The Will County Sheriff’s Office plans to allow the family of two slain men to view police body camera video of the deputies shooting them, according to a representative of the office.
The announcement follows the family of the two men filing a lawsuit for access to the footage.
An 11-page Freedom of Information Act lawsuit was filed in Will County court Monday on behalf of plaintiffs Sadie Mitchell and Rhonda Wells, the survivors of Eldred Wells, 70, and his grandson, Jabbar Muhammad, 21, according to their attorney, Ian Barney.
Will County sheriff’s deputies gunned down Muhammad as he was stabbing Eldred Wells to death Nov. 6, 2021, in Joliet Township, according to a statement released by the sheriff’s office.
Rhonda Wells is Eldred Wells’ daughter and Mitchell is his sister. They submitted FOIA requests seeking access to body camera video and death reports, both of which were denied by the sheriff’s and coroner’s offices, according to the lawsuit.
Sheriff Mike Kelley has been informed that the Will-Grundy Major Crimes Task Force investigation has been completed and the case is now the hands of Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow, Kelley’s spokeswoman, Kathy Hoffmeyer, said.
The task force is an agency comprised of numerous local police agencies that investigates police shootings and deaths in custody. The task force is led by Will County Deputy Chief Dan Jungles.
When Barney initially requested access to the body camera video, Kelley contacted Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow’s office and was told not to release the video, Hoffmeyer said. Glasgow spokeswoman Carole Cheney said the matter is pending and under investigation.
“However, the sheriff has again contacted the task force and state’s attorney’s office and we are now in the process of making arrangements for the family and their attorney, Ian Barney, to view the video in a private setting,” Hoffmeyer said.
Barney confirmed that he is in the process of coordinating a date for a private viewing. He said he expects the viewing next week or the week after that.
Barney still plans to pursue the FOIA lawsuit, which names as defendants the sheriff’s office, Kelley, the coroner’s office and Will County Coroner Laurie Summers.
“I do not yet know what effect, if any, the private viewing will have on the claims against the sheriff’s office that are in the FOIA lawsuit,” Barney said.
The lawsuit claims that a lead investigator and a commander from the task force told the plaintiffs through their attorney that they did not believe showing body camera video to the family would “obstruct or interfere with their investigation.”
The lawsuit said the task force completed its witness interviews in December and turned its materials over to prosecutors.
“Nevertheless, five months on from the incident, neither the family of Jabbar and Eldred Sr. nor any representative of the family has been given the opportunity to view the body camera videos despite repeated requests,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit charges Kelley, Summers and their respective offices with violating the FOIA by failing to produce the requested records and willfully doing so in bad faith by asserting exemptions that do not apply.
The lawsuit also put forth allegations about the incident that was not stated by the sheriff or task force officials at the time. The lawsuit alleges Muhammad was shot multiple times in the face and that Eldred Wells also was shot multiple times, including once in the back.
Romeoville Police Chief Ken Kroll, the task force spokesman, did not respond to questions on those allegations or other allegations in the suit. Instead, Kroll said, “This is an open and active investigation.”
Kroll said task force members have been appointed as grand jury investigators and that pursuant to state law, the task force will not be “disclosing any details regarding this open and active investigation.”