The village has responded to a lawsuit filed by the sister of Marco Gomez, a 26-year-old Glendale Heights man who was fatally shot by a Forest Park police officer in February 2017. The village, which is named as a defendant, contend that Officer Daniel Miller’s actions were reasonable and necessary and that he should be granted immunity.
“Miller used only that amount of force necessary to protect himself from Gomez’s unlawful conduct, and as such, he was justified and cannot be liable,” reads the response to the lawsuit filed by the village in U.S. District Court on Nov. 5.
The original lawsuit, filed exactly one year after Gomez’s death on behalf of his estate by his sister Daisy Perez, alleges that the village and police department failed to properly train officers, encouraged excessive force, failed to properly investigate police-involved shootings, and failed to discipline officers “who engage in unjustified shootings.”
“The unconstitutional actions of Defendant Miller as alleged in this complaint were part and parcel of a widespread municipal policy, practice and custom,” reads the complaint.
The village has denied nearly all of Perez’s claims.
According to the village, Miller was monitoring the police radio on Feb. 3, 2017, when he heard a report from the Chicago Police Department that a stolen Jetta was traveling west down Jackson Boulevard. He spotted a vehicle that matched the Jetta’s description at the intersection of Harlem Avenue and Jackson Boulevard in Oak Park.
Miller got out of his patrol car and, on foot, approached Gomez’s vehicle, giving Gomez several orders, which the man ignored. The lawsuit states Miller drew his gun and pointed it at Gomez, which the village denies.
The village states Gomez then intentionally drove the Jetta at Miller with the aim of striking him. According to the lawsuit, Gomez put the car in reverse, backing away from Miller, but that Miller continued to run after the Volkswagen, with his gun still drawn and pointed. The lawsuit states Gomez turned the car and attempted to drive away from Miller but, as he drove away, Miller fired one shot “without cause or provocation” into the Volkswagen, hitting Gomez’s chest and fatally puncturing his lung.
The village states that Miller was also injured “as a direct and proximate cause of Gomez’s unlawful conduct.
“Gomez’s willful, wanton, and unlawful conduct placed Officer Miller in reasonable apprehension of suffering an imminent batter, which would cause Officer Miller great bodily harm or death,” the village’s complaint reads.
Security cameras from a nearby Jiffy Lube captured the incident.
The two parties disagree over whether Gomez was armed. He was on parole and previously 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 robbery in 2008.
The Gomez family seeks unspecified but “substantial” monetary damages and reimbursement for court, attorney and funeral fees. Miller seeks “any damages recoverable under the law.”
The village has settled at least three other lawsuits so far this year, with settlement costs amounting to $233,900, and some, but not all, of the fees being paid by the village’s insurer.
Three other cases are pending in U.S. District Court, all alleging excessive force by Forest Park police.
In February 2018, plaintiff Giovanni LaGioia filed a federal lawsuit alleging a local police officer roughly searched him during a traffic stop in December 2017.
In June 2017, a Forest Park man alleged that a Forest Park police officer knocked his teeth out during a 2015 incident.
In October 2017, plaintiff Eddie Harkins filed a federal lawsuit against the village and police from Pinckneyville Correctional Center, alleging officers used excessive force and denied him medical treatment after arresting him for armed robbery in 2016.