By Nereida Moreno
A gunman fired 25 shots into a covert van carrying two plainclothes Chicago police officers from just a few feet away, showering them with shrapnel and wounding both last week, Cook County prosecutors revealed Monday.
The gunman opened fire from the front passenger seat of a minivan but quickly jumped to the back, opened the sliding side door of the minivan and continued firing his military-style semi-automatic rifle, prosecutors said.
The hail of bullets was captured on a Chicago police pod camera and surveillance video in the South Side’s Back of the Yards neighborhood shortly after 9 p.m. last Tuesday, prosecutors said in court as a judge ordered no-bond for the driver of a stolen gang van used in the shooting.
One officer, 25, sustained gunshot wounds to his left hip, his left upper arm and his right flank, while the second officer, 38, suffered lacerations and cuts to his upper back. Both were released from Stroger Hospital the day after the shooting.
Prosecutors said the suspects, both members of the La Raza street gang, thought they were shooting at rival gang members, not police officers.
Prosecutors said the driver, Angel Gomez, 18, confessed on video to detectives, admitting he drove the van used in the shooting. He was charged with two counts each of attempted murder and aggravated battery with a firearm.
Police are still looking for the gunman.
The two officers, both Deering District tactical officers, were investigating a gang shooting near Halsted Street and Archer Avenue earlier that Tuesday. They became concerned that gang-affiliated individuals in a Nissan Murano could attempt to retaliate for the shooting, so they began following the vehicle in their unmarked black conversion van, prosecutors said.
The occupants of the Nissan Murano as well as another gang vehicle — a red van — noticed the black van following them and believed them to be rival gang members, prosecutors said. The occupants of the red van alerted gang members in two other vehicles by phone that they were being followed by rivals, according to prosecutors.
At this point, as the Nissan Murano and red van turned off onto side streets, the two officers decided to end their surveillance and started to head back to the Deering District station, prosecutors said.
But by then the other vehicles were onto the van containing the officers. The officers, believing they were in danger, turned eastbound on 43rd Street, prosecutors said. It was then that a stolen Town and County minivan driven by Gomez pulled up beside the officers’ van on the driver’s side and the gunman in the front passenger seat opened fire from a few feet away, prosecutors said.
After firing several shots, the gunman jumped to the back, opened the sliding side door of the minivan to give himself a better angle and continued to fire his rifle, prosecutors said.
One of the bullets struck the gas tank area, draining fuel and causing the police van to slow as the hail of gunfire continued, prosecutors said.
The officers were able to return fire, striking the tires and the trunk of the minivan driven by Gomez, prosecutors said.
Despite the tires being shot out, Gomez was able to drive the minivan to 43rd and Ashland Avenue and flee on foot with the gunman, prosecutors said. A police K-9 unit later recovered the rifle stashed near railroad tracks in a small lot nearby.
Prosecutors said a witness positively identified Gomez as the driver of the minivan.
The officers were investigating a gang-related shooting that occurred earlier in the evening about 6:30 p.m. near 18th and Halsted streets in the Pilsen neighborhood, about 3 1/2 miles northeast of where the officers were shot, police said. In that earlier shooting, a 15-year-old boy was wounded in the left leg. Police said either that victim or people he was with at the time were affiliated with La Raza.
In February, the Tribune reported that gangs in Back of the Yards and Brighton Park were increasingly using rifles. Police said that was the only area of the city where rifles styled after AR-15s and AK-47s were regularly used, a menacing new development in the gang fights.
At the time, there had been more than 30 shootings believed to have been tied to semi-automatic rifles in the two neighborhoods over the previous nine months. At least 46 people were shot in those attacks, 13 fatally.
Police suspected the rifles were being passed around by members of four rival Mexican gangs in the area — La Raza, the Almighty Saints, Satan Disciples and Gangster Two-Six.
Before Tuesday, the last time a Chicago police officer was shot was Nov. 27 in the West Garfield Park neighborhood. That officer suffered a graze wound to the forehead while police exchanged gunfire with Richard Grimes. Officers fatally shot Grimes, 33, who police said had just shot his pregnant fiancee in the abdomen.