Update September 20, 2022: COPA released video and other records related to the shooting today.
Prosecutors say two veteran Chicago police officers shot an unarmed man this summer and then made false statements to investigators handling the case. Sgt. Christopher Liakopolous, 43, and Off. Ruben Reynoso, 42, were relieved of their police powers after they surrendered to authorities this week, according to a CPD statement.
At around 7 a.m. on July 22, Liakopolous and Reynoso were on-duty and heading to the police academy in an unmarked car to conduct training. They both work in CPD’s Major Accident Investigations Unit, which handles serious traffic crashes, and neither was wearing body cameras.
At the intersection of 18th and Morgan, the officers saw three men near some closed businesses. Liakopolous stopped the car, backed up to the men, and asked what they were doing, prosecutor Alyssa Janicki said.
While talking with the group, a juvenile and a man walked toward them. The man had a wine bottle and a phone in one hand and nothing in his other hand, Janicki said. But the juvenile wore a cross-body bag and gripped a gun inside the bag.
Before reaching the officers’ car, the juvenile turned and ran away as the other man waved at the officers with his free hand, Janicki continued.
Reynoso pulled his gun, extended his arm out the passenger window, and shot the man who was not armed, according to Janicki. Liakopolous raised his own firearm out the passenger window and also fired multiple shots, she said.
The man, struck twice in the back and once in the leg, fell to the ground. He survived. A pedestrian also suffered a graze wound to their leg.
Meanwhile, the juvenile, who was running across the street, turned and fired multiple rounds toward the officers, she said. Both cops shot at the juvenile. The officers and the juvenile escaped injury.
During the investigation, both officers told detectives and prosecutors that they only fired their weapons after they were fired upon, Janicki said.
Several days after the shooting, prosecutors learned that video footage “directly contradicts” the officers’ version of events, she alleged. The officers’ defense attorneys told Judge Maryam Ahmad that the Chicago Office of Police Accountability (COPA) plans to release the footage from one of the cameras early next week.
According to Janicki, the video shows the man with a bottle and phone in one hand standing near the officers’ passenger window with both hands visible when he was shot. The juvenile was heading away from the car, she said.
Prosecutors initially charged the juvenile with attempted murder of a police officer, but they dropped the case one day after they filed it, according to defense attorneys.
Reynoso’s private attorney, Brian Sexton, provided an extensive rebuttal to Janicki’s presentation.
The cops “saw gang members” that they believed were tagging a business’ door, so they stopped to investigate, “basically telling them to knock it off,” Sexton said.
He said the entire encounter, from engaging with the group to the shooting, “all happened within two seconds.”
Sexton alleged that the camera that captured the shooting was positioned behind the juvenile, and he argued that it was not possible to know if the juvenile fired first.
“It doesn’t matter who fired first if he’s pointing the gun at him,” Sexton told Judge Maryam Ahmad.
But Janicki told Ahmad there was “no indication” that the juvenile fired shots at the officers.
Reynoso spoke with investigators the day after the shooting without having the benefit of seeing the video, Sexton said, adding that even the FBI doesn’t let agents who are involved in shootings talk about their recollections for 72 hours due to the stressors involved.
“This whole thing about contradicting or lying, that’s completely false,” Sexton argued.
“We were confident COPA wasn’t even going to sustain the allegations,” he continued. In fact, COPA didn’t even talk with Reynoso until this week, he said.
Liakopolous’ attorney, Tim Grace, echoed Reynoso’s arguments.
“We don’t use 2020 hindsight” when judging the actions of police, Grace said. “We don’t second guess. We don’t slow down videos” as the CCSAO did in this case, he continued.
Both officers are married, have kids, and have been on the force since the early 2000s.
They are charged with aggravated battery by discharging a firearm, aggravated discharge of a firearm, and official misconduct.
Ahmad ordered each of them to pay $2,500 toward their bail to get out of jail.
Both defense attorneys urged Ahmad to block the release of the shooting video to the public. Similar motions are commonly granted in criminal cases involving people accused of shooting at police and cases involving police who are accused of wrongly shooting others.
Janicki did not take a position on the matter, although prosecutors have strenuously argued to have videos sealed during the pendency of other cases.
But Ahmad declined to entertain the motion during the bail session. She ordered the matter to be heard in a different courtroom on Monday.