The family of a 26-year-old Glendale Heights man shot dead by a Forest Park police officer in February 2017 has sued the village of Forest Park and the unnamed officer in U.S. District Court, asking for unspecified but “substantial” monetary damages.
The lawsuit claims the police officer and other police personnel conspired to prepare false reports about the shooting in order to maintain a “code of silence” to cover up the misconduct of the officer who shot Marco A. Gomez.
The lawsuit was filed on Feb. 3, exactly one year after Gomez’s death, on behalf of his estate by Daisy Perez, who is Gomez’s sister. The family is being represented by Andrew Stroth and Carlton Odim of Action Injury Law Group LLC, a Chicago-based firm that specializes in cases involving police shootings and allegations of police brutality.
The suit claims that the village and police department fail to properly train police, encourage excessive force, fail to properly investigate police-involved shootings and fail to discipline officers “who engage in unjustified shootings.”
According to the lawsuit, Gomez was at the wheel of a stolen Volkswagen, which was stopped at a red light in the westbound lane of traffic on Jackson Boulevard at Harlem Avenue in Oak Park on Feb. 3, 2017, when a Forest Park police officer spotted the car.
The police officer reportedly got out of his patrol vehicle and, on foot, approached Gomez’s vehicle.
Forest Park police officials after the incident stated that Gomez attempted to perform a U-turn and that the officer got in front of the vehicle, ordering Gomez to stop. However, police said, Gomez drove toward the officer, who, “fearing for his life,” opened fire, striking Gomez.
The lawsuit disputes that story. It states that Gomez drove away from the officer after the light turned green, and that the Forest Park police officer fired one shot “without cause or provocation,” hitting Gomez in the chest, puncturing his lung and killing him. Gomez was not armed, the lawsuit states.
Gomez was on parole and previously had served time in prison for robbery and theft, Illinois Department of Correction records showed at the time of the incident. He’d been convicted of six thefts between 2008 and 2016 and convicted of robbery in 2008.
The Gomez shooting was the second Forest Park police-involved shooting within a five-month span.
In October 2016, a Forest Park police detective shot and wounded a 34-year-old man suspected of stealing video games from Walmart. The person shot in that case, Micah Delrosario, of Addison, fled the store on foot through a cemetery and dumped the stolen merchandise in a wooded area before jumping into the Des Plaines River to elude police.
The incident sparked a full-blown manhunt that included at least 20 police officers. Police eventually located Delrosario floating in the river downstream, near Cermak Road, where he exited the water and took out a pocket knife.
Police at the scene, including Detective Jarlath Heveran, who fired the shot that struck Delrosario, stated to investigators that Delrosario appeared to be stabbing himself in the neck and aimed the knife point at his own chest while he tried to get him to surrender.
Delrosario eventually got out of the river and approached the Heveran, who continued ordering him to drop the knife and stop advancing before firing one round at Delrosario, striking him in the hip. No statement by police who were interviewed by investigators in that case suggested Delrosario threatened any officer with the knife.
The Illinois State Police Public Integrity Unit, which investigates all police-involved shootings, issued its report to the Cook County State’s Attorney, which in August 2017 determined there was no conduct on the part of police that gave rise to criminal charges.
Forest Park Police Chief Tom Aftanas said an internal review of the case determined Heveran did not violate any departmental policy. Heveran was not disciplined in connection with the Delrosario shooting, Aftanas said.
Delrosario was charged with four felonies, including retail theft, unlawful use of a weapon and two counts of aggravated assault.
He has been in jail since being treated for his gunshot wound and released to police custody. The case is scheduled for trial on Feb. 13.
The Illinois State Police Public Integrity Unit was also tasked with investigating the Gomez shooting, but as of mid-January that report was not yet available.
Meanwhile, there two other cases pending in U.S. District Court alleging excessive force by Forest Park police. In November 2017, Trumell Lee alleged that he blacked out after being placed in a choke hold by a Forest Park police officer who had already handcuffed him during a 2016 arrest.
In June 2017, a Forest Park man alleged that a Forest Park police officer knocked his teeth out during a 2015 incident.
The village of Forest Park in 2017 also settled a federal lawsuit brought by a woman who claimed she’d been raped by an on-duty police officer in September 2016. Following a state police investigation, the Cook County State’s Attorney declined to file criminal charges against the officer.
However, the village last October paid the woman $191,000 to settle a civil lawsuit stemming from the incident. The police officer no longer works for the department.