There are now four separate investigations by the Illinois State Police into Forest Park police personnel, following a Feb. 3 fatal shooting in neighboring Oak Park by one of the department’s officers.
The Feb. 3 incident followed an October 2016 non-fatal shooting by another officer. Also in October, a 42-year-old Broadview man was found dead of an apparent suicide in his holding cell at police headquarters after about 12 hours in custody. Several weeks before that, in September 2016, a Forest Park resident accused an on-duty officer, Roberto Salas, of raping her. Salas was fired on Nov. 30. Officer-involved shootings, criminal accusations against officers and in-custody deaths are referred by departments to an independent body, such as the Illinois State Police Public Integrity Unit, for investigation.
“Is that a normal occurrence? No, but police-involved shootings are not normal incidents,” Forest Park Police Chief Thomas Aftanas said of the four investigations. “I’ve been employed at the department for 25 years. I don’t remember a time when there were two officer-involved shootings within months of each other.”
Aftanas said he hasn’t seen morale on the force dip as a result, mentioning his officers understand protocol.
Illinois State Police spokesperson Jason Bradley declined to offer a timeline or details on three of the four investigations. Bradley could not be reached by press time to confirm the suicide investigation, which Aftanas mentioned.
As reported by the Review, the Feb. 3 shooting occurred after 26-year-old Marco Gomez allegedly stole a car in Glendale Heights. He ended up driving westbound through Chicago and Oak Park and was stopped near the intersection of Harlem Avenue and Jackson Boulevard, on the border of Forest Park and Oak Park, when a Forest Park officer spotted the vehicle.
The officer got out of his car and attempted to stop Gomez as he tried to make a U-turn and flee east. The officer, in the vehicle’s path and “fearing for his life,” fired into the car, killing Gomez. There were no other passengers in the car at the time.
A search of Illinois Department of Corrections records shows Gomez has previously served jail time for theft and robbery and was on parole at the time of the Feb. 3 shooting. Aftanas confirmed Gomez’s criminal history.
The officer involved in the Feb. 3 shooting was subsequently placed on administrative leave pending the Illinois State Police investigation, Deputy Police Chief Michael Keating confirmed.
“He’s a seasoned officer,” Keating said, Feb. 4. “He’s not new.”
A 47-year-old Forest Park woman, who accused Officer Salas of rape, filed a civil suit seeking unspecified monetary damages in December 2016 in U.S. District Court. The suit also names the village of Forest Park as a co-defendant.
The woman and her estranged husband, according to the suit, have a combative relationship.
On Aug. 30, the woman’s husband, under the supervision of two officers, including Officer Roberto Salas, returned home to gather his belongings. At that time, the suit claims, Salas gave the woman his card and told her to call him “anytime if she ever needed help with anything, or even if she just needed a cup of coffee.”
On Sept. 2, the woman took Salas up on his coffee offer, and he allegedly stopped by her home, in full police uniform and in a police cruiser that afternoon. Then, according to the lawsuit, Salas sexually assaulted the woman before getting a call on his police radio and leaving.
In the October 2016 incident, a Forest Park police officer shot a 34-year-old Chicago man in the hip during a manhunt along the Des Plaines River after he allegedly stole merchandise from Walmart, 1300 Desplaines Ave. The man was taken to Loyola University Medical Center for treatment and later charged with theft.
The Forest Park police officer involved in the Feb. 3 shooting death of a 26-year-old Glendale Heights man on Feb. 3 will be put on administrative leave as the Illinois State Police conduct an investigation into the incident, according to Forest Park Deputy Police Chief Michael Keating.
“He’s a seasoned officer,” Keating said. “He’s not new.”
Keating said it’s standard protocol to place officers involved in shooting incidents on administrative leave pending an investigation of the incident. The Illinois State Police Public Integrity Unit is leading that investigation.
The man who was fatally shot has been identified as Marco A. Gomez of the 100 block of South Waters Edge in Glendale Heights. The incident took place around 6 p.m. on Feb 3 near the intersection of Harlem Avenue and Jackson Boulevard in Oak Park.
Gomez allegedly stole a car in Glendale Heights and was spotted driving west through Chicago and Oak Park. A Forest Park police officer eventually spotted the car as it pulled alongside him at the intersection of Harlem and Jackson Boulevard, Keating said. As Gomez tried to pull a U-turn and head east on Jackson Boulevard, the officer got out of his car, got in front of the fleeing car and ordered Gomez to stop, Keating said. Gomez reportedly drove toward the officer, who “fearing for his life” then fired on the car, killing Gomez, according to police.
“Everybody was so boxed in,” Keating said. “There were so many cars there.”
Keating said Gomez was the only person in the stolen vehicle. There were no other passengers.
The Illinois State Police did not return phone calls requesting comment.
A Forest Park police officer fatally shot a subject inside a vehicle being driven toward him in the vicinity of Harlem Avenue and Jackson Boulevard on Friday at about 6:20 p.m., according to a press release. The officer was attempting to stop the vehicle, which was reported stolen and was involved in a hit-and-run crash in Chicago a short time earlier, police said.
Forest Park police received a report that a vehicle stolen in Glendale Heights was seen by Chicago police heading westbound in the area of Adams Street and Central Avenue, where it had been involved in a hit-and-run crash. A short time later, the vehicle was spotted going westbound on Jackson Boulevard, heading toward Oak Park.
A Forest Park police officer on patrol in the area of Harlem and Jackson reported seeing the vehicle stopped at the traffic light at that intersection. According to the press release, the vehicle turned back eastbound on Jackson Boulevard in an attempt to elude the officer, who approached the vehicle on foot.
When the vehicle began driving toward the police officer, who was standing in front of the vehicle, the officer reported fearing for his life and firing his weapon into the vehicle, killing a subject inside.
It is unclear if there were other subjects inside the vehicle. Because the incident is a police-involved shooting, the Illinois State Police Public Integrity Unit is leading the investigation.