A former employee for Ford Motor Company has been exonerated for shooting a fellow union member in a self-defense incident in 2016, but he’s still fighting to return to work, receive back pay, and clear his name.
Fifty-two-year-old Billy Cowart was charged with attempted murder after he discharged his firearm in the United Auto Workers 551 parking lot located on the south side of Chicago. He struck two fellow union members in the leg, but he claimed he acted in self-defense.
The auto company and the union didn’t believe him. Cowart has combat training with the U.S. armed forces and was a licensed CCW holder at the time of the incident. He’d also worked at Ford’s Chicago Assembly plant for nearly 20 years. None of that mattered, and Cowart was quickly suspended and then fired.
“The union here basically said, ‘You got what you deserved. Deal with it,’” Cowart told local media. “I was crucified before the trial. I was the villain. I was the mad employee.”
A headline at the time of the incident read, “Man faces eight attempted murder charges in UAW shooting” and notes that Cowart shot two men who had recently been elected to union leadership.
Another report claimed Cowart “fled the scene” and quoted police as saying the shooting “followed an argument involving all three.”
Surveillance footage shown at Cowart’s trial tells a different story.
In the video, a man makes a beeline for Cowart and sucker punches him in the face. Cowart stumbles backwards and pulls out his handgun. He told local media that he shot towards the ground to stop the threat.
“He retreated,” Cowart said. “I holstered my gun.”
After over two years in court, Cowart was found not guilty on all charges. A judge determined that the other man was clearly the aggressor and Cowart acted in self-defense.
“I was actually numb,” Cowart said. “You can say innocent until proven guilty, but it’s guilty until proven innocent.”
Now Cowart is trying to get his old job back and receive compensation for the pay he’s been missing over the last two years.
Local media reports that he sat through a 10-hour arbitration hearing at which Ford and the union “put up a serious fight.”
More important than the money, Cowart says, is his reputation.
“I’d like to get my name back, basically,” he said.
He’ll have to wait another 30 days for a decision on his arbitration case.