Off-duty Chicago police officer Francisco Perez is seen here on surveillance video shooting at a car in the early morning hours of November 5, 2011.
Last April, for the first time in its eight-year history, the Independent Police Review Authority recommended that a Chicago police officer involved in a shooting be fired—a recommendation it made mainly because of a video. We've obtained a copy of that video and are publishing it today.
Officer Francisco Perez was off-duty and working security for a restaurant when he witnessed a fatal drive-by shooting on North Ashland Avenue in the early morning hours of November 5, 2011. Video footage from a surveillance camera indicates that Perez responded to the original shooting by firing repeatedly at the wrong car.
One of the occupants of that car was seriously wounded, and IPRA found that Perez had been "inattentive to duty" when he "fired his weapon 16 times into the rear of a vehicle occupied by an unarmed and innocent witness." And, that Perez had "provided false information" when he kept insisting, even after he was shown the video, that he did not shoot at the wrong car.
I'd learned of IPRA's recommendation that Perez be fired through a Freedom of Information Act request last June. In two other FOIA requests that month, I sought the video and other records related to the investigation. IPRA denied those requests in July, and I appealed to the Illinois attorney general's office. After the attorney general found that the denials had been improper, IPRA released the video and other records to me.
IPRA's recommendation that Perez be "terminated" was sent to then-police superintendent Garry McCarthy. In July, he agreed that Perez should be fired. The next step in the disciplinary process is a hearing before the Chicago Police Board, scheduled to begin Tuesday.
Perez, 43, joined the force in 1999 and had a spotless disciplinary record before this incident. He was placed on desk duty after the shooting, and in November 2015 he was suspended without pay.
The complicated shooting episode unfolded at about 3:45 AM in front of La Pasadita, a taqueria on the 1100 block of North Ashland. It was the restaurant's surveillance camera that captured the incident. La Pasadita had just closed, and some of its employees and a few other people were standing on the sidewalk in front. A blue Chrysler 300 was double-parked near them, in the right, southbound lane, with two people in it. A red Mitsubishi Galant drove past the blue car, on its left, and the red car's driver fired several shots at the people on the sidewalk. Nineteen-year-old Juan Sanchez was struck in the face; he died at a hospital. Sanchez's brother suffered a graze wound to the side of his chest, and another man was shot in the hand.
Perez appears in the lower left of the video at 14:38:03, wearing a black jacket and khaki pants. He steps out of the street and walks halfway into the restaurant. As he does, a car pulls up Ashland and double-parks—near the top left of the screen, at 14:38:12. You can't tell from the video, but it's the blue Chrysler. Perez steps back out of the doorway and walks back down the sidewalk, leaving the screen at 14:38:21. He was heading to his car.
At 14:38:23, another car—witnesses said it was the red Mitsubishi—appears on the screen, driving south in the left lane. It drives past the double-parked Chrysler. IPRA would later say someone in the Mitsubishi fired at people standing on the sidewalk. At least one person can be seen falling, while others scurry away. The Mitsubishi drives off.
Perez reappears, this time in the street, at 14:38:32. At first you see only his head, to the left of a parked car in the lower left corner of the screen. He advances on the double-parked Chrysler, firing at it; there's a flash from the muzzle of his pistol at 14:38:34. He continues advancing toward the Chrysler and shooting at it. By 14:38:40, he's moved onto the sidewalk, and the double-parked car pulls away. Perez checks on the victims on the sidewalk, then jogs back down the sidewalk, disappearing from view at 14:39:00; he was retrieving his radio from his car to report the shooting.
Perez told IPRA he was standing near his car when he heard gunshots, looked up, and saw muzzle flashes from the car in the left lane.
The two men in the blue Chrysler—La Pasadita employees—told IPRA they ducked down when the shots were fired from the red Mitsubishi. They'd barely sat up again when they heard more gunfire—the shots fired by Perez. This second volley shattered the Chrysler's rear window, and the 28-year-old man in the driver's seat realized he'd been struck in the back. He sped off south on Ashland, turned left, and parked five blocks away near Augusta and Milwaukee, where he called for an ambulance. A bullet that had narrowly missed his heart was removed in surgery at Stroger Hospital. Besides the shattered rear window, the blue Chrysler had multiple bullet holes in its trunk and rear bumper, and a passenger-side tire was flat.
One of the first written police reports about the episode said the offender in the red Mitsubishi had shot the driver of the blue Chrysler as well as the three victims who'd been on the sidewalk. But ballistics tests later showed that the bullet removed from the driver of the blue car during his surgery was fired from Perez's nine-millimeter semiautomatic.
