By Nona Tepper
The sister of a 26-year-old Glendale Heights man, fatally shot by a Forest Park police officer, amended her lawsuit against Officer Daniel Miller and the village of Forest Park on Aug. 27, alleging 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 amended complaint names Miller, for the first time, as the officer who fatally shot victim Marco Gomez.
The lawsuit was filed on Feb. 3 in U.S. District Court, 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 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.
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 about 6 p.m. on Feb. 3, 2017, when Miller spotted the car.
Miller got out of his patrol vehicle and, on foot, approached Gomez's vehicle, drawing his gun and pointing it at Gomez, the complaint reads. Gomez reversed the car away from Miller, but Miller continued to run after the Volkswagen, with his gun still drawn and pointed, according to the lawsuit.
It states that 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. Security cameras from a nearby Jiffy Lube captured a recording of the incident, which has been provided to police and the village of Forest Park, the lawsuit said.
Gomez was not armed, the complaint said. 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 convicted of robbery in 2008.
After the incident, Forest Park police officials said Gomez attempted to perform a U-turn and that Miller got in front of the vehicle, ordering Gomez to stop. However, police said, Gomez drove toward Miller, who, "fearing for his life," opened fire, striking Gomez.
"Defendant Miller had good reason to believe that his misconduct would not be revealed or reported by fellow officers or their supervisors, that their false, incomplete, and misleading reports would go unchallenged by these supervisors and fellow officers, from the police superintendents, police board, on down," the lawsuit reads.
Police Chief Thomas Aftanas declined to comment on the ongoing case. Mayor Anthony Calderone, who supervises the police department as part of his public duties, did not respond to an interview request.
The Gomez family seeks unspecified but "substantial" monetary damages and reimbursement for court, attorney and funeral fees. 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.