Katherine Rosenberg-Douglas Chicago Tribune
LAKEMOOR, Ill. — Surprised as he sat parked in his SUV, the man wanted for murder pointed a gun at Lakemoor Police Officer Brianna Tedesco and pulled the trigger.
The gun didn’t fire.
For the next 20 seconds, Tedesco and the man fought for control of the gun, Tedesco repeatedly screaming “No” and finally, “Please don’t shoot me!” according to newly released video of the encounter last July in Lake County.
Another officer arriving on the scene drew his gun and, when Tedesco stepped away from the SUV, fired as the man raised both hands, a weapon in each.
The man, later identified as Kenneth Martell, was struck in the head and died. He had been wanted in Pennsylvania for beating and stabbing an elderly man to death. An autopsy found Martell, 36, had amphetamine, methamphetamine and marijuana in his system.
Lake County State’s Attorney Michael Nerheim released a report last month stating that a subsequent investigation and review of its findings determined the shooting was justified. His report added that both Tedesco and Officer Anthony Loiacono, who fired the fatal shot, were in fear for their lives. Video of the encounter wasn't released until this week.
“Both officers were heroes as far as I’m concerned — they way they handled it from beginning to end,” Nerheim said Tuesday after his office released the body cam and dashboard camera videos to the public on its website.
“It’s a really dramatic video. The first time I saw it, I felt my heart beating through my chest,” he said. “It’s hard to watch.”
It shows Martell gave Tedesco a mix of truth and lies when she came upon his SUV shortly before 5 a.m. on July 26 near Four Seasons and Sullivan Lake boulevards, on the east side of the Lakemoor Golf Club. She had been driving north on Four Seasons Boulevard when she spotted an SUV backed onto a gravel path with its lights off, according to her official account of the event.
She turned on her emergency lights and activated both her dashboard camera and body camera. Martell was lying back when she shined her flashlight into the SUV. He said he was from Pennsylvania and was heading west, and gave his name as “James Dunkin.”
“I just have to make sure, you now, you don’t have any warrants or anything — which I’m sure you don’t,” Tedesco said.
But he did.
Just three days before, Martell had tied up, then beat and stabbed 88-year-old Theodore Garver in his Beaver Township home in Pennsylvania. Martell abducted others and forced them at gunpoint to help dispose of the body in a lake near Garver’s home.
A warrant was issued for Martell’s arrest. Family members told investigators Martell used drugs, including methamphetamine, and had told friends and relatives that "‘cops were going to kill him over a drug bust" and he was "not going down without a fight," according to Lake County State's Attorney Michael G. Nerheim.
Loiacono had been at the police station doing paperwork when he was called to back up Tedesco on her stop. He had a general idea of where she was, but reached out on the radio to ask her to be more specific.
“Just past the townhouses, pulled off the roadway on Sullivan Lake Road,” Tedesco radioed as she wrote down the license plate number of the SUV.
As Loiacono drove to the scene, he paid attention to the radio traffic between Tedesco and the dispatcher.
“He heard that the name and date of birth provided to Officer Tedesco had been run through the system and came back with no record of any individual with those identifiers,” according to Loiacono’s statement to the state’s attorney's office. “Officer Loiacono, believing that this individual may be providing a false name and could be wanted, increased his speed to promptly get to the location.”
Meanwhile, Tedesco told the man in the SUV that the name he gave her didn’t match up with any driver's license issued in Pennsylvania.
“Do you have anything in the vehicle with your name on it?” Tedesco asked.
Martell handed Tedesco a piece of paper in an apparent attempt to distract her as he grabbed one of his guns, the video shows. Tedesco reached into the SUV, screaming as she tried to wrestle the gun away.
Loiacono pulled up behind Tedesco’s squad car. His windows were down and he could hear Tedesco’s screams.
After firing at Martell, Loiacono used his radio to call in “shots fired by the police, one suspect down.” He requested an ambulance.
Authorities launched a search for evidence in the nearby woods. Police found a large number of weapons, including rifles, shotguns, ammunition and crossbows; court documents, bail bond documentation and a criminal summons for Kenneth Martell; stolen property and identification cards of Theodore Garver, the man found dead in Pennsylvania.
In a report on the shooting, Nerheim concluded that “retreat was not an option. With both officers within feet of a man armed with two handguns, only one option remained for the officers: To defend themselves.”
He said Tedesco's "quick actions and fight for the gun allowed additional time for her partner to arrive at the scene. Her partner was then able to end this deadly confrontation. The acts of these two skilled officers were masterful and indicative of two people acting in self-defense."
On Tuesday, Nerheim pointed to the value of evidence provided by body cameras.
“This is the good thing about police departments getting body cameras. In past, there was no footage,” he said. “This highlights how incredibly dangerous their job is.”
The cameras worn by the Lakemoor officers during the shooting also provided audio, but the two dashboard cameras do not. Nerheim said some of the audio was redacted because of “personal information” from the police officer’s body camera footage.
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