The interim Waukegan police chief publicly apologized Thursday to 15-year-old Martell Williams, who was wrongly charged with attempted murder, and said his department “must do better.”
Williams, 15, of Waukegan, was arrested on February 16 and wrongly charged with attempted murder and aggravated battery in connection to a shooting at Dollar General, 2613 Grand Avenue in Waukegan, that occurred on February 4.
During a press conference this week, Williams said that police kept asking him the same question and offered him McDonald’s in exchange for a confession.
“It is true he bribed me with McDonald’s, and he kept trying to get a confession,” Williams said.
After his arrest, Williams was transported to the Robert W. Depke Juvenile Complex Center in Vernon Hills where he spent almost two days in custody until his release Friday morning.
Waukegan Deputy Police Chief Joe Florip said detectives verified Williams’ whereabouts on the night of the shooting, leading to his release and the charges being dropped.
Williams, who is a Waukegan High School freshman and basketball player, was attending an away game at Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire.
A screenshot from Snapchat confirmed Williams was attending the basketball game at the time of the February 4 shooting.
Officials said that Williams’ family and their attorney, Kevin O’Connor, met with the Waukegan Police Department Wednesday afternoon.
In a statement from Waukegan Interim Police Chief Keith Zupec, he said that his department “must do better.”
“Martell Williams did not commit this crime, nor was he involved in this crime in any fashion, and he should not have been brought to the juvenile detention facility. Martell should not have remained in that detention facility for a day and a half,” Zupec said.
“The Waukegan Police Department apologizes for the pain and disruption our actions have caused Mr. Williams, his family, and the community. I will be reviewing this case with my staff, the Mayor, and the Lake County State’s Attorney to understand how we got this far,” Zupec said.
The police chief said he would explore “all options, suggestions and ideas” to go beyond what state and federal law requires in juvenile cases “to prevent anything like this from ever occurring again.”
“My heartfelt apology goes out to this young man and his family. I will make it my purpose to not allow this organization to let him, his family, or Waukegan down again,” Zupec said.
Waukegan Mayor Ann B. Taylor also released a statement Thursday regarding the case.
“As Mayor of Waukegan, as a mother, and as a lifelong Waukeganite, I am very saddened and disappointed with how the Martell Williams case unfolded in our City. I only can imagine the pain and anguish this situation has caused Martell, his mother, and the Williams family,” Taylor said.
“While Martell has been cleared of all charges, I firmly believe that we as a City must do a better job when dealing with juveniles when they interact with our Police Department. When I ran for Mayor, I focused on ensuring that everyone in Waukegan is treated with dignity and respect. Unfortunately, in Martell’s case, the City missed this mark,” Taylor said.
The mayor said she will commit to dedicating resources necessary to identify and implement changes to how the police department handles the investigation, arrest and detention of juvenile suspects.
“In addition, we will work with the Lake County State’s Attorney and, if necessary, bring in outside parties to look at our Police Department with an unbiased view and provide constructive feedback. That said, we cannot expect all solutions to come from the outside. Change begins with us. I commit to making Waukegan’s protections for juvenile suspects an example for other communities to emulate,” Taylor said.
Williams said that he was at Waukegan High School when a dean took him to the office where he was met by two police officers.
“And once I reached their office, it was just two police officers and as soon as I got in they didn’t tell me nothing or say nothing to me. They just said, ‘you’re under arrest,'” Williams said.
“The officer said that multiple people came to him saying that it was me,” Williams said.
“He didn’t even know a shooting was involved. He just said, ‘Hey, it wasn’t your fault. You were defending yourself, you know. Just go ahead and say you were there and we’ll let you go home,” Williams’ attorney said.
Police and the Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office said the search continues for the actual suspect who shot the 19-year-old Dollar General employee in the face on February 4.