December 3, 2014 / 12:20 PM / in 5 years

Rare trial nears for Chicago police officer in fatal shooting

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A judge on Wednesday ordered a pre-trial hearing in January for a Chicago police officer who shot and killed a young black woman in 2012 in a case that has gained notoriety in the national debate in recent months over policing and race.

Dante Servin is the first Chicago police officer in 17 years to face criminal charges in a shooting death. He is charged with involuntary manslaughter and other felony offenses in connection with the off-duty shooting of Rekia Boyd, 22.

At a status hearing on Wednesday, Servin’s new lawyer asked for more time to prepare and the judge set a hearing for Jan. 21. A trial could follow in a matter of weeks.

According to prosecutors, Servin was in plain clothes when he called 911 late on March 20, 2012, to report a large, loud party in a park near his home. After midnight, on March 21, he left his home to get food. He was carrying an unregistered Glock semi-automatic on his hip, according to the indictment.

Servin got into an argument with a group of young people in an alley. He shot at them from his car, according to prosecutors. Boyd died the next day from her injuries.

If convicted, Servin faces a sentence ranging from probation to between three and five years in prison. Servin has been stripped of his police powers and assigned to desk duty until the legal proceedings conclude, a police spokesman said.

The criminal case follows a $4.5 million settlement the City of Chicago paid to resolve a civil lawsuit filed by Boyd’s family.

There has been heightened interest in the Boyd case since a white police officer killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in August, setting off a national debate about policing. Boyd’s name is called out at protest marches.

Chicago police kill an average of more than one person every month, about 100 people from 2008 through 2013, according to the city’s Independent Police Review Authority. Nearly all have been ruled justified.

About 80 percent of people killed by Chicago police are black. The city’s force is racially and ethnically diverse and a friend of Servin’s said the officer is Mexican-American.

“I believe the Ferguson shooting has brought awareness and hopefully it helps the case,” Boyd’s brother, Martinez Sutton, said. “It will be hurtful if they let this cop go. About 70-80 percent of these shootings don’t make any sense at all.”

The last Chicago police officer convicted in a killing, Gregory Becker in 1997, shot a homeless man. He served nearly four years in prison.

Editing by Mohammad Zargham, Bernard Orr

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