The family of a Glendale Heights man shot to death by a Forest Park police officer is poised to sue the police department over the shooting, which they say was unjustified.
Family members of Marco Gomez held a press conference on Feb. 8, with civil rights attorney Andrew Stroth and members of the Tree of Life Justice League of Illinois, saying they aren't accepting the Forest Park Police Department's narrative.
Forest Park police say an officer spotted Gomez, 26, in a stolen car at the intersection of Harlem Avenue and Jackson Boulevard on Feb. 3. The officer got out of his car to approach Gomez, who reportedly attempted a U-turn to flee and drove the vehicle directly at the officer. Fearing for his life, the officer fired into the vehicle killing Gomez.
"The narrative that the mayor of Forest Park is putting forth and the police department — the family just refutes it emphatically," said Eric Russell, executive director of the Tree of Life Justice League of Illinois, at the press conference. "I will address the elephant in the room; who can we trust to do a thorough investigation?"
At the time of the incident, Gomez was on parole and had previously served jail time for robbery and theft. Illinois Department of Corrections records show Gomez was convicted of committing six different thefts between 2008 and 2016. He also was convicted of robbery in 2008 and possession of a controlled substance in 2014.
Russell said at the press conference that he believes Gomez would not have been shot had he been Caucasian.
"It appears they have moved from reckless policing to homicidal policing and where does this family go for answers?" Russell asked.
Forest Park Police Chief Tom Aftanas said an investigation into the shooting is being conducted by the Illinois State Police.
"I feel for his family," Aftanas said. "It's someone's son, someone's brother, maybe uncle. If affects a lot of people, so that I do understand."
Melissa Marquez, a cousin of Gomez, said the family is devastated by the shooting death and described her cousin as a "free-spirited, kind young man."
"He was always trying to make us laugh. He adored his family very much. He was especially close to his father," she said.
Stroth, who could not immediately be reached by phone, said at the press conference that the next step is to begin investigating the shooting.
"A federal civil rights lawsuit has not yet been filed," he said. "We want to know the facts first, and hopefully the Forest Park Police Department will be transparent and provide us with the information we need."
He said the family is unwilling to accept the police account of the shooting because of police departments' efforts elsewhere to cover up unjustified shootings.
"If you look at the narrative in Chicago and other suburbs, the police narrative [in other cases] … has been very contradictory relative to police reports and other evidence. We haven't seen the car; we don't know the ballistics on the gunshots; we don't know anything at this point in time. But to just believe what the police say is not something we're going to do," Stroth told reporters at the press conference.
Russell said whatever the narrative, police shouldn't use their firearm over the theft of a vehicle.
"The fact of the matter is a youthful indiscretion does not equal a death warrant," Russell said.