Video shows fight between off-duty McCook cop and panhandler

CHICAGO (FOX 32 News / BGA) - Surveillance video has just been released of a fight between an off-duty southwest suburban cop and a man asking for money.

FOX 32 and the Better Government Association have obtained a copy of the security camera video from a Joliet casino where the confrontation occurred last year.

It happened last January just outside the entrance to the Harrah’s Casino in Joliet. Robert Wells, a police officer for the tiny southwest suburban village of McCook, and his wife were waiting for the valet to deliver their car just before midnight when a man walked out of the casino and approached the couple.

In a report filed by casino security, Wells said the man asked for money and "...would not leave them alone". He later told Joliet police that the man made comments of "a blatantly sexual nature" to his wife.

Casino security video obtained by FOX 32 and the BGA captures what happens next. Wells approaches the panhandler who then walks in his direction, bumping Wells on the side as he passes by and Wells pushing the man away.

But rather than walk away, Wells continues to follow the man and then takes a wild swing at his head, sending both men crashing to the ground.

Wells then gets up and continues to attack the man.

An Illinois gaming board investigator who viewed the security video wrote in his report that "it is clear Mr. Wells was the aggressor."

But Joliet police aren't so sure.

"It's a very tough call,” said Joliet Police Deputy Chief Edgar Gregory.

Gregory says while it’s clear Wells took the first punch, they don't know who provoked it.

"We have no sound to this video. We don't know what threats were being issued, what challenges were being issued or answered at that time on either party's side,” Gregory said.

After the fight, security video shows Wells and the man continuing to jaw at each other, and when Wells' car arrives, he goes to the trunk to grab either a flashlight or police baton and approaches the panhandler again, who runs off and disappears.

Casino security then arrives and Wells is clearly agitated as he tells his side of the story. He then gets into his car with his wife and drives off moments before Joliet police arrive.

Joliet police eventually suspended their investigation into what happened because they said they couldn't find the victim. According to this police report, without a victim they couldn't file any charges.

FOX 32: so they tried to find this guy?

"Yes, they also viewed the video as well. And the video is somewhat grainy. You cannot make identification from the video of the male subject's face,” Gregory said.

FOX 32: did you guys handle this case in any way differently because this guy was a police officer?

"Not at all. Not at all,” Gregory said.

Joliet police called McCook police, which wound up suspending wells without pay for two days and ordered him to undergo counseling.

McCook’s mayor says he believes the punishment was appropriate.

"So unlike what you may be seeing elsewhere where things are ramping up, we want to make sure our officers understand they're there to serve the public and that we need to do everything we can to avoid elevating a situation,” said Mayor Jeff Tobolski.

The mayor said Wells is considering a lawsuit against the casino for not having security on hand when the man began asking the couple for money. The casino says the safety of their patrons is the company's top priority, and they regret the incident.

Wells told FOX 32 by phone he couldn't comment, but did say he was not the aggressor.