Video Contradicts Off-Duty Officer's Claim of Home Invasion Before He Shot Man in the Head, Attorney Says

NBC Universal, Inc.

An off-duty Chicago police officer said a man he shot in the head last year was attempting to break into his home. A new lawsuit argues that's not what happened - and the man's attorney says surveillance videos of the incident tell a very different story.

The lawsuit filed in federal court last month argues that 33-year-old Jose Mendoza was unarmed and posed no threat when he was shot in the head by Officer Iwan Smith in the early morning hours of March 31, 2021.

Footage from responding officers' body-worn cameras after the shooting shows Smith saying he thought the man was attempting to break into the apartment he shared with his girlfriend and child in the city's Albany Park neighborhood. Mendoza was arrested and charged with felony home invasion, burglary and criminal trespass.

But Mendoza's lawyer says otherwise, pointing to surveillance videos from inside the building that show what happened.

“This was not a break-in, it was not a home invasion,” Mendoza's attorney Thomas Glasgow said. “To characterize it as such is just absurd.”

Glasgow says Mendoza had been out drinking, was planning to spend the night with a friend and simply entered the wrong building. Surveillance video released by Chicago's Civilian Office of Police Accountability, the agency which investigates use-of-force allegations against police officers, appears to show that Mendoza was barely able to stand as he entered the building at 1:13 a.m.

The time stamp on the recording shows Mendoza even sitting down on the stairs at one point, staying in the building’s vestibule for nine minutes after he entered before he can be seen climbing the five steps from the vestibule to the first-floor apartment, occupied by Smith.

“My client wasn’t trespassing - there’s no pry marks on the door,” Glasgow said. “There’s no force being used, there’s no force being applied. You’re dealing with somebody who’s quite simply intoxicated.”

After standing in front of the apartment for a few seconds, Mendoza can be seen squatting on the floor in front of the door, which is not in the camera’s field of view. A burst of light indicates the door opens, at which point Mendoza stands up. A few seconds later, he slumps to the floor, bleeding profusely from a wound in his head.

“When the officer opened the door he was sitting on the ground,” Glasgow said. “When the officer opened the door, he stood up, and when he stood up, the officer shot him in the head.”

After a few seconds, the video shows Mendoza flying backwards. Glasgow said the officer kicked him out of the way and shut the door.

“Officer Smith never patted Plaintiff down to determine if he possessed a weapon,” the complaint reads. “At no time did Officer Smith attempt to render Plaintiff first aid.”

Indeed, the time stamp on the video indicates it wasn’t until some six minutes after the shooting that Smith can be seen opening the door of the apartment and stepping over Mendoza as police arrived after being summoned by Smith’s girlfriend, who called 911. Still carrying his service weapon and displaying his badge, Smith quickly identified himself as a fellow Chicago police officer.

“He knocked on my door,” Smith is heard telling arriving officers on body-worn camera video posted on the COPA website. “As I approached to open it, he pushed it in. And I tried to close it, he just pushed, he forced his way in and I didn’t know what…”

Mendoza lost much of his vision but survived the shooting. Glasgow said his client suffers other lingering effects and nearly a full year later, he continues to be held without bond at Cook County Jail.

“The fact that my client was shot for no other reason than being drunk is something that is incredibly disturbing,” Glasgow said. “He wasn’t trespassing - he walked into an area that you or I could have walked into.”

“It was very painful to see those videos,” Mendoza's mother Rachel Mendoza told NBC 5 Investigates. “It tears my heart, and I try to be strong. It’s very hard.”

Glasgow said the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office has chosen to proceed against Mendoza in court on a prior DUI case before litigating the alleged home invasion. And he said that’s preventing him from quickly proving that what started as an allegation of an attempted break-in is contradicted by the video evidence.

“If this was you or me who committed the acts that the police officer committed, we’d probably be sitting in jail with a no bond for an attempt murder,” Glasgow said. “You can’t just open the door and shoot somebody in the head.”

The officer’s attorney did not respond to request for comment. Smith was relieved of police powers in June 2021. COPA's investigation into the shooting continues.

Contact Us