Chicago, IL

Two Chicago Officers on Trial for Controversial Pilsen Shooting Allege Self-Defense

Natalie Frank, Ph.D.

Officers claim use of force did not constitute and excessive amount and that it was reasonable
Kim Foxx, State's Attorney, who is prosecuting the two police officers who shot Miguel Medina in Pilsen and are now on trialPhoto byScreen Grab/WGN News

Two Chicago police officers, Christopher Liakopoulos, 44, and Ruben Reynoso, 43, are currently facing trial in a highly controversial case related to a daylight shooting incident that occurred in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago in July 2022. The officers are at the center of attention as they claim self-defense in a case that has raised questions about the use of force by law enforcement.

Liakopoulos and Reynoso are accused of involvement in the shooting that left Miguel Medina, 24, injured. The charges against them include two counts each of aggravated battery with a firearm and official misconduct. The trial, which has garnered significant public interest, will determine the officers' fate and address the broader issue of police use of force.

The recently unveiled surveillance footage, made public on Tuesday, depicts a moment from last July when two Chicago police officers discharged their weapons while inside an unmarked vehicle. This shooting incident has led to both officers facing criminal charges.

Both officers maintain that their actions were taken in self-defense, citing the complexities and challenges faced by law enforcement officers in high-pressure situations. The trial will examine evidence, witness testimonies, and the officers' claims to determine whether their use of force was justified.

The sole available video capturing the incident depicts the officers' gray Ford Fusion backing up on the sidewalk at the 1000 block of West 18th Street, where a group of individuals were present. Subsequently, two individuals from the group venture into the street, one of them being Miguel Medina, who raises his hand toward the officers.

Medina, aged 23, is swiftly shot and falls to the ground. Following this, Reynoso and Liakopoulos exit the vehicle and commence firing in the direction of an individual who is not within the camera frame, seemingly a 17-year-old boy who, as per prosecutors, fled and began shooting at the officers.

Liakopoulos pursues the fleeing individual and later returns. Meanwhile, Reynoso remains near the car, and Medina is lying in the street. Notably, neither officer is observed providing assistance to Medina. However, two bystanders are seen checking on him, and eventually, emergency responders arrive at the scene.

Reynoso and Liakopoulos did not have body-worn cameras on them, but other officers who responded to the scene recorded what happened after the shooting.

In the footage from their body cameras, Liakopoulos directs fellow officers to the individual he claims "fired at us a couple times." Simultaneously, Reynoso instructs a person who identifies themselves as Medina's brother to move away from him.

“That’s my boy,” the individual says.

“I don’t give a f---,” Reynoso says. “You and your boy shot at us.”

“I didn’t shoot at you,” the person states before saying to another officer that Medina is in pain.

Medina sustained gunshot wounds to his lower back and right leg, as documented in an incident report released to the public. He was initially taken into custody on charges of aggravated assault of an officer but was later released due to insufficient evidence.

Medina, speaking by phone the previous week, asserted that the officers shot him without cause and anticipated that the forthcoming video footage would reveal the truth. Attorneys representing Medina have filed a federal lawsuit alleging false arrest and excessive use of force.

As the 17-year-old is a minor, the Chicago COPA (Civilian Office of Police Accountability) spokesperson Ephraim Eaddy indicated that video footage featuring him would not be made public. The officers' legal representatives attempted unsuccessfully to prevent COPA from disclosing any footage, contending that it would only present "half" of the incident.

This video footage plays a crucial role in the case against the officers and contradicts the initial account provided by police leadership.

This video is part of the materials and records that COPA has disclosed as part of its ongoing investigation into the shooting, which left two unarmed individuals injured in Pilsen on July 22.

The release of this video occurred four days after Liakopoulos and Reynoso were formally charged with felonies related to the incident. Additionally, it transpired just one day after a Cook County judge declined to prevent COPA from making these videos accessible to the public.

During a recent press conference, Illinois State’s Attorney Kim Foxx asserted that the video evidence contradicts the officers' assertion that they returned fire only after being fired upon.

In the tactical response reports unveiled on Tuesday, both officers substantiated this false claim by checking boxes indicating that an "offender" initiated the initial shot. Additionally, Liakopoulos checked a box in his report suggesting that they were "ambushed [with] no warning."

These officers, who were part of the Chicago Police Major Accidents Unit, were dressed in plainclothes and en route to a training session when they decided to investigate the group of individuals on that particular morning. Assistant State’s Attorney Alyssa Janicki provided this information during their bail hearing.

According to Janicki's account, Medina and the teenager, the latter carrying a satchel, approached the officers. Medina was holding a wine bottle and a cellphone in one hand.

As Medina stood beside the squad car, displaying his hands, Reynoso pointed a gun out of the window, and Liakopoulos also drew his firearm, reaching across Reynoso. Both officers then opened fire on Medina, causing him serious injuries.

The 17-year-old fled the scene, retrieved a gun from his bag, and started shooting at the officers, who returned fire, as described by Janicki.

New information from a COPA document sheds light on a bystander who was wounded during the incident. This 36-year-old man reported that he and a friend were walking back from a gym on 18th Street when they observed three individuals on the opposite side of the street, one of whom was waving a bottle. Gunfire erupted, and as they tried to escape, the man was shot in the leg and fell. A passerby offered to drive him to a residence, from where his friend took him and his wife to Rush University Medical Center.

Regarding the attempt to charge the Chicago teen with attempted murder, both Liakopoulos and Reynoso initially claimed he had fired the first shot, but in a subsequent interview with the state's attorney's office, they asserted that they couldn't determine who fired first but maintained that the young man had pointed a gun at them before they shot at Medina.

Reynoso's lawyer, Brian Sexton, asserted that during the gunfire exchange, Reynoso's attention was solely on the 17-year-old who was armed and that the officer never fired his weapon in Medina's direction.

As for the contradictory statements made by his client, Sexton argued that Reynoso's recollection of the highly stressful and traumatic event was flawed. Sexton further explained that after Reynoso had the opportunity to view the video footage, he admitted to both COPA and the state's attorney's office that he simply could not recall the details of the shooting.

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