The Des Plaines police officer who accidentally shot a then-15-year-old in 2019 will not face criminal charges, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said in a memo.
Rylan Wilder was accidentally hit during a shootout with a suspected bank robber when the robber, after shooting a police officer in the head and leading officers on a chase, ran into UpBeat Music and Arts, a music school on the Northwest Side of Chicago, where Wilder was working.
Video footage captured the moment Wilder was shot in the arm and stomach by Des Plaines officer James Armstrong with an AR-15 as he stood in between Armstrong and the suspect, Christopher Willis. Willis was killed during the shootout.
The surveillance footage shows Wilder attempting to run away when Armstrong and Wilder began shooting, but was hit before he ran. He was transported to Lurie Children’s Hospital. Since then, Wilder has had 20 surgeries and undergone physical therapy, Tim Cavanagh, the Wilder family attorney said. Wilder, a musician, was still unable to play properly as of September 2020.
Wilder recently played with his band, Monarchy Over Monday, on July 30 at Postock Music Festival in Wisconsin.
“He is an amazing young man who was working incredibly hard. He’s an amazing musician, almost like a savant,” Cavanagh said.
After review, the state’s attorney’s office decided there was not evidence to criminally charge Armstrong.
Foxx said Armstrong was justified in using deadly force against Willis, because the suspect had threatened his life and others and because he had escaped several crime scenes already. Therefore, Armstrong should not be charged for Wilder’s injuries, she said, because there was no evidence Armstrong had seen Wilder, and “Officer Armstrong acted reasonably when he fired his rifle at Willis.”
Cavanagh said the family has a civil case pending against Armstrong and Des Plaines, and the criminal case findings do not affect its outcome.
“Officer Armstrong came into another jurisdiction with his own weapon, a weapon of war, an AR-15,” he said. “We want the ability to take his deposition to find out why this happened. His body camera was pointed downward, and was not working at the time of the shooting. The surveillance video inside UpBeat was pointed in the wrong direction. So the state’s attorney can make any conclusions it wants, but we’re entitled to pursue our case.”
Kim Foxx noted in her memo that Wilder was not seen in the body camera footage before Armstrong shot his rifle, and that “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.”
“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 state’s attorney office said in a statement.
Des Plaines police Chief David Anderson said Armstrong was trying to stop a violent active shooter and the station agreed with the state’s attorney’s decision to not file criminal charges.
“Officer Armstrong acted heroically to stop an active shooter who had just committed multiple forcible felonies and shot a Chicago Police officer prior to entering the music school,” Anderson said in a statement.
The statement from the state’s attorney’s office said the office of the state appellate prosecutor also found no criminal charges appropriate for the situation.