CPD Officer Lowell Houser on trial for murder in 2017 shooting

Cook County prosecutors said that veteran officer shot neighbor Jose Nieves during a 2017 argument.

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Burlinda Torres, left, the mother of Jose Nieves, stands with her daughter, Angelica Nieves-Figueroa and attorney Andrew M. Stroth.

Burlinda Torres, left, the mother of Jose Nieves, stands with her daughter, Angelica Nieves-Figueroa and attorney Andrew M. Stroth on Tuesday, Oct. 29, the first day of the trial of Chicago Police officer Lowell Houser, who is charged with the murder of Jose Nieves in 2017.

Andy Grimm/Chicago Sun-Times

After shooting Jose Nieves twice in the street outside his Hermosa apartment, Lowell Houser called police and moved his car to clear the path for an ambulance as Nieves lay bleeding.

On the phone with dispatchers, Houser was calm, Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney Angel Essig said in her opening statements Tuesday at Houser’s bench trial.

Houser, who was charged with murder, told a 911 operator that he was an officer, but not that he knew Nieves or that he pulled a gun on Nieves a few days earlier at the same apartment building. Houser also didn’t say that he thought Nieves was reaching for a gun, even though he later told investigators that Nieves was about to shoot him, Essig said.

“He fails to mention he knows Jose, never speaks of a gun or even fear of a gun, makes no mention of a weapon of any kind,” Essig said. “He actually says ‘a gentleman tried to attack him and he had to shoot him.’”

The .40-caliber pistol the 28-year police veteran turned over to detectives was the only weapon found at the scene, prosecutors said.

Houser was acting in self-defense during his fatal encounter with an angry Nieves on the chilly morning of Jan. 2, 2017, defense attorney William Fahy said.

Houser was 58 years old and on medical leave for cancer treatment the morning Nieves “erupted,” Fahy said.

“The last thing in the world that Lowell Houser wanted at that point in his career, at that age, was to get into … a violent street encounter with someone 20 years younger than him,” Fahy said. 

Houser tried to “defuse” the argument by flashing his badge, Fahy said, but Nieves became more enraged, and told the officer he was going to shoot him and torch his car.

Houser was a frequent visitor to the building, where Nieves lived on the floor above the police officer’s “lady friend.”

In emotional testimony, Nieves’ girlfriend, Michelle Malkowski, said she was helping carry boxes up to Nieves’ apartment and walked by Houser before the shooting in the 2500 block of North Lowell. As she walked back with more boxes, Houser then pulled up in his car and asked her about Nieves.

Houser told Malkowski that Nieves was “no good to women. [That] I shouldn’t be helping him, he’s a piece of s—t.”

Nieves confronted the officer, as she walked back to the apartment, and a moment later, Malkowski heard gunshots and came running downstairs to find her longtime boyfriend lying in the street, his arms crossed over his chest.

“He was dying. I could see his eyes rolling back and his face changing colors and his lips turning purple,” Malkowski said. “He... couldn’t breathe or anything, and he was just still.”

A neighbor testified that he saw the two men arguing from his window, though he couldn’t hear what was said. He looked away to watch television, then heard the first gunshot, and looked out the window and said he saw Houser fire two more shots at Nieves.

Houser’s case is before Judge William Gamboney. Gamboney, as attorney, represented Former Area 2 Cmdr. Jon Burge, who was accused of torturing suspects.

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