A Chicago police officer accused of fatally shooting an unarmed man during an off-duty “altercation” has been charged with first-degree murder, prosecutors say.
Officer Lowell Houser, 57, killed 38-year-old Jose Nieves on the Northwest Side of the city on the morning of January 2, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office told Chicago Tribune.
Houser, who works in the Mass Transit Unit, was in custody Wednesday night. He was stripped of his police powers after the shooting and the case was investigated by the office of State’s Attorney Kim Foxx.
The shooting occurred in the 2500 block of North Lowell Avenue in Hermosa about 9:15 a.m., authorities said. Houser’s gun was the only weapon found at the scene.
Nieves was taken to the hospital after the shooting, and later died there.
According to the Tribune, the criminal complaint reveals few details about the shooting, except saying Houser “intentionally or knowingly shot and killed Jose Nieves.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Officials Said Houser Was Acting in a Police Capacity, Despite Being Off-Duty & Having Had a Dispute With Nieves in the Past
Authorities and Jose Nieves’ family have said Nieves knew Officer Lowell Houser before the shooting, and had a confrontation with him “just a few weeks” before the fatal altercation.
But police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said Houser was acting in a police capacity at the time of the shooting, despite his prior interaction with Nieves and the fact he was off duty, the Chicago Tribune reports.
“The Chicago Police Department turned the case over to the States Attorney and the Independent Police Review Authority once the possibility of criminal violations were suspected,” Guglielmi said in a statement. “CPD will fully cooperate with the States Attorney throughout the judicial process.”
Details about the previous confrontation have not been released. Nieves’ family members told WGN-TV that Houser pointed his gun at Nieves in the past.
They said Nieves was Houser’s neighbor, and the victim had called police on the officer in the past.
“911 calls had been made before about that gentlemen pulling out his gun at my brother,” Angelica Nieves said, but no police action had been taken against Houser as a result.
Police have released few details about the shooting, but some information has come out from the family and in legal proceedings.
The family said Jose Nieves was moving furniture into his apartment when Houser began harassing Nieves’ girlfriend. Nieves then began arguing with him and Houser shot Nieves three times, in the leg, stomach and back, WGN reports.
“All I know is I’m very hurt now and I think that officer acted above the law,” Angel Nieves, Jose Nieves’ father, told WGN.
Nieves’ sister, Angelica, filed a federal lawsuit against Houser, the police department and the city on behalf of their family in the days after his death.
You can read the lawsuit below or by clicking here:
The civil rights lawsuit claims Houser shot Nieves “without lawful justification,” and said Nieves “presented no immediate threat to Officer Lowell Houser or anyone else” at the time of the shooting.
The lawsuit claims that Houser “illegally detained and threatened to arrest and physically harm” Nieves” before shooting him “without cause or provocation.”
It also claims that the police department had been notified prior to the January 2 shooting that ” on one or more occasion Defendant Officer Lowell Houser had illegally detained and threatened to arrest and physically harm” Nieves.
They also claim Houser and other officers conspired to cover up his misconduct and protect him from potential consequences.
Nieves’ family claims Houser and other police employees agreed or conspired to “prepare false, misleading and incomplete official reports” and to give “false, incomplete and misleading versions of each interaction” between Houser and Nieves, as part of a “code of silence” to protect Houser.
According to the lawsuit, Houser believed he would be protect, which led to the shooting death of Nievs:
Houser had good reason to believe that his misconduct would not be revealed or reported by fellow officers or their supervisors, that their false, incomplete, and misleading reports would go unchallenged by these supervisors and fellow officers, from the police Superintendents, Police Board, and Directors of I.P.R.A. on down, and that they were immune from disciplinary action, thereby protecting him from the consequences of his unconstitutional conduct.
The lawsuit also accuses the police department and city of failing to properly “train, supervise, discipline, monitor, control, counsel and/or transfer” Houser with “deliberate indifference,” which helped cause the fatal shooting.
“The officer stalked, threatened and, ultimately, killed Jose Nieves,” Andrew Stroth, an attorney for the family, told the Chicago Tribune.
2. Houser, a 28-Year Veteran, Has Been the Target of at Least 20 Disciplinary Investigations & Has Been Suspended Multiple Times
Houser is a 28-year veteran of the police department, according to the Chicago Tribune. He works in the Mass Transit Unit.
