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Family, activists protest on sixth anniversary of death of Waukegan teen who was shot by Zion police officer

Family gather to speak during a protest Sunday in Zion for Justus Howell. | Photo: Jennifer Cain via Facebook.

The family of a 17-year-old boy, who was armed with a gun and shot by a Zion police officer in 2015, took to the streets on the sixth anniversary of his death to demand justice.

Justus Howell, 17, of Waukegan, was shot twice in the back on April 4, 2015, by Zion police officer Eric Hill.

Howell’s family and others protested Sunday afternoon by marching from where Howell was killed to the Zion Police Department, WGN News reported.

The protesters demanded justice for Howell and said they won’t stop their fight until charges are filed against Hill.

Several other family members who lost relatives in police-involved encounters also spoke Sunday during the protest.

The Lake County Major Crime Task Force investigated the Howell case and reviewed their findings with then Lake County State’s Attorney Michael Nerheim.

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Nerheim concluded in 2015 that Hill was justified in his decision to use deadly force because Howell was armed with a handgun and put the two officers in danger.

The Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office publicly released lengthy details in May 2015 on the shooting and the investigation, which the FBI assisted with.

Prosecutors said that Howell arranged to purchase a stolen handgun from Tramond Peet on April 4, 2015, for $600.

Howell met Peet at Salem Meats and Grocery on Galilee Avenue in Zion. They began walking through the neighborhood and Howell asked to see the handgun.

Peet handed the gun and Howell took the gun and refused to pay for it, prosecutors said, adding that Howell pointed the gun at Peet.

A struggle occurred between the two men when Peet pushed the gun towards the ground, causing it to discharge once. Witnesses heard the shot and called 911.

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Officer Hill was one of several responding officers and began chasing Howell, who fled the scene on foot while carrying the handgun.

Prosecutors said that Howell refused to drop the gun during the chase and at one point Howell slightly turned towards the officer while still running, at which time Hill fired two shots, striking Howell in the back.

Howell was treated at the scene and transported to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead.

In 2016, Howell’s family filed a federal lawsuit but a jury rejected the claims in 2018.

In June 2020, Nerheim issued a statement refusing to reopen the case following pleas from Howell’s family.