Shootout Began from Backseat of Squad Car: Police

Officers recovering after River North exchange of gunfire

By BJ Lutz, Natalie Martinez and Dick Johnson
|  Thursday, Feb 24, 2011  |  Updated 9:32 AM CDT
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Two officers involved in a River North shooting on Wednesday are recovering in a hospital Thursday morning.

Some thought it was part of a movie, but around 4 p.m. Wednesday, a handcuffed panhandler being transported by police pulled a concealed weapon and began shooting from the backseat of an unmarked squad car.

The shooting caused the car to collide with another driver as the officers tried to protect themselves and gain control of the situation, authorities said. The exchange of gunfire ended with the panhandler dead and two officers injured.

"He found a good way to hide [the gun]," a law enforcement source told NBC Chicago, noting that panhandlers often "wear multiple layers of clothing."

Police Supt. Jody Weis said the 18th District officers were investigating the incident near West Chicago Avenue and North Wells Street. 

"The offender became combative ... and ultimately retrieved a weapon and fired shots at the officers.  The officers immediately returned fire, fatally wounding the offender," Weis said outside Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where all three men were taken after the incident.

"This is a clear understanding of the uncertainty and danger that the officers face every day.  There's probably nothing more routine than this type of investigation, and look what we have today:  an officer has been shot," said Weis.

Unaware of what was transpiring in the vehicle behind her, Joelle Minassian said she was driving through the area in her new BMW when she heard gunfire and was struck from behind.

"All of a sudden this guy just like slammed into me like four or five -- he wouldn't stop -- he just kept slamming and slamming into me repeatedly," she said.  "I was freaking out.  I looked and there were back windshields being blown out and rounds of gunshots going off."

The unmarked squad car came to rest near a light pole in front of the Moody Bible Institute.  Several of its windows -- including the rear window and rear passenger-side window -- were shattered. Spent shells were in the street, marked by evidence tags.

One of the officers, a 44-year-old with 16 years on the job, was shot.  He has a large bruise from where his vest stopped a bullet, a police source said.  The second officer -- a 60-year-old man with 37 years on the job -- was treated for a "minor hand injury," said Weis.  The officers are expected to fully recover.

Investigators from the city's Independent Police Review Authority were already beginning their investigation Wednesday evening, said First Deputy Chief Administrator Mark Smith.

The IPRA reviews all shootings that involve a police officer.  Public surveillance cameras in the area may aid in the investigation.

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