According to the Tribune, Houser has been the target of at least 20 disciplinary investigations since the early 1990s. Department records do not provide many details on the accusations against him, and most of the complaints did not result in discipline or a reprimand, the newspaper reports.
A rreport by the New York Times and Chicago legal experts found that officers in the city are rarely punished and rarely have disciplinary investigations go against them.
But Houser was suspended several times, according to records found by the Tribune. One suspension occurred in 1994, when he was put on leave for five days after being involved in an off-duty domestic altercation or disturbance, the Tribune reports.
An online database of complaints against police created by the Invisible Institute shows three filings against Houser, one in 2014, one in 2013 and one in 2012. The outcomes of those investigations are not available in the database.
The most recent misconduct complaint was made in October 2014.
In an incident involving an on-duty CPD Officer (Houser) and the Complainant it was alleged the Officer detained, grabbed and pushed the Complainant about the body, and then pushed him to the ground while the Complainant was waiting at a bus/train terminal. It was further alleged that the Officer failed to properly document his encounter with the Complainant.
Details of the other two complaints were not available online.
3. He Was Arrested Wednesday & Is Expected to Appear in Bond Court on Thursday
Houser was arrested by the Chicago Police Department on Wednesday and is being held without bail, according to court records.
He is facing one charge of first-degree murder, and faces life in prison.
Houser is expected to appear in bond court on Thursday, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office said. It is not clear if he has hired an attorney.
The police department has not commented on Houser’s arrest. The Independent Police Review Authority, which has a parallel investigation into the shooting, told the Chicago Sun-Times it will put its probe on hold pending the outcome of the criminal case. IPRA will determine potential internal punishment, including whether Houser will be fired.
Mia Sissac, a spokesperson for IPRA, told the Sun-Times they ““wouldn’t want to do anything to jeopardize” the murder case.
Andrew Stroth, an attorney for Nieves’ family, issued a statement Wednesday, saying, “The Nieves’ family is devastated by the loss of Jose. The state’s attorney’s action today will not bring back Jose but is an important and swift step in the criminal justice process.”
4. Nieves Worked in Construction & Was the ‘Type of Person Everybody Wanted to Hang Around’
Jose Nieves, nicknamed Cheo, worked in construction and bar security, his family told NBC Chicago.
Nieves sister, Angelica, wrote on a GoFundMe account set up by the family, that her brother was “the type of person everybody wanted to hang around great personality, happy, sweet, awesome sense of humor, thoughtful, and always smiling and would give you a monster hug that would leave you gasping for air.”
She said they are seeking justice for Nieves, who was a brother, son, uncle, cousin, nephew, stepdad and friend:
Cheo would even be your night in shining armor if you you needed him. He was so close to all his family and friends and had many that loved him. Cheo also had two fur babies that meant the world to him. This was a man that was always willing to help where he can if he could. At times growing up yeah we had our arguments and fights but he was someone who could never hold a grudge. Nobody deserves to have their life taken so unjust so unfair so horrific. … There are many words to describe Cheo but words will never be enough to bring him back to us.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Nieves had been arrested in the past, including on felony charges, but was never found guilty of those serious offenses.
5. Houser Is the 2nd Chicago Cop Charged With Murder & His Arrest Comes After a Scathing Review of the Department by the Feds
That case is still pending. Van Dyke is accused of shooting McDonald, 17, in October 2014. McDonald, a robbery suspect being pursued by officers while on foot, was armed with a knife, but prosecutors said dashboard camera footage showed he was not posing a threat to Van Dyke at the time of the shooting.
The report found the police department, “engages in a pattern or practice of use of excessive force that violates the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”
The federal authorities found the violations resulted from deficient training procedures, lack of oversight and misuse of data leading to an erosion of officer moral, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said, according to DNAInfo.
“Far too many communities suffer because of painful divisions between police and citizens,” Lynch said. “The resulting deficit in trust and accountability is not just bad for residents — it’s also bad for dedicated police officers trying to do their jobs safely and effectively. With this announcement, we are laying the groundwork for the difficult but necessary work of building a stronger, safer and more united Chicago for all who call it home.”
The president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 declined to comment on Houser’s case, but told the Chicago Sun-Times the filing of a murder charge against an officer, combined with the Justice Department report, will likely have a negative impact on officers’ morale.
“This is another situation that we’re going to be faced with dealing with, and it is another situation that every officer that’s out there right now in a squad car is going to be thinking about,” Dean Angelo Jr. told the newspaper.