Investigation continues in shooting of officers

By Danielle Gaines

Thirty-six-year-old Shannon Bridges, a Champaign police officer, is in stable condition at Carle Hospital following a shooting at West Side Park on Thursday night. Two other officers, Deputy Chief John Murphy and Officer Jack Armstrong were also injured, but have been released.

“All of the officers involved in the incident are in my mind heroes,” Police Chief R.T. Finney said. “The men and women of the Champaign Police Department grieve for their brothers and sisters at this time.”

The officers were injured while responding to a report of a man with a gun. Upon arriving at the park, the officers approached the vehicle of Donnell Clemons. Clemons had lived out of his car near the park for several years and the officers were hoping he could provide information on the gun sighting, Finney said at a press conference this afternoon.

Finney said the officers did not have their guns drawn when approaching the vehicle and had made no contact before the man started firing.

“He just saw uniforms and shot the officers,” he said.

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Clemons was injured when the officers returned fire and remains in critical condition at Carle Hospital. It is not known how many times the man was shot at this time because it is difficult between entry and exit wounds, Finney said.

Bridges, who was wearing a bullet-proof vest at the time, was struck in the shoulder and chest.

Clemons has been arrested for attempted murder and aggravated discharge of a firearm. The 46-year-old has previous weapons charges dating back to 1997.

Much information about the incident is unavailable as it is still under investigation, Finney said. A serious use of force team, comprised of investigators from several state and area departments, has taken control of the investigation at this point. The lead agency on the investigation is the Urbana Police Department. A report will be given to the States Attorney at the conclusion of the investigation.

All of the officers have been placed on administrative leave to heal and be with their families. Deputy Chief John Murphy is a 21-year veteran and an administrator at the department who was riding along with officers to understand and better help them deal with the issues on their beats, Finney said.

At the time of the incident, the officers were familiar with Clemons as they had regularly made contact with him to check on his well-being, Finney said. He added that it is not necessarily illegal to live in a car at that location, but there are ordinances regarding parking times. It is also not yet known how Clemons got the gun or who it was registered to.

An investigation in to the full contents of the vehicle is ongoing. Investigators have seized the car and a search warrant will be executed.

Other officers at the department will take over the shifts of the injured officers.

“The community does not need to be concerned about a shortage of officers,” Finney said. “The community does need to be worried about guns and violence in the community.”

Finney also said that the man’s motive was to injure officers and neighborhood residents should not change their habits.

“The worst thing that you can do is change your patterns,” Finney said. “West Side Park is a safe park. This was an isolated incident.”

The safety of the Taste of Champaign festival is not in jeopardy, Finney added.

The last time a Champaign police officer was shot was in the 1970s and the last time an officer died in the line of duty was in 1967.

Steve Contorno contributed to this report.