An off-duty Chicago police officer was drunk when he fired his service weapon at a man he physically attacked during a confrontation he started on the Southwest Side, Cook County prosecutors said Wednesday.
Officer Joseph Cabrera then allegedly “falsely” reported that the 22-year-old man had attacked him first.
The victim was not hit when Cabrera fired toward his legs in the Oct. 13 incident.
But “as a result of [Cabrera’s] false statements,” he was “treated as an offender” and placed into custody, although he was later released without being charged, Assistant State’s Attorney Michelle Corda said.
Cabrera turned himself in Wednesday and was charged with aggravated discharge of a firearm and disorderly conduct in connection with the shooting, according to police.
“The officer has been relieved of his police powers and could face additional disciplinary actions pending the outcome of the criminal and administrative investigations,” Chicago police said.
Judge Susana Ortiz released Cabrera on his own recognizance Wednesday, but told the 38-year-old officer he could not possess a weapon while he awaits trial.
Shortly after 10 p.m. that fall night, Cabrera pulled up in his personal vehicle behind the man and his girlfriend as the couple sat in a car in the 5200 block of South Monitor Street, prosecutors said.
Cabrera, who had no prior relationship with the man and 21-year-old woman, then approached and asked if the pair needed him to call an ambulance.
That confused the couple, but they replied that they were fine, prosecutors said.
Cabrera continued to sit in his vehicle behind the couple’s car, making them feel “uncomfortable,” so they drove to the 5800 block of West 52nd Street, Corda said.
When they returned to Monitor Street again, Cabrera was gone. But once the man and woman parked their car, he returned, Corda said.
Cabrera got out of his vehicle again, allegedly started yelling at the couple and told them to leave, prompting the man to leave his car to confront Cabrera.
Cabrera went on to grab the man by the neck and punched him in the head before pulling his Glock 17 pistol and firing it once in the man’s direction, Corda said.
The couple then fled to the woman’s nearby home.
Cabrera called 911 to report that he had fired his weapon and “falsely claimed he had been attacked and knocked to the ground” before the shooting, Corda said. That account was refuted by a witness who was walking by, Corda said.
Cabrera complained of having chest pains and was taken to MacNeal Hospital in Berwyn, where he was allegedly found to have a blood alcohol level of 0.104 — more than the legal 0.08 limit. Body camera footage also showed that Cabrera “appeared to be intoxicated,” Corda said.
Because Cabrera is facing felony charges, prosecutors did not charge him with a misdemeanor DUI, Corda explained to the judge.
Defense attorney Will Fahy said Cabrera “acted reasonably,” arguing that he acted in self-defense.
“All of his actions were consistent with someone who believed he was acting reasonably in self defense,” Fahy said. “He remained on the scene, he called police immediately after the incident, he cooperated with the investigation.”
Three days after the shooting, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability — which investigates allegations of police wrongdoing — told state’s attorney’s office that a criminal review of the shooting was needed.
COPA planned to publicly release video evidence of the shooting on Dec. 10 — one day inside the city’s 60-day window in which it is required to do so. But prosecutors requested an extension to keep the video private until Friday.
“Absent receipt of a court order, COPA shall facilitate the release of video and other materials in accordance with the city’s video release policy,” COPA said in a statement.
Fahy asked Ortiz to keep COPA from releasing that footage as Cabrera’s case continues, saying it would be “highly prejudicial” and would potentially “taint a jury pool.”
Ortiz denied the request.
COPA is also investigating the actions of responding officers in the aftermath of the shooting.
John Catanzara, head of the Chicago lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, said he hadn’t heard of the charges and needed time to form a response.
Cabrera was honorably discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps before joining the Chicago Police Department, Fahy said.
A city database shows Cabrera has a police salary of $84,054.