By Lauraann Wood Law Bulletin staff writer
A Cook County judge on Thursday acquitted an Illinois State Police trooper, who fired several gunshots into his ex-girlfriend’s home, of seven felony criminal charges that could have sent him to a minimum of 26 years in prison.
Associate Judge James B. Linn did find Trooper Juan Lopez guilty of misdemeanor reckless conduct and sentenced him to 18 months of court supervision following the one-day bench trial at the Leighton Criminal Court Building.
The Cook County state’s attorney’s office charged Lopez in July 2015 with four counts of home invasion, one count of aggravated discharge of a firearm and two counts of reckless discharge of a firearm.
In April 2014, Lopez went to the home of ex-girlfriend Angelica Aguilar — a fellow trooper with whom he had recently ended a two-year relationship — to pick up belongings and take her to church, said Daniel Q. Herbert, owner of the Law Offices of Daniel Q. Herbert & Associates who represented Lopez.
Upon arrival, Lopez noticed an unfamiliar car in Aguilar’s driveway and damage to both her front and back doors, Herbert said.
Herbert said the damage was caused by a burglar three days earlier, but his client was not aware of it.
After a failed attempt at opening Aguilar’s front door, Herbert said, Lopez saw a black man he did not recognize in her bedroom window and heard a woman screaming, but could not make out any words from the outside.
“She had really thick windows because she was by Midway Airport, so he couldn’t hear what she was saying,” Herbert said.
Lopez’s defense centered around the contention he believed Aguilar was in danger when he fired into the home six times.
He fired the first two shots at her windows but couldn’t penetrate them, Herbert said, so he fired the next four at the front door he couldn’t open.
“He fired them at a downward direction so they would go into the floor and open the door,” he said.
Once inside the home, weapon still drawn, Lopez entered the room in which he saw the man but was soon put at ease after Aguilar shouted that things were OK and everyone present was a police officer, Herbert said.
“He put his gun down, and that was it,” he said. “He and this other trooper that he didn’t know walked outside and waited for the police to come.”
Herbert said Aguilar and the other trooper had initially relayed the same story to responding officers that day. But the two later switched their accounts, Herbert contended, potentially out of fear that they would receive disciplinary action in connection with the incident.
“They turned it into a crime of rage and passion,” he said. “It’s the classic scenario of a breakup — you catch your wife or your girlfriend in bed with another man, that’s the first thing people are going to think in that situation. But it just wasn’t the case here.”
Herbert, who himself served as a Chicago police officer from 1992 until 2001, said the ruling was an important one “in light of today’s climate of anti-police rhetoric.”
“Police officers, by nature of their job, they see and they interpret things differently than do civilians,” he said. “That’s what causes them to be effective guarding us from evil.
“Sometimes those unique instincts turn out to be incorrect, but that doesn’t make their actions criminal as long as it would be reasonable for a police officer to perceive what they were perceiving — even if it turns out that they were wrong,” he said.
Lopez’s case also makes a good example of why it is important to try cases in a courtroom rather than in the court of public opinion, Herbert said.
“This is a classic case of, if you just heard the facts without knowing any other details, you would assume that the charges were a hundred percent accurate,” he said. “It was like peeling an onion — you peel the layers, and when the evidence came in and the rule of law was applied, the proper decision of not guilty was rendered.”
Cook County Assistant State’s Attorneys Lauren Freeman and Risa R. Lanier prosecuted the case.
“This was a very serious domestic-related case that was charged in good faith based upon the facts, the evidence and the law,” said Sally Daly, a spokeswoman for the state’s attorney’s office.
“We are disappointed with the ruling, but we respect the court’s decision and the fact that this defendant will be held accountable through court-ordered supervision and no-contact orders for the victims in this case.”
Lopez has been on administrative leave since being charged and his administrative investigation had been stayed until resolution of his criminal case, Herbert said.
“Now, I would hope that they would put him back to work with perhaps a minor suspension, but we will be prepared to represent him at the administrative hearing if they move to terminate him,” he said.
Herbert is no stranger to cases involving law enforcement under intense public scrutiny. In an unrelated case, he currently represents Jason Van Dyke, the Chicago police officer charged with murder for the 2014 killing of teenager Laquan McDonald.
The present case is People v. Juan Lopez, 15 CR 11844.