A Chicago police officer allegedly pointed his flashlight and aimed a pistol just feet away from 4-year-old and 9-year-old sisters, Reshyla and Savayla Winters, while they were lying in their beds on an August night—nearly two years later they still endure that trauma.
The girls’ family had spent less than a week in their new Chicago apartment when police kicked in their door without a warrant on Aug. 7, 2019, and a swarm of armed officers stormed their home, leaving them with “severe, long-term, emotional and psychological distress, including symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,” according to a civil lawsuit filed in federal court Tuesday.
The officer first pointed his flashlight and black pistol two feet from Reshyla’s face as she lay in her bed, the lawsuit says, and she immediately began crying and wet the bed in fear for her life. Within moments, the officer had turned his flashlight and gun at her older sister, who was frozen in the twin bed next to her.
The officers would later claim that they were looking for a fleeing suspect with a gun said to be dressed in all-black—a description that did not match that of the girls’ father, Steven Winters, 35, who was slammed to the ground and held at gunpoint with a knee in his back by a patrol officer.
The reported suspect had last been seen at a nearby gas station, the lawsuit states.
Other officers made their way through the home, and according to the lawsuit, without any trace of the suspect they sought, ignoring pleas from the family “approximately 50 times,” to explain why cops were tearing through their home.
While the sisters cried, another officer directed a gun at the girls’ 73-year-old grandfather, Jessie Evans, startling him from sleep in a separate room, the lawsuit states.
“It was like I was a visitor in my own house,” the girls’ mother, 32-year-old Regina Evans, said during a news conference on Wednesday.
Nearly two years later, it’s not uncommon for Evans to have to hold her daughters who at times wake up at night crying, she said. Both girls wake up drenched with sweat from nightmares involving guns, have continued to wet their beds, and Reshyla often even fears going outside to ride her bike, the lawsuit states.
The symptoms are not surprising to Yale child psychoanalysis professor Steven Marans, who directs the Childhood Violent Trauma Center and told The Daily Beast that many people are at risk of never recovering.
“It’s not atypical to see ongoing post traumatic reactions, and then when those don’t resolve then one moves into longer term related disorders,” Marans said. “If the family wasn’t helped in the way that they needed, it is not surprising to me that PTSD would be one of many potential outcomes.”
Marans, who also works with law enforcement to provide a collaborative response to kids exposed to violence in their homes, said he’s never heard of any situation involving his colleagues where a gun would be pointed in a kid’s face.
“The idea of putting a gun in a child’s face, I don’t understand that. Period,” he said.
The complaint, filed by civil rights attorney Al Hofeld Jr. in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, named the City of Chicago and several of its police officers as defendants for their role in “needlessly traumatizing” the family and violating their constitutional rights by repeatedly ignoring attempts from the family to understand why the officers were there.
The lawsuit says that after police had spent at least 30 minutes inside the home, a police sergeant offered an apology, saying that the officers had been hunting for a fleeing suspect.
Rather than admit they had forced their way into the home without much evidence, the officers knowingly filed internal reports falsely stating that they’d seen fleeing suspects duck into the family’s apartment before they “eluded capture by running out the back door and ‘making good their escape,’” the suit says.
According to the complaint, bodycam footage disputed that claim, as well as multiple other assertions that officers heard and saw suspects running into and out of the apartment or back porch made in internal police reports.
The same officer who apologized to the family during the raid then oversaw the writing of a report that sought to justify and cover up the botched raid, the suit alleges.
“The terror and stress to this innocent family was all for naught,” the suit says, seeking compensatory and punitive damages.
The family’s lawyer said in the filing that the “terrorizing” conduct of the officers was emblematic of the city’s troubled and systemic history with excessive police force being used against children or excessive force being used in the presence of minors.
The Chicago Police Department declined to comment on a pending case. When asked about the excessive use of force against or in the presence of children, a spokesperson for the department directed The Daily Beast to its “De-escalation, Response to Resistance, And Use Of Force” policy, which was last revised in a December 2020 directive and does not squarely address the use of force against children.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot in March had pledged sweeping changes to reform the CPD’s search warrant policy including efforts to identify vulnerable people and children before a search.
A spokesperson for the Chicago Mayor’s Office provided a statement from the Department of Law that said, “The City has not been served with the complaint to date.”