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Two Chicago police officers on trial on charges stemming from a 2022 shooting in Pilsen

In surveillance camera video, a black sedan traveled down 18th Street in Pilsen before stopping and slowly reversing toward a group that stood on the sidewalk.

Two people stopped on the sidewalk and appeared to converse with each other before walking toward the sedan, the video showed — one a man and the other apparently a teenager. The older one, in a white hooded sweatshirt, at first put one hand up.

Then gunshots sounded, and the man in the sweatshirt fell to the ground, moaning and then putting both hands up.

Two police officers got out of the Ford Focus — an unmarked police car — and exchanged shots with the juvenile who had been on the sidewalk. The man in the white sweatshirt remained on the ground, clutching his back.

The two police officers are now on trial on felony charges related to the daylight shooting in Pilsen in July 2022, the latest case to go to trial involving police officers potentially facing criminal penalties in connection with on-duty events.

Christopher Liakopoulos, 44, and Ruben Reynoso, 43, are charged with two counts of aggravated battery with a firearm and two counts of official misconduct, all felonies. Liakopoulos has been with the department since 2001 and Reynoso since 2003.

They appeared in court Friday morning for the start of a bench trial before Cook County Judge Lawrence Flood, in a courtroom was packed with police officers and other observers.

The overarching chain of events in the 1000 block of West 18th Street around 7 a.m. on July 22, 2022, as shown in the surveillance video, is mostly undisputed by attorneys on both sides. But they offered drastically different interpretations of the events in question and argued over whether the officers’ actions that morning amounted to a reasonable use of force.

The shooting seriously injured Miguel Medina, 24, who testified Friday, wiping his eyes with tissue as gunfire from the video echoed in the courtroom at the Leighton Criminal Court Building. A juvenile who exchanged fire with the police officers was not called as a witness.

Medina testified that he was unarmed as he approached the officers’ vehicle and put his arm up to show that he was no threat. He said he had a bottle of wine in his other hand.

“The victim in today’s case was unarmed, and when the defendants fired at that unarmed victim with his hands in the air as he turned away, that shooting was unjustified,” said Assistant State’s Attorney Alyssa Janicki, who also said the police officers fired first.

Defense attorneys for the officers, though, argued that Liakopoulos and Reynoso stopped their car in front of the group to investigate because the people stood outside of a closed business, when some in the group walked up and said, “Whatcha gonna do about it?”

The officers’ attorneys argued that the juvenile with the gun pointed it at the officers, though prosecutors disputed that, saying the juvenile had started to run away when the officers fired at Medina.

“They were faced with a deadly threat, and their actions were a reasonable use of deadly force,” said Tim Grace, who represents Liakopoulos.

The police officers, who are investigators with the major accidents squad, had begun their morning driving to the police academy to teach officers about crash investigations, their attorneys said.

Their attorneys argued that they stopped to investigate because they saw a group loitering near a closed business, unsure if the people were tagging it. The officers were doing “exactly what we pay them to do,” Grace said.

But prosecutors said the people were simply standing outside an apartment building where they had partied throughout the previous night. “That’s the extent of what drew defendants’ attention that day,” Janicki said.

Medina testified that he approached the officers’ car because he thought, when it reversed down the street, that it carried gang members. When he spoke to the juvenile, as seen on the video, they were talking about whether to walk to the car, he testified. He then approached the car.

“We made eye contact (and they) didn’t say much to me,” he testified about the officers in the car. “I just wanted to remove myself from that situation. I put hand up, the other hand had the wine bottle, to let the other persons in the car know I was no danger to them.”

Both sides acknowledged that the juvenile fired a gun into the air about an hour before the officers passed by the scene. Defense attorneys said it was a “gang gun” passed around in the group, which was “obsessed” with weapons, calling the Smith & Wesson gun “Lil Smitty.”

The defense argued that Medina had the gun on him before the shooting, but passed it to the juvenile, who later engaged in the shootout with police.

Prosecutors noted that the officers are not charged with the subsequent shootout involving the juvenile.

Medina, on the stand, countered that although he’d posted images of the gun on social media, it wasn’t his nor was it is in possession.

In more than two hours of cross-examination, attorneys for the officers sought to paint Medina as a liar, showing clips of interviews with detectives when he was in a hospital bed, in which he gave a different account of the night.

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“I don’t remember. I was intoxicated,” Medina said in response to questions.

The case is among a handful charged by the Cook County state’s attorney’s office in recent years in which prosecutors allege officers have used unjustified force while on duty, though the office has faced challenges securing convictions.

“It is our position based on the facts, the evidence and the law, that the officers involved in this incident did not have provocation or justification to shoot the unarmed victim during this incident,” Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said at a 2022 news conference announcing the charges against Liakopoulos and Reynoso. “The evidence does not support the use of deadly force related to the shooting of the unarmed victim and was not lawful.”

Last month, prosecutors dropped charges against an officer who was accused of battering a woman at North Avenue Beach in an on-duty incident.

In January, a judge found a Chicago police lieutenant not guilty after he stood trial on accusations that he shoved a flashlight between a clothed teen’s buttocks during an arrest.

Months earlier, in November, Chicago police Officer Melvina Bogard was acquitted by a judge after prosecutors charged her with aggravated battery and official misconduct in connection with a shooting at the Grand Red Line stop in 2020.

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