A teen who has been arrested and charged with murdering a Chicago police officer was also arrested last summer, but county prosecutors ultimately dropped the charge against him.
Around 4:45 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon, Chicago PD received a call about an armed suspect chasing a woman down the 5200 block of South Spaulding Avenue near an elementary school in Gage Park. Two patrol units responded to the call. One unit went to the woman's house, but the other pursued the suspect on foot.
One of the pursuing officers, 32-year-old Andres Vasquez-Lasso, soon exchanged fire with the suspect, identified as 18-year-old Steven Montano, "at close range," Police Supt. David Brown said. According to reports, Montano struck Vasquez-Lasso in the head and leg several times. The officer died at Mount Sinai Hospital soon afterward.
"We are heartbroken," Brown said in a press conference that night. "Policing is a big family. People know at some point they may be asked to make the ultimate sacrifice, but you never wish or hope that it actually happens. And tonight, this tragedy did."
Before he died, Vasquez-Lasso shot and wounded the suspect in the head. Montano was transported to Stroger Hospital in critical condition, leaving his in-person appearance in court, scheduled for Friday, in doubt. Montano has been charged with first-degree murder, felony aggravated unlawful use of a weapon with no FOID card, felony aggravated discharge of a firearm near a school building, misdemeanor assault, and misdemeanor interfering with the reporting of domestic violence.
Though Montano currently has no criminal record, Ald. Raymond Lopez of the 15th Ward of Chicago claimed that the suspect is a known gang member who was allegedly involved in an area shooting last summer.
On July 28, witnesses claimed that three men shot a 27-year-old man in the leg several times and then sped away in a white Honda Accord, which turned out to be stolen. When police attempted to pull the car over, the car stopped and three men fled the scene on foot in separate directions. Montano was later found hiding under a nearby porch, and two guns believed to be connected to the shooting were found elsewhere on the same street "in the direct flight path of the offenders from the vehicle," the police report said.
Against police recommendations, Montano was never directly charged in connection to the shooting or the discovered weapons, but instead was assessed a misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest. "The defendant, who was a passenger in the vehicle, was not charged with a felony because the evidence does not support a charge of gun possession," the office of Kim Foxx, the Cook County state's attorney, said in a statement on Thursday.
Prosecutors later offered Montano "an alternative to traditional prosecution," and after he performed 25 hours of community service, the misdemeanor charge was dropped. Lopez claimed that the decision not to prosecute Montano led directly to Officer Vasquez-Lasso's death.
"Officer Lasso would be alive today if we put that gangbanger away, the way we should have," Lopez stated.
Vasquez-Lasso had just celebrated five years on the Chicago police force. He leaves behind a wife in Chicago and other family members in Colombia. Supt. Brown has called for the city to cover the cost of flying those Colombian family members, some of whom are local law enforcement officers, to Chicago for the funeral. "This is a family of public servants," Brown said, "and as you can imagine, they are taking this tragedy very, very hard."
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