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As police reform movement intensifies, an update on CTA shooting victim Ariel Roman

Ariel Roman before the shooting.

In recent months calls to overhaul or abolish police departments in big cities have grown louder in the wake of high-profile police murder cases like the killing of Breonna Taylor in Louisville and George Floyd in Minneapolis, with massive protests and civil unrest. Earlier this month police shot a young Black man in Chicago's Englewood neighborhood, sparking more local demonstrations and unrest.

And last Sunday in Kenosha, Wisconsin, accessible to Chicago by Metra commuter rail, police shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back, paralyzing him, as he walked to his car where his young sons were waiting. Yesterday Americans were horrified to learn that a white teen who had traveled to Kenosha from nearby Antioch, Illinois, during the ensuing unrest shot three protestors, killing two, and that police reportedly allowed him to walk away from the scene of the first shooting, even though bystanders were shouting for his arrest.

Amidst all this tragedy, there's a small glimmer of hope in the story of Ariel Roman, 33, who was shot and critically injured last February by Chicago Police officers who tried to detain him after a minor offense on the CTA Red Line. According to his attorney Gloria Schmidt Rodriguez, Roman is back home from the hospital and slowly recovering, although he's got an uphill battle to fully recover his health. Meanwhile Roman's federal lawsuit agains the city of Chicago and the two officers who shot him continues, although it has been delayed by the recent crises.

On February 28, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced that the city would be adding 50 new officers to the Chicago Police Department’s public transportation unit, in addition to several hundred officers who were already patrolling the CTA, in response to a recent wave of violent robberies and other attacks on transit. That very afternoon, police tried to stop Ariel Roman, after they saw him walking between train cars, which is technically illegal but rarely enforced. That led to them pepper spraying, Tasing, and recklessly shooting up a Grand Avenue Red Line station escalator at the unarmed man as he tried to flee the arrest. Roman, who is Latino and worked as a cook, was shot twice in the buttocks and abdomen.

The moment before the police shot Ariel Roman. Image: Michael McDunnah
The moment before the police shot Ariel Roman. Image: Michael McDunnah
The moment before the police shot Ariel Roman. Image: Michael McDunnah

Roman came home from the hospital to his mother's house about a month after the shooting, shortly after Illinois' pandemic Stay at Home order was issued, Schmidt Rodriguez said. "Medically, he's still got a lot of issues, particularly in light of COVID," the lawyer said. He has had difficulty accessing his downtown medical providers due to the pandemic, as well as Loop shutdowns in the wake of protests.

"He's still in a lot of pain," Schmidt Rodriguez said. "Emotionally he's an optimist; he's hopeful that he'll get better." The bullet that lodged in his backside is too close to his spine to remove without risking paralysis, so it continues to cause him discomfort, and his healthcare providers are looking at pain management strategies instead. The lawyer indicated that Roman is somewhat ambulatory, but said he is most comfortable in a reclining position.

The other bullet ripped through his intestines. While he's able to eat solid food, currently he must use a colostomy bag, Schmidt Rodriguez said. The hope is that his digestive system will eventually heal enough to make that unnecessary.

The pandemic and downtown closures have also delayed the lawsuit, because the federal courthouse for Cook County is located in the Loop, according to Schmidt Rodriguez, "A lot of the deadline got pushed back because [court officials] didn't want to take any chances." Lawyers for the defendants have filed their appearances, but Roman's team is still waiting for a court date.

Schmidt Rodriguez said Roman's case "absolutely" ties into the larger issue of police reform. "With all these cases that we're seeing , where is the appropriate response from police? With Ariel's case, the police response was wholly inappropriate -- there was zero attempt at deescalation. A minor conflict ended with my client lying on the floor unconscious and bleeding."

A GoFundMe page launched by Roman's sister Wendy to cover his medical expenses has raised only $1,768 out of a $40,000 goal. Schmidt Rodriguez said he has many outstanding bills.

"I am so happy to report that Ariel has been recovering at home and staying as healthy as he can," Wendy Roman wrote in April. "We had to quarantine him and really make sure we social-distanced from him but he is getting better every day. He is still in a lot of pain but his spirits are up... Please stay safe and tell your loved ones you care about them. We almost never got to see Ariel again, and he was just taking the train one Friday afternoon."

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