Big brother's murder led new Aurora cop to his career choice

  • New Aurora police officer Jason Contreras shows his badge Monday after a swearing-in ceremony. Contreras is now a member of the police force that investigated the slaying of his 6-year-old brother, Nico, in a 1996 gang-related shooting.

    New Aurora police officer Jason Contreras shows his badge Monday after a swearing-in ceremony. Contreras is now a member of the police force that investigated the slaying of his 6-year-old brother, Nico, in a 1996 gang-related shooting. Courtesy of Aurora Police Department

  • New Aurora police officer Jason Contreras gets a hug Monday after being sworn in at city hall. Contreras was one of 10 new officers to formally join the city's police force this week.

    New Aurora police officer Jason Contreras gets a hug Monday after being sworn in at city hall. Contreras was one of 10 new officers to formally join the city's police force this week. Courtesy of Aurora Police Department

 
Posted1/19/2018 5:33 AM

Jason Contreras was just 3 years old in November 1996 when a stray bullet intended for an older relative flew into his house on the east side of Aurora and killed his 6-year-old brother, Nico.

During the next two decades, young Jason would watch, admire and grow close to the Aurora police officers who worked tirelessly to bring his big brother's killers to justice.

 

And now, Jason is their "brother in blue."

Contreras was among 10 new police officers to officially join the Aurora Police Department during a swearing-in ceremony Monday at city hall.

He's declined media interviews, but one of his new bosses, Aurora Deputy Police Chief Keefe Jackson, told us the department and new officer have had a tight relationship for years. When Contreras was sworn in at his first law enforcement post -- as an officer in Plano in 2016 -- some of the detectives who investigated Nico's murder were there to support him.

"Since the (shooting) happened in 1996, many of the investigators that worked the case have been in constant contact with the family," Jackson said. "So they saw him grow up and were aware of his interest in becoming a police officer."

Nico Contreras, 6, was killed in 1996 by a stray bullet fired into his Aurora home.
Nico Contreras, 6, was killed in 1996 by a stray bullet fired into his Aurora home.
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Jackson said he couldn't speak for Contreras but believes seeing the Aurora police officers in action on his brother's case helped lead him to a career in law enforcement.

"Him having that contact with the investigators, he saw that this is something you can do to have an impact and you can help someone through a tragedy," Jackson said.

Joining Contreras as new Aurora officers Monday were Mohammed Akhtar, Brandon Neuman, Joseph Salinas, Ryan Murphy, Mark Pfeiffer, Jesus Torres, Michael Shouse, David Ramos and Jacob Goehring.

Case lingers on

Mark A. Downs
Mark A. Downs
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Hard to believe, but more than 21 years after Nico's death the case of the man charged with firing the deadly gunshot remains unresolved.

Authorities say Mark A. Downs, 41, formerly of Montgomery, was targeting the Contreras brothers' uncle when he fired into the family house on the orders of a gang leader.

Downs was convicted in 2009 and sentenced to 70 years in prison, but last August, a state appeals court ordered a Kane County judge to hold a hearing to determine whether he received adequate legal representation at his trial.

That hearing has yet to be held because the Kane County state's attorney's office is asking the Illinois Supreme Court to reverse the appellate decision.

Remembering Officer Murrell

Today marks the anniversary of the line-of-duty death of Bloomingdale police officer Raymond Murrell. He was killed in a Jan. 19, 2017, crash while responding to reports of a crime in progress.
Today marks the anniversary of the line-of-duty death of Bloomingdale police officer Raymond Murrell. He was killed in a Jan. 19, 2017, crash while responding to reports of a crime in progress. - Courtesy of Bloomingdale Police Department

Today marks the anniversary of Bloomingdale police officer Raymond Murrell's death in the line of duty.

Murrell, 27, was responding to reports of a crime in progress Jan. 19, 2017, when his patrol SUV went off the roadway in wintry weather and struck a pole and utility box at Army Trail Road and Cardinal Avenue.

It was a sad but important lesson for officers, Chief Frank Giammarese told us. While police are allowed to drive faster than civilians when responding to a crime, they still have to bear in mind road conditions. Speed and the weather led to Murrell's crash.

Giammarese, the department's chaplain and several officers will hold a short ceremony and lay a wreath today at Murrell's grave in Oakridge Cemetery in Hillside.

In May, officers will travel to Washington when Murrell's name is added to the wall at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. The Bloomingdale Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 175, raised money to help pay for their trip.

Case dismissed

A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit pitting one cop, Mount Prospect officer Anthony Lietzow, against three of his peers from Huntley.

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit Mount Prospect police officer Anthony Lietzow filed against three Huntley officers who arrested him in 2015 on charges of domestic battery, aggravated battery and resisting a peace officer. Lietzow was acquitted of the charges in 2016.
A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit Mount Prospect police officer Anthony Lietzow filed against three Huntley officers who arrested him in 2015 on charges of domestic battery, aggravated battery and resisting a peace officer. Lietzow was acquitted of the charges in 2016. - Courtesy of Mount Prospect Police Department

Lietzow sued the village of Huntley and officers James Daley, Alex Panvino and David Sander over his 2015 arrest on domestic battery, aggravated battery and resisting a peace officer charges.

Lietzow, a 12-year department veteran and three-time Mount Prospect police officer of the year, was acquitted in October 2016 and, after spending nearly 1½ years on administrative leave, allowed to return to work two months later.

His lawsuit alleged the officers unlawfully entered his Huntley house while responding to a domestic disturbance July 19, 2015, refused to leave when Lietzow ordered them out and then arrested him on phony charges.

But in an order handed down last week, U.S. District Court Judge Charles P. Kocoras ruled Lietzow's suit failed to specifically state what the defendants did to deprive him of his rights and therefore must be dismissed.

Lietzow's attorney is asking the court to reconsider, or at least allow him to refile the suit with additional details.

Hanover Park police Officers Ted Crawford, left, and John Wisniewski, right, took time to help a resident shovel her driveway during Monday's snowstorm.
Hanover Park police Officers Ted Crawford, left, and John Wisniewski, right, took time to help a resident shovel her driveway during Monday's snowstorm. - Courtesy of Hanover Park Police Department
Helping out

A pair of Hanover Park police officers took the "serve" portion of "To serve and protect" to heart when they spotted a resident clearing her driveway while on patrol during the overnight snowstorm Monday.

Officers Ted Crawford and John Wisniewski pulled over to help shovel the rest of the snow from the driveway. They even took a photo, which found its way onto the department's Facebook page.

"Our service to the community comes in many forms," the post reads.

Nice going, guys. And how can we get you to patrol our neighborhoods during the next big snowfall?

• Got a tip? Send an email to copsandcrime@dailyherald.com or call (847) 427-4483.

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