Chicago police investigators wanted to file charges against a bar security guard who fatally shot a man in Roscoe Village this month, but Cook County prosecutors refused to do so, 19th District Police Commander Chris Papaioannou told a packed community meeting on Tuesday night.
And, Papaioannou said, the security guard who fatally shot 29-year-old Mario Dingillo was working for Walsh Security, a private firm owned by 19th District police officer Thomas J. Walsh.
Nearly 100 people showed up at Area North police headquarters to receive an update on the case and to learn more about efforts to shutter the Bluelight bar, 3251 North Western.
But the city will not force the bar to close under Chicago’s summary closure ordinance, officials said, dashing the hopes of many residents in the crowd.
Papaioannou opened the meeting with a summary of what police believe happened in the minutes before and after the guard shot Dingillo on the 2300 block of West School street at 3:20 a.m. on Nov. 3.
“It is a tragic event,” Papaioannou said.
The security guard saw two groups of people involved in a verbal altercation near the intersection of Western and School from his post outside the bar, the commander reported. Dingillo, he said, was part of the disturbance when the guard walked over to separate the parties.
Dingillo and some companions then tried to enter the bar, but the guard denied them entry and then joined another security guard to walk the group to their vehicle on a nearby side street, according to police.
“Words were said” as the guards, Dingillo, and others neared the intersection of School and Oakley, Papaioannou continued. “It became physical and the deceased pulled a weapon.”
At that point, the guard pulled his own gun and fired several rounds, he said.
The guard, who Papaioannou said is not a law enforcement officer, identified himself to responding cops who immediately took him into custody.
Detectives sought charges against the guard, but prosecutors concluded the case qualifies as “justifiable homicide,” Papaioannou said.
Dingillo was wearing a holster when police found him at the scene, Papaioannou said, but the firearm he reportedly drew has not been found.
Papaioannou confirmed that the security guard who killed Dingillo was working for a security firm owned by a veteran police officer who’s assigned to the Lakeview-based district Papaioannou commands.
The company has a checkered past, and owner Thomas Walsh is fighting a sixty-day suspension from the police force in connection with a race-fueled incident that unfolded inside a Boystown bar almost exactly six years ago.
Walsh filed a grievance to fight the suspension four years ago. He and the city appeared before an arbitrator last month to resolve the dispute, according to a source. A decision is expected in the coming months.
Chicago’s Inspector General and CPD’s Bureau of Internal Affairs have been investigating various aspects of Walsh’s private business operations and police employment for more than two years, according to multiple sources.
Among the lines of inquiry are whether Walsh had a conflict of interest when bars and business organizations in the 19th District paid his security company for services while he was the police department’s local business liaison. As the liaison, Walsh was CPD’s point person for handling complaints against businesses in the district.
Bluelight selected Walsh’s firm to satisfy security requirements laid out in an operating agreement the bar signed with the city following complaints from neighbors in 2015.
Chicago Police Department regulations expressly prohibit police officers from “engaging directly or indirectly in the ownership, maintenance, or operation of a tavern or retail liquor establishment.”
Investigators have explored whether Walsh is in compliance with department rules when taverns hire his firm, a source said.
Walsh Security receives tens of thousands of dollars annually to provide armed guards for bar strips along Halsted Street in Boystown and in Wrigleyville. A group of Lakeview residents also pays the firm more than $80,000 a year to patrol their neighborhood between Ashland, Racine, Barry, and Roscoe streets.
Officer Walsh did not respond to a Tuesday evening email seeking comment for this story.
“Didn’t meet the threshold”
Alderman Scott Waguespack (32nd) wrote a letter to CPD Supt. Eddie Johnson seeking summary closure of Bluelight the day after Dingillo’s death.
But the “summary closure” law, designed to quickly neutralize bars that pose a danger to the public, will not be used to shutter the Bluelight, Kim Roberts and Dave Smith of the city’s law department told the crowd Tuesday.
The Bluelight case, Roberts said, “didn’t meet the threshold.”
“It has to have a direct connection to the bar,” she said, while pointing out that successful summary closures have involved shots fired inside or into a bar.
News of the closure denial did not sit well with many audience members, some of whom said they have been fighting problems with the Bluelight for up to a decade.
One woman said she stopped calling police about fights and disturbances connected to the bar because “it’s more important to get our children back to sleep” than to deal with unproductive calls to 911.
“A simple question for you. It’s yes or no,” one man said to Waguespack. “Do you want Bluelight closed?”
“Yes,” the alderman said. “Yes.”
Noting that the Bluelight’s owners live above their bar, Waguespack suggested, “if there’s something you can do to make their lives miserable, do it.”
“Legally,” one attendee interjected.
“Legally,” Waguespack clarified. “I meant to say legally.”