January 29, 2023
Local News

Family IDs driver shot, killed by Rock Falls police

Sterling man had no license, extensive criminal history; unidentified officer put on leave

ROCK FALLS – The man shot by Rock Falls police during a traffic stop Friday night was Nathaniel T. "Nate" Edwards, 43, of Sterling, his family has confirmed.

Edwards, a habitual traffic offender, was driving with a revoked license, and in fact was facing yet another felony charge of driving without a license at the time of the shooting.

He also may have been using license plates from another car, which might explain why police were attempting to pull him over.

In addition, Edwards has an extensive criminal history in Whiteside County dating back 20 years. Ten orders of protection by at least three women had been filed against him since 1999.

His family does not deny that he was an aggressive person, and a criminal, his niece, Marie Ruff of Dixon, said today.

Their concern, she said, is that the investigation is thorough, all witnesses are interviewed and their accounts verified.

"It's a proven fact that a person that does not get out of the vehicle when he’s told to stop is going to be deemed a threat, but it's also their duty as police officers to determine that they need to use that kind of force," Ruff said.

To that end, dash-cam footage from one Rock Falls police and two Whiteside County sheriff squad cars is among the evidence collected by the Illinois State Police on Friday night, ISP Lt. Chris Endress, who is overseeing the investigation, said this morning.

Because of the early and ongoing investigation, and witnesses yet to be interviewed, Endress is declining to answer many questions that would have confirmed Ruff's version of events, including Edwards' identity, which he said must be obtained from Whiteside County Coroner Joe McDonald, who has not yet returned calls seeking comment.

"Because I don't want to prejudice any outstanding witnesses, the state police is not commenting on the details of the incident," he said.

Endress did confirm that the driver, a black man, was the sole occupant of the white Cadillac that police were attempting to pull over around 7:45 p.m. He did not yet know why the traffic stop was initiated.

He also declined to comment on whether the man had a weapon, how many times he was shot or whether he was inside or out of the car at the time.

An autopsy is being scheduled, likely for Monday. Results of toxicology tests, which will show the level of substances, if any, in a person's system, routinely take 6 to 8 weeks to complete.

The officer involved is white and a 10-year veteran of the force, Rock Falls Police Chief Tammy Nelson said this morning.

As is protocol, he is on paid administrative leave while the investigation progresses, she said.

The ISP Integrity Task Force is investigating, which also is protocol: Whenever deadly force is used, an outside agency is called in to investigate.

Officers performed CPR and other life-saving measures at the scene, but the man was pronounced dead at CGH Medical Center, Endress said.

His car has been impounded and will be processed for evidence once a search warrant is obtained, Endress said.

In addition to processing the crime scene, officers spent a good deal of time canvassing the neighborhood Friday night, an effort that continues today.

"We have processed the crime scene, collected evidence from the involved officer, we have met with the family of the deceased and explained the investigative process, to help them get through that, the autopsy is being scheduled through the coroner's office and we've collected dash cam footage from at least three squad cars at the scene," Endress said. "We're still canvassing the neighborhood, and there are search warrants to obtain.

"We've got to do everything we can to be as thorough as possible, and get this investigation done as timely as possible, so the community can have closure. It takes time."

According to a brief news release from Rock Falls police sent around 1:30 this morning, officers followed the driver, who was eastbound on Dixon Avenue, to the 1300 block of Franklin Street, where the shooting occurred.

"The information thus far indicates that the officers acted appropriately," the release said. "Our thoughts are with the officers involved and their families, and the family of the decedent."

According to Ruff, Edwards was at a party at 1304 Franklin St., went to the store and was returning when police tried to pull him over, adding that she was not at the party herself but was relating what she had been told by a woman who was.

Ruff said she has no doubt that her uncle, who is her mother, Earlymae Ruff's brother, had been drinking and probably had marijuana in the car, which also had plates that did not belong to him and which is why, when police tried to pull him over, he circled the block three times before pulling into the driveway of the home.

Edwards did not get out of the car when commanded to do so, she said, and died when police "shot the car up" with him inside.

The heart of the matter, Ruff said, is why they didn't pull him from the car. "That's my issue," she said.

Edwards owned a gun but did not have it on him at the time, she said.

Ruff acknowledges that these are the early stages of the investigation, and does not deny that it may reveal Edwards was in some way culpable.

If so, "of course we have no other choice but to accept that, because facts are facts."

From what she can tell so far, though, it appear Edwards "didn’t pose a threat, he wasn’t screaming and hollering ... It's just unfortunate that they didn’t do something else," she said.

According to Whiteside County Court records, Edwards was charged Oct. 30 with felony driving on a revoked license, which carries 1 to 3 years in prison, and was free on $10,000 bond. He admitted at his Jan. 5 preliminary hearing to drinking and smoking marijuana that morning.

The last officer-involved shooting in Rock Falls was on Sept. 1, 2016, when Corey G. Poff Jr., 24, struck the front passenger side of a squad car driven by officer Nicholas Neblung, disabling it, and Neblung, fearing he was about to be run over, fired twice at the rear of the SUV, according to court records.

Poff was sentenced in March to 2 years for aggravated fleeing and criminal damage to government property.