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Cops pointed guns at kids during CPD search of wrong McKinley Park home: suit

Gilbert Mendez (right), his wife and their two sons, ages 5 and 9. | Provided photo

Gilbert Mendez says he obeyed police when they had their weapons drawn on him –– and briefly his two kids –– and told him to lie on the floor of his McKinley Park apartment.

The officers were there on Nov. 7, 2017 after they obtained a warrant to search the second floor unit of the building in the 3500 block of South Damen, where Mendez and his family lived.

The problem, according to a newly filed federal lawsuit, was that information given to officers by a criminal informant — which served as the backbone of the warrant — was bad. The officers had burst into the wrong apartment altogether.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday of behalf of Mendez, his wife and their two sons, alleges that the informant told officers that the building’s second floor unit was home to Curtis Roberts and Patricka Cavazos and had drugs stashed away. Al Hofeld Jr., the Mendez family’s attorney, said Roberts and Cavazos lived in the third-floor unit.

The suit alleges that, during the 90-minute search, officers repeatedly pointed their guns at Mendez and, at one point, his two sons, ages 5 and 9.

“I wouldn’t wish this on anybody,” Mendez said during a press conference Wednesday announcing the lawsuit. “It’s made every day a challenge.”

The three-flat building in the 3500 block of South Damen that was searched by police in November 2017. | Cook County Treasurer’s Office photo
The three-flat building in the 3500 block of South Damen that was searched by police in November 2017. | Cook County Treasurer’s Office photo

Hofeld said both boys suffer from recurring flashbacks of seeing officers pointing guns at their father. Mendez said his children are both undergoing therapy as a result.

Hofeld also noted that neither Mendez, who works for the University of Chicago, nor his wife, an employee of Blue Cross Blue Shield, have any sort of criminal record.

“They are model citizens of the city of Chicago,” Hofeld said.

The family only learned of the alleged mistake after Mendez’ wife saw the warrant –– a copy of which was distributed to reporters Wednesday.

The warrant — drafted by an officer who, Hofeld said, has just two or three years with the department — indeed authorizes a search of the second floor unit in the building. Officers were permitted to seize and drugs, paraphernalia, money and records detailing drug transactions. However, it makes clear that the targets were Roberts and Cavazos.

Roberts was described as a 29-year-old black man and Cavazos was a 27-year-old black woman.

Mendez is a Hispanic man in his 50s and his wife is a Native American woman in her 40s.

The warrant that authorized police to search the second floor unit of the building in the 3500 block of South Damen.
The warrant that authorized police to search the second floor unit of the building in the 3500 block of South Damen.

Court records show that neither Roberts nor Cavazos have been charged with any crimes in Cook County since November 2017.

Hofeld added that, when he tried to obtain records of the search from the Chicago Police Department, he was told that none were on file. The lack of records led Hofeld to believe the officers failed to document the search — a breach of CPD protocol.

Only after submitting a Freedom of Information Act request to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office did he receive documentation showing that the search had been authorized.

One of the officers on scene tried to keep the copy of the warrant, but Mendez’ wife insisted it was hers to have.

After searching the home and coming up empty, Hofeld said, officers left without explanation or apology.

A spokesman for the city’s Law Department said the city had not yet been served with the lawsuit as of Wednesday afternoon and declined to comment.