Chicago Police Officer Lowell Houser | Provided mug shot

Chicago cop charged with murder in fatal shooting of unarmed man

SHARE Chicago cop charged with murder in fatal shooting of unarmed man
SHARE Chicago cop charged with murder in fatal shooting of unarmed man

A veteran Chicago Police officer who fatally shot an unarmed man on the Northwest Side earlier this year has been charged with first-degree murder.

Lowell Houser, 57, was charged with one count of first-degree murder.

Houser, an officer assigned to the mass transit unit, fatally shot Jose Nieves while off duty on the morning of Jan. 2 in the 2500 block of North Lowell, Chicago Police said.

Chicago Police have released few details on what led to the shooting, other than to say at the time an “altercation” between the men escalated, and the officer shot him several times. Nieves was taken to Illinois Masonic Medical Center, where he died later that morning, authorities said.

Houser was arrested by Chicago Police Wednesday and is scheduled to appear in bond court Thursday at noon.

Houser joined the police department about 28 years ago. His disciplinary history includes five-day suspensions for an off-duty domestic altercation in 2001 and a medical-roll violation in 2006.

Just a day after the shooting happened, the department stripped Houser of his police powers.

At a news conference a few hours after the shooting, Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson said: “I have a lot more questions than I do answers at this time.”

Johnson told reporters that Houser does not live in the area but knew Nieves from another “confrontation a few weeks ago.”

Jose Nieves was unarmed when he was shot by off-duty Chicago Police officer Lowell Houser, who was charged with murder Wednesday. | File photo

Jose Nieves was unarmed when he was shot by off-duty Chicago Police officer Lowell Houser, who was charged with murder Wednesday. | File photo

After the shooting, the police department and Independent Police Review Authority opened simultaneous investigations into theshooting.

The police department, however, turned its investigation over to the state’s attorney’s office and IPRA “once the possibility of criminal violations were suspected,” Chicago Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in an email.

“CPD will fully cooperate with the state’s attorney throughout the judicial process,” he added.

The FBI also assisted in the investigation, according to the state’s attorney’s office.

With Wednesday’s charges, IPRA will halt its administrative investigation “until we see how the murder charges play out,” IPRA spokeswoman Mia Sissac said.

“We wouldn’t want to do anything to jeopardize that,” she said.

Sissac added that, during its preliminary investigation, IPRA provided the Cook County state’s attorney’s office with information on the shooting.

Dean Angelo, Jr., president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7, declined to comment on Houser’s case.

However, the decision to bring murder charges against an officer, less than a week after the release of the Department of Justice’s scathing report on Chicago Police practices, was bound to have a negative impact on the union’s morale, Angelo said.

“This is another situation that we’re going to be faced with dealing with, and it is another situation that every officer that’s out there right now in a squad car is going to be thinking about,” Angelo said.

On Jan. 6, Nieves’ family sued over the shooting, alleging that Houser threatened and killed Nieves, without justification.

In a statement issued Wednesday afternoon, Nieves family attorney Andrew Stroth said: “The Nieves’ family is devastated by the loss of Jose. The state’s attorney’s action today will not bring back Jose but is an important and swift step in the criminal justice process.”

Court records show Nieves had been arrested more than 20 times on charges that including domestic battery, theft, burglary and assault. He was convicted only once, in 2012, on charges of marijuana possession and possession of a replica gun. He was sentenced to court supervision.

Houser is now the second Chicago Police officer to face murder charges in little over a year. Officer Jason Van Dyke is awaiting trial on charges he unlawfully shot Laquan McDonald 16 times in October 2014.

In her administration’s 2016 transition report, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said one of her office’s “key recommendations” was to: “Evaluate and modify as needed the system for investigation and prosecution of police misconduct, including the creation of protocols governing the investigation of officer-involved shootings and the potential use of special prosecutors for police misconduct investigations to avoid concerns about conflict of interest and promote the appearance of propriety.”

ReachedWednesdayevening, a spokeswoman for the state’s attorney’s office declined to comment on whether or not Foxx would ask for a special prosecutor in the case.

Richard Kling, a veteran defense attorney and professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law, said that despite Foxx’s “recommendation,” there is nothing that could force her office to ask for a special prosecutor.

“Unless she feels her office will have bias in charging, then her office is the one that will file and prosecute,” Kling said.

Contributing: Frank Main, Nader Issa

Jose Nieves | From the family’s gofundme page

Jose Nieves | From the family’s gofundme page

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