A police lieutenant called IPRA the day of the shooting and lodged a complaint against Perez for having fired "without identifying the appropriate target."
In May 2014, two and a half years after the episode, Jose Perez (no relation to Francisco Perez) was charged with the drive-by shooting. Jose Perez, now 33, is charged with the murder of 19-year-old Sanchez and the attempted murder of the other two people he allegedly shot. And, because a person who commits one felony can be liable for other harm ensuing from it, he's also charged with the attempted murder of the man Officer Perez shot. Jose Perez's case is still pending; he's in Cook County Jail without bond.
More than four years after the shootings, it's still not clear why Officer Perez fired at the blue Chrysler. As IPRA noted in its summary report, the video indicates he didn't start shooting until after the red Mitsubishi had driven away.
IPRA investigators confronted Officer Perez with the video and gave him numerous chances to explain his actions. They interviewed him in November 2013 and in January and March of 2015. Perez, who was accompanied by at least one lawyer at each interview, kept insisting that he'd fired at the car whose driver committed the initial shootings, not at the double-parked Chrysler.
"I wasn’t shooting at the blue Chrysler, OK?" Perez told IPRA supervisor Josh Hunt. "I was aiming at the offending vehicle that I witnessed do the shooting."
Hunt asked Perez: "Can you explain how is it that if you were shooting at that vehicle, you hit this other vehicle so many times?"
"No, I can't," Perez said.
Hunt pointed out that, in one of Perez's first radio calls after the shooting, Perez told the dispatcher: "Blue Chrysler, southbound, came and shot some guys that were standing out front." Perez said he reported that because "there were some citizens that were out there that were mentioning that."
In the final interview in March 2015, Hunt asked Perez if he was aware "that all of the available evidence shows that you shot the blue in color Chrysler 300 that was occupying the inner lane, and that you shot the driver of that vehicle?"
"The video speaks for itself," Perez said.
Chicago Police Department policy requires officers to submit to alcohol and blood testing after discharging their firearms, whether they were on-duty or off-duty at the time of the shooting. Perez tested clean. But a police report indicates a urine specimen wasn't collected until 8:30 AM, more than four and a half hours after the shooting, and that the breath test wasn't administered until 9:17 AM, five and a half hours after the shooting. A CPD directive calls for drug and alcohol testing to be conducted "as soon as practicable" after an officer discharges his firearm. There's no indication in the records I reviewed that IPRA ever asked anyone why Perez wasn't tested sooner.
The day before the shooting, Perez had been on duty from 9 AM to 5 PM, he said in his November 2013 interview. Then he began his security shift for La Pasadita at 9 PM, and he was just finishing that shift when the drive-by occurred. Perez told IPRA he didn't recall if he'd gotten any rest between the two jobs.
A CPD directive prohibits secondary employment when the hours "tend to impair the Department member's efficiency or capabilities as an employee of the Department or interfere with the Department member's response to emergency calls." That directive also notes that officers "should provide a sufficient amount of time between secondary employment and the start of a tour of duty to allow for ample rest and relaxation." But there's no rule directing officers to get ample rest from their police job before beginning a security shift, even though in their security work they may be called upon to use lethal force.
In Perez's police board hearing, an assistant corporation counsel will make the case for his discharge. Perez will be represented by Daniel Herbert, a former Chicago police officer who also represents Jason Van Dyke, the officer charged with the murder of Laquan McDonald. In that criminal case, as in Perez's administrative one, the officer emptied his magazine, firing 16 times. I called Herbert's office, seeking to speak with Perez, but Herbert didn't respond.
Perez's case is scheduled to be heard over two days, tomorrow, then Wednesday, April 20. The nine-member police board decides cases by majority vote, usually in about two and a half months. The ruling can be appealed by the losing side in the circuit and appellate courts—so it could be five years or more from the night of the shooting in front of La Pasadita until Perez's status is finally resolved.
It's a lengthy process to say the least, and in Perez's case, the fact that IPRA took nearly three and a half years to reach its recommendation clearly prolonged it. Maybe IPRA will move more quickly in the future: after the release of the notorious video of the McDonald shooting, the agency's chief administrator, Scott Ando, was replaced with Sharon Fairley, a former federal prosecutor. Fairley has pledged many reforms of IPRA, among them timeliness, which she promises will henceforth be among the agency’s "core values."