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Murder of off-duty Chicago cop a ‘senseless and evil act,’ judge says

When John Rivera was killed early Saturday, it had nothing to do with his job as a police officer, authorities said.

In fact, Rivera  — like countless others out that night in the hopping neighborhood known for its nightlife — had been with three friends and had grabbed pizza before the group got back into their car that was parked outside the Stout Barrel House & Pizzeria in the 700 block of North Clark Street.

Meanwhile, about an hour earlier, Menelik Jackson, had been in a fight with a group of Hispanic men on a party bus outside the nearby flagship McDonald’s a block south on Clark, authorities said. One of the members of Jackson’s group had gotten punched.

It was then, Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson said, that Jackson went to his white pickup truck, seeking revenge.

“In an act of cowardice Mr. Jackson went to get a gun to settle this petty dispute,” Johnson said at a press conference Monday.

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Jackson tried to find the men, but couldn’t, authorities said.

Jackson “was searching around for a party bus, [but] the party bus had left the area, so I guess he settled for the first Hispanic he saw,” Johnson said.

While the superintendent described the shooting as a possible hate crime, an hour after Johnson’s press conference, prosecutors at Jackson’s bond hearing described the targeting of Rivera and his friends as a case of mistaken identity.

At the hearing, Assistant State’s Attorney James Murphy said, Jackson and an unidentified man — who is still at large — were caught on surveillance camera video at about 3:20 a.m. They were walking with another man, identified as Jovan Battle, a few blocks away from the McDonald’s.

Battle, who was also charged in the murder, allegedly said that he wanted to help Jackson and his friend because “they were jumped earlier,” and because all three men were members of the same street gang. He considered himself a “good Samaritan,” prosecutors said.

Jackson and his friend asked Battle, “Where they at?” and “Is that them?” prosecutors said. Battle — who reportedly has a history of mental illness and has lived in homeless shelters — pointed at Rivera’s car, which was the only car parked in the area, Murphy said.

Battle pointed at the car again, and picked up a bottle as the trio crossed the street. Jackson allegedly walked to the driver’s side of the vehicle as Battle looked on. The third man walked to the rear of Rivera’s car.

Menelik Jackson (left) and Jovan Battle.

Menelik Jackson (left) and Jovan Battle. | Chicago Police

‘Let’s blow this b—h up’

“Jackson is clearly seen on video pulling out a handgun and pointing [at] the driver’s window from a few feet away,” Murphy told the court. “Surviving victims [heard] from outside the car, ‘Let’s blow this bitch up.’”

As Rivera leaned to shield his girlfriend, who was sitting in the front passenger seat, Jackson opened fire, striking the officer in the face, back and shoulders, prosecutors charged. He allegedly also shot the 23-year-old man in the seat behind Rivera, hitting him in the shoulder and chest. After several surgeries, Murphy said, the man is expected to survive, but a bullet remains lodged in his neck.

Prosecutors said when Jackson stopped firing, video shows Battle walked away and down Huron. Jackson’s friend ran down the street to an alley, and onto Huron, where he saw Battle; the two men “exchanged words,” officials said. Battle, identified by his embroidered Pelle Pelle jacket and red hoodie, the same outfit he was wearing at his bond hearing Monday, was arrested a few minutes later.

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Jackson was arrested hours later on the South Side after police retrieved surveillance video showing him getting into his car moments after the shooting, police said. The plate was entered into a database used by police vehicles that have special equipment used to scan license plates of parked cars. Police found Jackson’s car using the technology and then saturated the area, arresting him while walking his dog, said Ed Wodnicki, Area Central Detectives Commander.

Police monitoring jail phone calls also “received information that a call was made and recorded giving the name of [Jackson] as the shooter,” Murphy said.

Police got a warrant to search Jackson’s home, and recovered a green jacket that matched the one the shooter was wearing, as well as a .40-caliber pistol, officials said. Eight shell casings recovered at the shooting scene matched the weapon.

Murphy said that Jackson had already confessed to the killing to an unidentified person, while Wodnicki said that Jackson gave police a “full confession.”

Judge John Fitzgerald Lyke delivered a scolding to Jackson and Battle before ordering both men held without bail.

“If what the state is telling me is true, this is one of the most senseless and evil acts I have heard of,” Lyke said. “All over a fist fight.”

Long criminal history for both men charged

Battle has been arrested nearly 50 times since 2005, according to court records, seldom going more than a few months without being picked up by police, mostly for disorderly conduct, trespassing and minor drug offenses.

His court-appointed public defenders said Monday that he lives off disability payments. Court records indicate he changed addresses every few months — and several times he has listed his home as the Pacific Garden Mission, a homeless shelter.

Jackson was still on probation for a 2017 domestic violence case at the time of the shooting, and had been required to wear a GPS monitoring device until just two weeks ago as condition of probation, court records indicate.

Court records also show a history of domestic violence charges involving weapons.

In 2015, his ex-girlfriend, Ashley Loving, sought an order of protection against Jackson, claiming he had threatened her and punched her on several occasions, and had showed up to her classes at Chicago State University “emotional, unstable and caused a scene, pushed me out of the building to leave with him.”

Jackson, she said, had threatened to kill her and her parents, including the woman’s father, who uses a wheelchair because of a chronic illness. The protective order was dismissed after a month for want of prosecution, typically meaning the woman who filed the request did not cooperate with prosecutors.

In March 2017, Jackson was charged with domestic battery and child endangerment for allegedly assaulting the same woman and leaving out a loaded gun near a newborn infant. Police reports state that officers saw bruises on Loving’s face and neck, and confiscated a 9-millimeter pistol and an AR-15-style rifle from the home.

That July, while still on bond in that case, Jackson was charged with home invasion and weapons charges after he entered Loving’s house through a window, pointed a gun at her head and threatened to kill her.

Wanted to be a cop

Loving told police that Jackson was due to take a polygraph test at the Chicago Police Academy as part of his application to become a police officer. When police tried to arrest him when he showed up at the Academy building, Jackson tried to run off.

When they searched his car in the parking lot, they found a 9-millimeter pistol on the front passenger seat.

Court records indicate Johnson pleaded guilty to both cases last August, and was sentenced to one year in prison — a sentence that was wiped out by credit for the time he spent on bond, followed by 30 months of GPS monitoring.

The murder over the weekend was all the more heinous, Supt. Johnson said, because Jackson tried to become a Chicago cop two years ago.

“The most egregious part about him is that he actually once thought he had what it took to wear a Chicago police star,” Johnson said.

A vigil honoring Rivera is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday at Ping Tom Park, 1700 S. Wentworth.

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