A Chicago police officer testified Tuesday that he feared for his life when he fatally shot a teenager who robbed him of a wallet with his badge inside early Thanksgiving morning on the Northwest Side.
Officer Ivan Romo fired three times during the encounter, killing 16-year-old Sarge Junior, according to authorities and Romo’s testimony during the trial of a second teen accused of taking part in the robbery at the Cook County Juvenile Center.
The 17-year-old boy accused of being the gunman’s accomplice was convicted of armed robbery, aggravated robbery and robbery on Wednesday, according to the Cook County state’s attorney’s office. The teen was not named because he is under 18 and was tried in Juvenile Court.
Romo, an investigator with the Major Accidents Investigation Unit, said he parked his Jeep Cherokee about 2:20 a.m. in the 5800 block of North Talman after seeing a movie with his brother and friend.
As Romo sat inside the SUV, he said he heard someone knock on his window and turned to see a person in a mask pointing a gun at him. The masked gunman opened the door and proceeded to take his wallet and iPhone, Romo said.
Another person wearing a red coat then reached into the car to pat him down while Romo was still held at gunpoint. The second person felt an object in the pocket of Romo’s cargo pants and Romo gave him a second wallet containing his badge and other IDs, the officer said.
Romo said the two robbers began to go through the items and the person with the gun told him, “Don’t reach for anything.”
That’s when Romo, concerned they would discover he was a police officer, “rolled” from the driver’s seat.
“I thought he was going to shoot me,” Romo said from the stand. So he grabbed a gun that he had holstered to his body and shot the teen twice.
Romo said Junior spun around “360” after he was shot and Romo fired a third time when Junior faced him again, causing the boy to fall to the parkway grass and drop the gun at his side.
Junior was pronounced dead at St. Francis hospital in Evanston, authorities said.
An investigation into the shooting by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability was still active Tuesday, a spokesman for COPA said.
Cook County prosecutors said the 17-year-old on trial initially ran from the scene, but allegedly returned minutes later.
Officer Brandon Neita-Scott testified he arrived at the scene after other officers and saw the 17-year-old who sat in court Tuesday “about two houses” south of the shooting and told him to leave because it was an active crime scene.
Less than 10 minutes later, Nieta-Scott testified he saw the 17-year-old again about five houses south of the shooting scene and approached him.
Footage recorded by Neita-Scott’s body camera at the scene shows him going up to the 17-year-old to ask what he is doing there.
In the video, the 17-year-old says he was separated from his friend, Sarge. He was taken into custody immediately after Nieta-Scott confirmed with another officer that Sarge is the name of the boy laying on the ground.
Additional body camera footage later shows Neita-Scott tell Romo: “We have a possible second offender.”
The 17-year-old was arrested about an hour later when he was identified by Romo as person in the red coat who reached across his lap.
Romo had earlier testified it was dark at the time of the robbery, but the area was lit by streetlights and the Jeep’s interior light. He said he saw the “side profile” of the teen on trial briefly while their faces were inches apart.
Asked by the public defender if the second person was also masked, Romo said, “I don’t believe he was.”
Romo said he couldn’t recall when he gave investigators a description of the second robber, but said it was “soon after” they arrived on scene.
The defense called no witnesses, but described Romo’s ID of the 17-year-old on the scene as “tainted” and “just not reliable” in closing arguments.
Assistant Public Defender Arnie Garcia questioned when the description of the second offender was provided, pointing to the fact that the 17-year-old was seen twice at the scene.
“Everyone would have been looking for a kid in a red jacket,” Garcia said, if a description had been provided by Romo.
No proceeds of the robbery were found on the 17-year-old, Garcia said.
Prosecutors said the 17-year-old would have had time to get rid of the items.
“This is not a matter of who did it, this is a matter of he did it,” Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Czopkiewicz said pointing at the 17-year-old in court and asked the judge to find him guilty.
Judge Cynthia Ramirez ultimately found the teen guilty of all counts and scheduled his sentencing for April 3.