Chicago cop fired for firing at wrong car in off-duty incident

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Francisco Perez Chicago police officer Francisco Perez arrives following a short break at the Chicago Police Board in Chicago on Tuesday, April 5 2016 on the first of day of evidentiary hearings. The Chicago Police holds an evidentiary hearing Tuesday before deciding whether to seek to fire Officer Francisco Perez for lying about his role in an off-duty shooting in which he fired 16 shots at that wrong car. (Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune) (Jose M. Osorio / Chicago Tribune)

A veteran Chicago police officer was fired Thursday night for shooting 16 times at the wrong car during an off-duty incident more than five years ago.

In an 8-to-0 vote, the Chicago Police Board voted at its monthly meeting to dismiss Officer Francisco "Frank" Perez for the 2011 shooting outside a Mexican restaurant in the East Ukrainian Village neighborhood. One board member, John O’Malley, did not vote because he’s new to the board.

Lori Lightfoot, who heads the Police Board, said the board found Perez at fault for both failing to identify the appropriate target and failing to take "reasonable precautions" before firing his gun at the wrong car. But he was not dismissed for allegations he made false statements to IPRA investigators about how the shooting unfolded.

The case marked the first time in its then nearly eight-year history that the Independent Police Review Authority, the city’s much-maligned police oversight agency, had recommended that a Chicago police officer be dismissed for a shooting.

Perez, an officer since 1999, could appeal his firing to Cook County Circuit Court.

The driver of the car that Perez fired at was wounded.

Perez’s firing comes weeks after the U.S. Department of Justice issued a scathing report on Chicago police that, among other things, faulted officers for resorting to force too often and criticized officer training as woefully inadequate.

According to authorities, the shooting occurred shortly before 4 a.m. on Nov. 5, 2011, outside the La Pasadita restaurant in the 1100 block of North Ashland Avenue. Perez was off-duty and working security for the restaurant when an occupant of a red Mitsubishi Galant opened fire after pulling up beside a blue Chrysler 300M double-parked in front of the restaurant.

Three people standing outside the restaurant were shot, one fatally.

The evidence against Perez hinged largely on video obtained from a surveillance camera outside the restaurant.

After the Mitsubishi had sped from the scene, the footage showed Perez moving toward the Chrysler and firing his weapon at the rear of the vehicle, according to IPRA. Perez continued to fire as the Chrysler took off, IPRA said.

Yet even after viewing the video in 2015, Perez continued to maintain that he had fired at the red car.

In testifying before a Police Board hearing officer last year, Perez did not dispute that he mistakenly shot an occupant in the Chrysler but said he was aiming at the red car seconds after the drive-by shooting.

A lawyer representing the Police Department contended that Perez should be fired for lying and shooting an "innocent bystander."

But Perez’s lawyer, Daniel Herbert, described his client as a hero and dismissed the allegations against him as preposterous.

John Farrell, who testified as an expert on use of force on behalf of Perez, defended the off-duty officer’s decision to open fire because the gunman in the red car had just committed a forcible felony and was attempting to escape.

Farrell also criticized the quality of the video as not "top notch." He also said the video did not depict what Perez saw that night because the camera captured the scene from a different angle than what the off-duty officer viewed. It also gave a limited view of what took place that night, he said.

In addition, Farrell testified that outside factors, including tunnel vision and an inability in the poor lighting to distinguish the colors of the two cars, could have played a role in the incident.

But the Police Department lawyer, Special Assistant Corporation Counsel James Fieweger, told the hearing officer that he was skeptical that Perez intended to fire at the Mitsubishi because the car was a full block and a half away when he opened fire. The odds that Perez would be successful in hitting the moving vehicle in the dark at that distance were minuscule, he said.

"I think Officer Perez was trying to do the right thing, but he was ill-informed and made a horrible mistake," Fieweger said. "He’s been offered multiple opportunities to correct his story. If an officer’s gonna lie to cover that up, what else is he gonna lie about?"

Twitter: @JeremyGorner

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