The off-duty Chicago Police officer charged with murdering an unarmed man earlier this month allegedly pulled a handgun on the same man last December, a Cook County prosecutor said during the officer’s bond hearing Thursday.
And after Officer Lowell Houser allegedly shot and killed Jose Nieves Jan. 2, he told a 911 dispatcher that: “A gentleman tried to attack me. I had to shoot him,” according to Assistant State’s Attorney Lynn McCarthy.
McCarthy asked that Houser, 57, be held without bail, but Cook County Judge Donald Panarese Jr. allowed the veteran cop to be released on his own recognizance.
Houser will be placed on electronic monitoring while he awaits trial.
As Houser stood in court, wearing a black-and-white flannel shirt with his hands behind his back, McCarthy described how the officer and his alleged victim had past altercations.
“Nieves and the defendant knew each other from prior interactions,” McCarthy said.
Houser had a “female companion” in the same apartment building where Nieves lived in the 2500 block of North Lowell, McCarthy said, and Nieves, 38, was friends with the woman’s children.
In December, Houser at one point “reportedly brandished” a gun and “ordered Nieves to get back into his apartment,” McCarthy said. Nieves filed a police report following the incident, she said.
On the morning of the deadly shooting, Nieves was with a friend, moving some boxes into Nieves’ apartment, when Houser showed up and got in his car, McCarthy said.
At some point, Houser lowered his car window and talked to Nieves’ friend, saying, “Who are you? Why are you helping him? Are you his mother? You know he treats women badly?” McCarthy said.
A little later, Nieves allegedly approached Houser’s car and confronted him, telling Houser to talk to him directly next time, McCarthy said.
Then a neighbor on North Lowell who was watching TV heard arguing come from the street below, McCarthy said. He looked out of his window and saw Nieves and Houser arguing. The neighbor couldn’t make out the specific words, McCarthy said.
The neighbor returned to watching TV, but a short while later, heard a single, loud “bang” coming from the street, prosecutors said.
The neighbor then went back to the window and saw Houser pointing a gun toward Nieves, who placed “his hand on his chest and [fell] backwards to the ground, landing face up,” McCarthy said. The neighbor heard three “bangs” in total.
Houser called 911, telling the dispatcher someone had tried to attack him and that he’d been forced to shoot, McCarthy said. But arriving officers found no evidence of a weapon on or near Nieves, McCarthy said. The witness also didn’t see Nieves with a gun, McCarthy said.
But in court, Houser’s attorney, William Fahy, said Nieves was the aggressor on Jan. 2.
“The deceased then threatened my client — threatening to shoot him,” Fahy said, suggesting Nieves made a motion toward a possibly concealed weapon.
Fahy added: “That’s not first degree murder, it’s self-defense.”
Fahy said his client is suffering from prostate cancer.
“He was actually looking forward to retiring at the end of the year,” Fahy said.
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.”