Abnerd Joseph’s family sues over killing of assistant principal in Loop high-rise

Abnerd Joseph’s mother, sister and brothers at a news conference Wednesday.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Patience has run out among the family of Abnerd Joseph, an assistant school principal who was killed in September by a neighbor in a luxury Loop high-rise.

Joseph’s family says the 32-year-old Atlanta native was unarmed and emotionally distressed when he was shot seven times by a neighbor. No criminal charges have been filed against the neighbor, who claimed self-defense.

“We have been patient despite believing there is more than enough evidence to move forward with an arrest for those who mercilessly extinguished my brother’s life,” brother Jay Charles said Wednesday.

While family waits, Charles filed a lawsuit this week that he hopes answers some questions about the death.

His attorney Antonio Romanucci said the family wants to know why neighbors and building security followed Joseph through the building before first responders arrived. Romanucci said a security guard accompanied two neighbors, one who was armed with a gun, “to find and hunt” and kill Joseph.

“There’s a reason that vigilante justice is illegal. And this case demonstrates exactly why,” Romanucci said.

The shooting happened the evening of Sept. 14 on the 48th-floor hallway of The Legacy at Millennium Park at 60 E. Monroe St., where Joseph and the tenant both lived.

Abnerd Joseph

Provided

Joseph, who lived on the 29th floor, was “wildly” knocking on residents’ doors, attempting to enter apartments and “yelling incoherently,” according to a police report that the Sun-Times reported on in September.

The family’s attorneys disagree with some characterizations in the police report. The lawsuit says Joseph was experiencing an “emotional distress event,” was visibly disoriented and had said he feared for his life.

When the doorman and tenants went to check on Joseph, he allegedly struck the doorman several times, according to the police report. A tenant then tried to calm him down and was also hit and fell, the report said.

Another tenant warned Joseph that he was armed and told him to stop hitting people. The police report said Joseph “turned and charged” at the tenant, who opened fire, hitting him several times.

Joseph died from gunshots to his chest, abdomen, flank, an armpit and a ring finger, according to the report.

Romanucci said the decision to shoot Joseph was not a proportionate response to his behavior, even if he had been aggressive. Police were on their way to the building when shots were fired, according to the lawsuit.

“It doesn’t matter to our lawsuit at all [if Joseph had been aggressive], because even if there was some sort of physical aggression on Abnerd’s part, what we’re saying is, what you do in that situation is you step back and you deescalate and you give time,” Romanucci said.

“Time is your best friend in these situations, even if it means locking everybody down and leaving him alone in the hallway,” he said.

The family has not seen surveillance video of the events, which might explain more about how the shooting unfolded, Romanucci said.

Antonio Romanucci, founding partner of Romanucci and Blandin, talks about the wrongful-death lawsuit filed by relatives of Abnerd Joseph. Romanucci said the decision to shoot Joseph was not a proportionate response to his behavior, even if he had been aggressive.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The lawsuit filed Tuesday in Cook County names the building owner and management as defendants, as well as the building’s security company and the tenant who allegedly shot and killed Joseph. It includes counts of wrongful death and negligence.

None of the defendants, including the tenant who was named as Garrett Mark Smith, immediately returned requests for comment. Smith has no training in law enforcement or security and lived on the same floor as Joseph, according to the lawsuit.

A spokesperson for the Cook County state’s attorney’s office said the case remains an ongoing police investigation. Chicago police said the investigation is “active and ongoing.”

Joseph worked at Intrinsic School, 79 W. Monroe St. He moved to Chicago in 2022 from Atlanta. He was one of seven siblings, some of whom traveled to Chicago on Wednesday to tell reporters what he meant to them.

“Abnerd was the glue that kept us all together,” his brother Bryan Bien-aime said. “The way that he was taken from us is just heartbreaking.”

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