson said.

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