Chicago, IL – Two men have been charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of off-duty Chicago Police Officer John P. Rivera.
Menelik Jackson, 24, and Jovan Battle, 32, have been charged with three felony counts of first-degree attempted murder and one count of first-degree murder, Chicago Police Department (CPD) Superintendent Eddie Johnson said during a press conference late Monday morning.
Jackson has also been charged with an additional count of resisting or obstructing law enforcement.
Police are still searching for a third man in connection with the incident, Superintendent Johnson said.
He did not identify the at-large subject, but said the department knows who the man is.
The incident began at approximately 2:20 a.m. on Saturday, when Jackson and his unnamed accomplice got into a physical altercation with a group of Hispanic men on a party bus outside the Rock N Roll McDonald’s nightclub, Chicago Chief of Detectives Melissa Staples explained.
During the confrontation, Jackson’s accomplice was punched in the face, Chief Staples said.
The men on the party bus were allegedly taunting Jackson and his accomplice, so Jackson left the area and came back with a gun, KGO reported.
The party bus had driven off by the time he returned, so Jackson and his accomplice got into a pickup and began searching for the men, Chief Staples said.
Surveillance cameras showed Officer Rivera, 23, and three of his friends – including another off-duty Chicago police officer – exiting a pizza restaurant at just before 3:30 a.m.
The group got into a vehicle, and were still parked when they were approached by their attacker, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Jackson said he was looking for a Hispanic man to shoot.
Jackson wordlessly opened fire on the group with a .40-caliber handgun, then fled the scene, KGO reported.
The ambush was captured by security cameras, police said.
Superintendent Johnson said that Battle and the third subject were both at the scene at the time of the shooting.
Officer Rivera was rushed to Northwestern Memorial Hospital with gunshot wounds to his mouth, arm, and chest, WMAQ reported.
Another 23-year-old man in the vehicle was shot in his arm and chest.
He underwent surgery on Saturday morning, and is in “critical but stable” condition, according to WMAQ.
The other off-duty Chicago police officer and a woman – Officer Rivera’s girlfriend – were not wounded during the attack.
Officer Rivera used his body to shield his girlfriend during the attack, CPD spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi said, according to WMAQ.
Camera footage from throughout the city and license plate reader technology were instrumental in quickly apprehending the gunman, Superintendent Johnson said.
Police have since conducted search warrants on Jackson’s vehicle and residence, and have recovered the handgun that has been “verified” as the murder weapon, according to Chief Staples.
Jackson ultimately confessed to the “hateful murder” and attempted murders, Superintendent Johnson added.
“It appears that he was just looking for a Hispanic person,” and Officer Rivera was the first Hispanic man he came upon, the superintendent explained.
“We’ve been pursuing possible hate crime charges since the beginning,” he added.
“It’s just a shame, this kid, 23 years old, had his whole life and career ahead of him, and he gets gunned down senselessly,” the superintendent said on Saturday, according to KGO. “Right now, I’m disgusted.”
Guglielmi said that Jackson had previously applied for a position as a Chicago police officer.
He was participating in a polygraph as part of his background check, when he was arrested for committing an armed home invasion, KGO reported.
Jackson later pleaded guilty to the offense, and was sentenced to probation, Guglielmi said.
He has also been charged with domestic violence on two occasions, Superintendent Johnson said.
“The most egregious part about [Jackson] is that he actually once thought he had what it took” to be a Chicago police officer, the superintendent told reporters with disgust.
Battle is also no stranger to CPD, and has been convicted of at least 10 violent offenses in the past.
Superintendent Johnson said that Officer Rivera had been a member of the police force for two years, and that he loved his job, the Chicago Tribune reported.
The superintendent said he was notified about Officer Rivera’s murder by his son, who is also a CPD officer.
“My son rode with this kid several times. It’s going to be difficult for them over in the 6th District,” he said.
Just hours before his murder, Officer Rivera had spent the evening assigned to the beat car in the Gresham District on the city’s South Side and worked most of the evening on a murder investigation.
During his shift, he spent time consoling the family of the murder victim.
Superintendent Johnson called Officer Rivera a “hard worker who loved going out on patrol,’’ and said the young officer was “very excited’’ and “very eager” to serve the citizens of Chicago as a police officer, according to the Chicago Tribune.
“He always wanted to be a police officer,” Officer River’s childhood friend, Marco Arias, told KGO. “That’s something we always knew. He always wanted to serve our community and serve Chicago. It was something he was always set on. Something he always understood. Something he knew he had to do. Something he felt he had to fulfill.”
Officer Rivera will be laid to rest on Friday.
“It’s a very sad day, we’re mourning the loss of yet another Chicago police officer,’’ a Chicago police union spokesman told reporters. “And yet, we’re going out there later today.”