COOK COUNTY CRIMINAL COURTHOUSE — The off-duty Chicago police officer charged with murder in the shooting of an unarmed man can be released on home monitoring — without posting bond — if the Cook County Sheriff's Office agrees, a judge ruled Thursday.
The decision to release the 57-year-old officer, who reportedly has prostate cancer and claims self-defense in the fatal shooting, comes despite the Cook County State's Attorney's Office request that he be held without bail.
The officer, Lowell Houser, is charged with murder in the Jan. 2 shooting of Jose Nieves, 38, during a Northwest Side dispute.
According to prosecutors, Houser's "female companion" and Nieves lived in the same Hermosa apartment building. Nieves was friends with the woman's children, and he and Houser reportedly argued on multiple occasions.
On Dec. 11, Nieves filed a police report claiming that Houser had pulled a gun and ordered him to get back into his apartment, Assistant State's Attorney Lynn McCarthy said during Thursday's bond hearing.
About three weeks later, about 9:15 a.m. on Jan. 2, Houser was leaving his companion's apartment when he spotted Nieves and a pal unloading boxes from two parked cars in the 2500 block of North Lowell Avenue, prosecutors said.
Houser got into his car, the prosecutor said, rolled down the window and began asking the friend questions: "Who are you? Why are you helping him? Are you his mother? You know he treats women badly?"
When Nieves' friend told Nieves about the remarks, Nieves walked toward Houser and said "that if he had a problem with Nieves, he should talk to Nieves," McCarthy said in court.
A neighbor heard arguing and looked out his window to see Houser and Nieves both standing in the street, yelling, prosecutors said.
The neighbor returned to watching TV only to hear a loud "bang" moments later, McCarthy said.
The neighbor looked out the window and saw Houser pointing a gun toward Nieves, prosecutors said. The neighbor then heard two more loud bangs and saw Nieves clutch at his chest before falling to the ground, said prosecutors.
Houser immediately called 911 and said, "Yeah, this is Officer Houser. I have an emergency. A gentleman tried to attack me. I had to shoot him," prosecutors said.
The neighbor never saw Houser and Nieves engaged in any physical contact, McCarthy said, and the only weapon on the scene was Houser's Glock 40 handgun.
Houser was arrested Wednesday and faces first-degree murder charges.
In court Thursday, defense attorney Will Fahy said Houser "acted in self-defense" after Nieves instigated a fight and reached toward his waistband as if reaching toward a weapon.
Fahy pointed out that Houser immediately called 911 and stayed on the scene to speak with investigating officers.
According to Fahy, Houser has been a Chicago police officer since December 1988 and was looking forward to retiring later this year. Houser is a Chicago native who graduated from Kenwood Academy and later served in the Illinois National Guard as a reservist for 22 years.
Houser recently was diagnosed with prostate cancer and is undergoing treatment, Fahy said.
Cook County Judge Donald Panarese Jr. on Thursday said Houser could be released on his own recognizance pending trial if the Cook County Sheriff's Office agrees to provide electronic monitoring. If not, Houser will be responsible for $150,000 bail. Houser can avoid the electronic monitoring altogether if he posts $15,000, or 10 percent of his total bail.
Nieves' sister, Angelica Nieves, addressed reporters after the hearing.
"I want it to be known that my family is broken and will never be the same," she said. "A piece of our family has been taken away from us."
"I will fight for justice for my brother and for my parents as well," Angelica Nieves continued. "Knowing that he was taken in the most horrible way, unjustified. It’s just cruel."
On Wednesday, the family's civil attorney, Andrew Stroth, called the announcement of the first-degree murder charge "an important and swift step in the criminal justice process."
After court Thursday, Stroth said, "This officer was operating within his police powers, with his badge, with his gun, and unjustifiably and unreasonably used excessive force to kill Jose Nieves."
The murder charge came days after a scathing report by the U.S. Justice Department slammed the Police Department for a host of failings, from unjustified shootings and physical abuse of suspects to poor training. Many of the findings involved black and Hispanic victims.
Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson said earlier this month that Houser and Nieves knew each other from "a confrontation" that occurred "a few weeks ago."
Police Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi earlier this month said Johnson relieved Houser of his police powers.
"The Chicago Police Department turned the case over to the state's attorney and the Independent Police Review Authority once the possibility of criminal violations were suspected," Guglielmi said Wednesday. "CPD will fully cooperate with the state's attorney throughout the judicial process."
According to NBC, Nieves worked in construction and bar security and lived on the Northwest Side.
"My brother Cheo ... 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," sister Angelica Nieves wrote on a GoFundMe page for the family. "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."
Nieves' family sued Houser and the City of Chicago in federal court days after the shooting. The Tribune reported that Houser has faced at least 20 disciplinary investigations since the early 1990s and has been suspended several times.
On Oct. 29, 2014, Houser was accused of detaining, grabbing and pushing someone to the ground while waiting for the Red Line train at 95th Street, according to the Invisible Institute database. The final outcome of that complaint is unknown.
Houser's murder charge comes in the wake of the first-degree murder charge filed against Officer Jason Van Dyke, who shot dead 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in a case that rocked the city and led to the year-long Justice Department probe, the results of which were released Friday.
Van Dyke was released on bond in his case, and has made frequent appearances at the Cook County Criminal Courthouse for court hearings.
Here's the federal civil lawsuit filed against Houser and the City of Chicago:
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