A Chicago police officer has been charged with first-degree murder in connection with the shooting death of a 38-year-old man on the city’s Northwest Side.
Officer Lowell Houser, 57, was arrested and charged Wednesday for the murder of Jose Nieves after a swift 16-day criminal investigation of the incident, according to the Cook County state’s attorney.
The State’s Attorney’s Office said the charges came straight from Kim Foxx’s office, and that the FBI, Chicago Police Department and IPRA had nothing to do with the decision.
Police said Nieves was unarmed when he was fatally shot by an off-duty police officer on Jan. 2 in the 2500-block of North Lowell Avenue in the Hermosa neighborhood after an argument with the officer escalated.
“The person who was shot did not have a weapon. That much we know. The officer’s weapon is the only one we found,” police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said.
Nieves’ family filed a lawsuit last week alleging that the officer had clashed with the victim in the past and was emboldened by the culture at the Chicago Police Department.
An attorney for the Nieves family said in a statement Wednesday: “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.”
Houser, a 28-year veteran of the department, was stripped of his police powers the day after the shooting. He is being held without bond after apparently surrendering to the state’s attorney, and is set to appear at a bond hearing in Chicago Thursday.
Guglielmi released a statement Wednesday, saying, “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. CPD will fully cooperate with the States Attorney throughout the judicial process.”
A memorial stills sits on the sidewalk outside Nieves’ Hermosa apartment, where he died. Family said they had once been neighbors and had clashed before.
“My brother called 911 several times for help. He went through the right way of the system, going the right way, and he still was not heard,” said his sister Angelica Nieves.
At his funeral on Jan, 9, his family cried for Officer Houser to be charged.
“If it had been any civilian out there, if it would have been me, if I would have shot somebody, I would have been locked up in jail,” Angelica said.
A CPD cruiser is parked outside of Houser’s South Side apartment as he remains in jail.
I-TEAM: WHO IS LOWELL HOUSER?
The I-Team looked into Houser’s background, who he is and what his record is with the police department.
Houser is currently assigned to the mass transit unit, and has been the subject of numerous police disciplinary investigations over the years but none involving shootings, the background check revealed.
There is no mention in the complaint or arrest warrant that Houser is a police officer, although his address is listed as 3510 S. Michigan Ave. – CPD headquarters. The state’s attorney has requested he be held without bail.
Years prior the shooting, Lowell had deep financial problems. There were multiple liens against him from banks and credit unions, totaling tens of thousands of dollars. He filed for federal bankruptcy in 2004.
Howell has been the subject of multiple complaints filed against him, according to the Citizens Police Data Project; reportedly more than 20 complaints over the past two decades. Several resulted in suspension, and one is said to have involved an off-duty disturbance in 1994.
Houser is now the second Chicago police officer facing murder charges. He joins former officer Jason Van Dyke, who was charged in the shooting death of Laquan McDonald. McDonald’s shooting prompted the review of CPD practices and sharply critical report from the Justice Department.