In 2016, 22-year-old Courtney Copeland died from a gunshot wound right outside the Chicago Police Department. His mother, Shapearl Wells, was devastated by her son’s death – but her grief turned to suspicion as cops bungled the investigation into his murder. “Chicago Police has one of the lowest murder solve rates in the country, and it’s even lower when you’re black,” she tells us. “I knew I’d have to figure it out on my own.” Her podcast, Somebody, takes us step-by-step through her own investigation attempting to discover whether her son’s death was being ignored by the police or if the police had a hand in his shooting themselves. “But first, let me tell you about my son,” she says; in this first episode, she tells us who Courtney was in life, before we start focusing our attention on his death.
He was born on New Year’s Eve in 1993, and was energetic, outgoing, and charming, with “the most incredible smile.” In high school, he would hang out with his friend Chancelor Bennett, “who you might know as Chance the Rapper,” beatboxing and freestyling. He told his mom, “This guy’s gonna be huge,” and helped hand out Chance’s CDs on the street. He loved basketball, even getting a partial scholarship to play in college; but after one semester, the tuition payments were still too much, so he came home and started working as a sales associate at a business called World Ventures. “That’s when I saw Courtney really becoming a man,” his grandmother says. “Because of his positive mental attitude….he became more of a leader.” He signed up so many people that the company gave him a lease on a BMW convertible as a bonus. “He loved that car like it was a girlfriend,” Shapearl says.
On the last night of his life, Courtney talked to his grandmother about becoming an in-home care worker, helped a friend move a sofa, and planned a weekend road trip. But at two in the morning, Shapearl was woken by cops “bamming on our door” to tell her that Courtney was in the hospital. Detectives informed her that Courtney had been shot through his car window, and drove to the police station to flag down an officer before collapsing in the parking lot. But then they asked Shapearl if Courtney owned the BMW, and she started to wonder if this was actually a traffic stop gone wrong, “like Philando Castile.” She and Courtney’s friends began asking around the neighborhood; one man told her he’d driven by the station and saw Courtney on the ground surrounded by cops. He thought the police were “doing something to him,” but refused to say more because he was afraid of retaliation from the cops: “I have children and I can’t risk my life,” he told Shapearl.
But these small indications that everything wasn’t right with Courtney’s death galvanized Shapearl to look into it herself. “I will find out the truth about what happened to my son. And when I do, the world will know it.” Hear more about Courtney Copeland, and Shapearl’s suspicions, on this episode of Somebody.
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