Certified heroes: Two who came to officers’ aid get official thanks from CPD
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His eyes clouded with blood, Chicago Police officer Joe Groh couldn’t see the pistol his attacker had just wrenched out of his service holster.
Then the veteran cop heard a gunshot.
“I thought we were in trouble once I heard that,” Groh said Thursday, recalling the Valentine’s Day attack this year in a North Side Walgreens parking lot. “But I guess there’s a guardian angel up there to save us.”
Guardian angel No. 1: 5-foot-6, 130-pound Ray Robinson.
Guardian angel No. 2: Zet Smith, a slender professorial type who once took a wrestling class in high school.
Robinson and Smith received heartfelt thanks and a certificate of appreciation at Chicago Police headquarters Thursday, for coming to Groh’s and his partner’s aid as they tried to arrest a linebacker-sized shoplifting suspect who refused to go quietly.
Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy praised Robinson and Smith for their “exceptional” courage at a ceremony that also recognized Groh and his partner, Mark Czapla.
“Our officers are in these life-and-death struggles on a daily basis, and people need to know this,” the city’s top cop said.
Czapla and Groh had pulled into the Walgreens parking lot in the 5400 block of North Clark about 8 p.m. so that Czapla could buy his wife a Valentine’s Day card. He never got the chance. Instead, the officers confronted Thomas Thompson, who’d just left the Walgreens after allegedly shoplifting some pills.
Thompson, who weighs 270 pounds, refused to be handcuffed, police said.
He punched both officers, knocking them to the ground, police said. Thompson then allegedly grabbed Groh’s pistol and fired at the officers, somehow managing to miss both of them, police said.
Robinson, a shift manager at Walgreens, raced to help the bleeding officers — as did Smith, who was shopping there with his wife.
Robinson grabbed Thompson’s arm, managing to pull the man’s finger from the trigger. Smith yanked Thompson’s feet from underneath him.
“The only thing available was this guy’s legs,” said Smith, 59, who lives in Andersonville. “So I grabbed the back of his shoes.”
Groh and Czapla both suffered a range of injuries, but none of then life-threatening. Both are expected to return to active duty in a couple of weeks.
Robinson was clearly uncomfortable with the spotlight Thursday.
“These brave men needed help, and I’m so glad I was there to help them,” he said, refusing to comment further.
Smith said he’s not the type to typically jump into the fray, but said a high school wrestling class came in handy.
“It’s not something I would suggest to people,” Smith said.
Thompson is charged with attempted first-degree murder, disarming a peace officer and possession of a controlled substance — among other charges. He is awaiting trial.