CHICAGO — Two police officers have been charged with three felonies each after they shot an unarmed man in Pilsen and then lied to authorities about it, the county’s top prosecutor said Friday.
Sgt. Christopher Liakopoulos, 43, and officer Ruben Reynoso, 42, are charged with aggravated battery with a firearm, aggravated discharge of a firearm and official misconduct, State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said.
The officers shot and wounded a 23-year-old man in an unprovoked act of violence, and another person was grazed by a bullet, Foxx said. The officers told authorities they’d been shot at first and Supt. David Brown told the public the same shortly after the shooting. But videotape of the incident directly contradicts that, and neither of the wounded people fired shots at the officers, Foxx said.
“It is our position based on the facts, the evidence and the law that the officers involved in this incident did not have provocation or justification to shoot the unarmed victim during this incident,” Foxx said. “The evidence does not support the use of deadly force … and was not lawful.”
The two officers were relieved of their duties by the Police Department, as well.
The shooting happened around 7 a.m. July 22 in the 1000 block of West 18th Street, police previously said.
The officers, members of the Major Accidents Investigations Unit, were traveling on 18th Street near Morgan Street in an unmarked police car on their way to the Police Training Academy for training. Liakopoulos was driving and Reynoso was in the front passenger seat, Assistant State’s Attorney Alyssa Janicki said during a bond hearing Friday.
They saw several men or boys standing near a business that was closed at the time, stopped their car and backed up near the group, the prosecutor said.
The officers asked the group what they were doing in front of the business. As they were talking to the group, a 23-year-old man and a youth approached the officers’ car, Janicki said. The 23-year-old was carrying a cellphone and a bottle of wine in one hand and the minor was holding onto a cross-body satchel that contained a firearm, she said.
Before reaching the officers’ car, the youth turned around and began running east down the street, the prosecutor said. The 23-year-old continued walking toward the car and waved his open hands at the officers to show he had a phone and bottle of wine in one hand and the other hand was empty, Janicki said.
Reynoso then reached his arm out of the car window and fired a shot in the direction of the victim, Janicki said. Liakopoulos, in the driver’s seat, then reached across the car to also fire his gun out of the passenger side in the direction of the minor, Janicki said.
As the minor was running from the car, he fired shots back at the officers, Janicki said. The officers shot again, hitting a pedestrian walking by and causing a graze wound to his leg, she said.
Both officers fired multiple shots in the direction of the 23-year-old victim, Janicki said. He was shot in his back and his leg and fell to the ground, the prosecutor said.
The officers were not wearing body-worn cameras at the time because they were headed to the police academy in the West Loop, Janicki said.
The officers initially told investigators they fired their guns only after they were fired upon by the minor, Janicki said. The next day, the officers said they didn’t know who shot first, but said the minor pointed the gun at them before any shots were fired, the prosecutor said. After investigators reviewed surveillance footage of the area, they determined the shooting as described by the officers did not reflect what the footage showed, she said.
Attorney Brian Sexton, who represents Reynoso, said his client fired only after the minor approached the car with a gun and pointed it at the officers. He also disputed the prosecutor’s claim that the officers fired first, saying it’s unclear who shot first.
“The surveillance video is from behind the juvenile gunman, so you can’t see the weapon in front of him,” Sexton said. “It’s not clear who fired first at the initial exchange, but it doesn’t matter if [the juvenile’s] pointing the gun at them.”
Defense attorneys pushed Judge Maryam Ahmad to block the public release of the video, saying it will only show half the story and be unfair to the officers. But Ahmad said a formal petition needed to be filed and hearing be held before that could happen, arguing Friday’s hearing was only to set bond. Attorneys argued any hearing could come too late if the Civilian Office of Police Accountability that is probing the case releases it. COPA officials were not immediately available for comment.
Sexton also disputed allegations the officers lied to investigators about what happened. He said Reynoso talked to investigators the next day — after having gone to the hospital for health issues — and said he didn’t recall whether he shot in the car or not.
After Reynoso watched the surveillance footage, he again said he didn’t remember, Sexton said.
“There’s a whole body of science … that says when you have a traumatic, stressful event like this, you’re not going to remember things right away,” Sexton said. “This whole thing about contradicting or lying, that’s completely false. It’s not true at all.”
Liakopoulos has been with the Police Department since 2001 and Reynoso since 2003.
The judge set the bail at $25,000 for each defendant. She ordered them not to possess a gun while out on bond and to surrender their FOID cards. They previously surrendered their guns to the Police Department.
Attorney Gregory Kulis, who is representing one of the 23-year-old victim, said after the bond hearing that his client was shot just a few inches from his spine.
“He was taken out of the hospital, taken to the police station in custody and seized for … hours at least where he was interrogated and ultimately released without any charges,” Kulis said. “…He was not committing a crime, he did not do anything. He was not carrying a weapon. … And he was shot in the back.”
Foxx said her office supports the men and women of the Chicago Police Department — but these officers broke the law.
“With regard to this particular case, we cannot ignore or stand by acts of unprovoked violence, even at the hands of those who are sworn to serve and protect our communities,” she said.
The shooting is being investigated by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, as well.
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