CHICAGO - A Chicago police officer is accused of repeatedly punching a man while he was restrained in police custody before he was taken to a hospital for treatment of a gunshot wound he suffered in an exchange of gunfire with other officers in University Village.
New West District Officer Chris Hillas, 43, was not involved in the Dec. 24 shooting between Nokomis Jefferson and two other officers, but approached Jefferson once he was placed in custody and was standing outside a squad car, Cook County prosecutors said Thursday.
Jefferson was about to be placed inside the car when Hillas opened the squad car door and said, "Here, I got ya man," and began to pat down Jefferson, prosecutors said.
During the purported search, Hillas punched Jefferson four times in the groin with a closed fist before another officer pulled him away, prosecutors said. Hillas allegedly tried to walk back toward Jefferson but was prevented from doing so by other officers.
Hillas faces felony charges of aggravated battery and official misconduct. He turned himself in Wednesday, according to a statement from the police department.
CPD officials said Hillas was relieved of his police powers on Dec. 31 and the matter was referred to the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, which investigates allegations of police misconduct.
Prosecutors did not say at the hearing if Hillas or other officers on the scene knew Jefferson also had been shot when he was taken into custody.
During Jefferson’s bond hearing days later, prosecutors said officers didn’t realize Jefferson was wounded until after he was placed in custody and made no mention at the time that an officer was accused of striking Jefferson.
Shortly before the shooting, officers who were monitoring a Chicago Housing Authority surveillance camera allegedly saw Jefferson remove a gun from his waistband and hold it at his side, prosecutors previously said.
When two Chicago police officers approached Jefferson, he ran and fired a shot at the officers, prosecutors said. Jefferson then hid behind a parked vehicle and allegedly fired at the officers a second time.
No officers were injured or struck by gunfire, officials said.
Jefferson then ran to the nearby 12th District police station parking lot and placed his hands on a car, waiting for officers to arrest him, prosecutors said.
Hillas’ attorney, Tim Grace, said Hillas’ punches weren’t malicious, but were the result of a misunderstanding by Hillas while he was performing his duties as a police officer.
Hillas conducted a search of Jefferson out of concern that a weapon wasn’t immediately found after the exchange of gunfire between Jefferson and the officers and that Jefferson might have concealed a gun in his clothing, Grace said.
While Hillas was patting down Jefferson’s clothing, Hillas got down on his knees and felt a bulge in Jefferson’s pocket, Grace said.
Hillas believed the bulge could have been a gun, though it turned out it was a wallet and a cellphone, Grace acknowledged.
When Jefferson’s stomach touched Hillas’ head, the officer believed he was about to be attacked and he stood up quickly, striking his head against another officer’s head at the scene, Grace said.
Hillias didn’t know he struck another officer and thought Jefferson was attacking him, leading Hillas to believe he had to defend himself, Grace said.
Hillas, who has been employed as a police officer since 2016, was placed on desk duty after the incident and turned his service weapon and personal firearm over to the department, Grace said.
Grace asked Judge Maryam Ahmed to release Hillas on his own recognizance and not to order the officer to surrender his Firearm Owners Identification card, saying it would make the officer ineligible to work for the police department in any capacity and that he would be placed on leave without pay.
Ahmed set Hillas’ bail at $10,000, and ordered Hillas surrender his FOID card, as well as to have no contact with Jefferson or any witnesses in the case.
"This court will not treat this defendant different than any other defendant" Ahmed said.
Grace pressed for the judge to reconsider her ruling on Hillas’ FOID card, but Ahmed declined.
Hillas was expected back in court March 10.