Federal judge dismisses lawsuit against Elgin officer who fatally shot Decynthia Clements

DeCynthia Clements

A federal court on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit against the Elgin police officer who shot and killed 34-year-old motorist Decynthia Clements early on March 12, 2018, following an hourlong standoff along I-90 during which authorities say she ignited the SUV she was driving.

Clements’ family filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the officer and the city of Elgin, claiming police used excessive force, failed to intervene, were improperly trained and engaged in willful and wanton conduct.

“The death of Ms. Clements was tragic and the Court expresses its condolences to her estate and her family,” wrote U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey I. Cummings in his opinion. “Nonetheless, based upon the undisputed facts and the principles of law … the court concludes that (Lt. Christian Jensen’s) conduct did not amount to a violation of Ms. Clements’s constitutional rights.”

The Elgin woman’s death marked the city’s first fatal police shooting in 19 years. The shooting sparked community outcry and calls for Jensen’s firing. However, the Cook County state’s attorney’s office determined it was justified, and Jensen was reinstated in 2019.

At about 11:50 p.m. on March 11, 2018, another Elgin police officer noticed Clements sitting in her car near a closed bike trail. About 30 minutes later, the patrol officer returned and noticed the vehicle was still there, according to Cummings’ order. The officer approached and noticed a knife on the front passenger seat.

According to the judge’s opinion, the officer noted Clements “exhibited dilated pupils and clenched teeth, which are both possible symptoms of mental health episodes and the influence of narcotic stimulants to the central nervous system.” While the officer checked her background, Clements drove away and onto I-90, where she collided with a guardrail which caused two flat tires, authorities said. Other Elgin officers arrived, along with Illinois state troopers.

Authorities say Clements refused multiple requests to exit her car and appeared agitated, lighting one cigarette and then another before igniting the car. On police body camera footage, officers can be heard saying she had a knife and a history of mental distress. One officer indicated she held a knife at her neck at one point.

As heavy smoke poured from the car, officers moved toward the car after discussing their approach. Body camera video showed Clements exiting the smoke-filled vehicle with a knife at which point she was simultaneously shot three times and tased.

In their complaint, the family claimed Clements “stumbled out of the vehicle, crouched to get below the smoke, and was shot within one second of her first foot hitting the ground as she fled her vehicle, complying with Elgin police officer demands that she exit the vehicle.”

Cummings found the police camera footage contradicted Clements’ family’s version of the event. An independent professional standards investigation by Hillard Heintze LLC of Chicago determined both uses of force complied with department policy.

∙ The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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