CHICAGO (AP/FOX 32) - A Chicago police officer was charged Wednesday with first-degree murder in the shooting of an unarmed man during a dispute between the two earlier this month.
Authorities say Lowell Houser, 57, was off-duty when he became involved in a confrontation with Jose Nieves, 38, on Jan. 2. Police later said Nieves did not have a weapon. Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson has said the officer and Nieves were involved in a prior confrontation.
Houser, a 28-year veteran assigned to the transit detail, is scheduled to appear for a bond hearing Thursday. He was stripped of his police powers one day after the shooting. It wasn't immediately known whether Houser has obtained legal representation.
"I mean it's about time, I definitely want to applaud the Cook County State's Attorney's office, I think they did the right thing," said community activist William Calloway.
The charge comes days after the U.S. Justice Department released a scathing report on the Chicago Police Department, concluding it frequently used excessive force. The department was also criticized for employing badly trained and supervised officers who have little fear of discipline from the city's flawed disciplinary authorities.
The Cook County state's attorney's office said the investigation into Nieves' shooting was conducted simultaneously by its investigators, the Independent Police Review Authority, which investigates all officer-involved shootings in Chicago, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Historically, administrative and criminal investigations involving police office have proceeded sequentially.
According to the statement, it was the investigation by the state's attorney's office that led to the charges against Houser. The charging of a Chicago police officer for wrongdoing hasn't often come quickly.
"In this case it shows lack of biasness (sic), it shows that whether you're law enforcement of not you wil be held accountable for your actions, on duty or off duty," Calloway said.
IPRA spokeswoman Mia Sissac says the agency will halt its investigation "until we see how the murder charges play out." Sissac added that during its preliminary investigation, IPRA provided the state's attorney's office with information on the shooting.
Nieves' family said in a statement that it is devastated by his death and that the charges "will not bring back Jose but is an important and swift step in the criminal justice process."
Nieves' family has filed a federal lawsuit against the city and Houser, alleging that "Houser illegally detained and threatened to arrest and physically harm" Nieves on the morning of the shooting.