On July 6, 1990, the Chicago Police Department gave Officer Johnny L. Martin a hero’s funeral. He had been killed while coming to the aid of a neighbor who feared his car was about to be vandalized. Martin’s colleagues on the force carried his white coffin into the Peoples Church at 941 W. Lawrence, where Superintendent LeRoy Martin called him a “hero in every sense of the word.”
Fliers on the street poles and in the record shops of West Town announced dances for teenagers every weekend at the Armitage dance hall at 3650 W. Armitage. The deejay’s music was loud and fast, the crowd was all under 21. Lots of gangbangers from the Cobras and Disciples turned out to twist a leg and exchange threatening signs. The crowd spilled out onto Armitage, the kids doing their own thing, drinking beer, hanging out, yelling at each other, fighting. Sometimes a serious fight erupted. Then bottles flew, knives flashed.
The crowd sometimes extended across Armitage to the 7-Eleven parking lot on the corner of Armitage and Monticello, and down Armitage a half block to Lawndale. Across Lawndale there was a tire shop, and next to it the Las Vegas Club, where the patrons were older and drank their beer more quietly and listened to the jukebox.
The Marentes children lived with their mother on the corner of Lawndale and Armitage above the tire shop. The street life intrigued them but they took no part in it. Fifteen-year-old Polo liked to hang out on the corner with his friends and watch the action, but he didn’t get too close. His older sisters, Maria, who was 19, and Rosie, 16, went to a couple of dances, but they too were leery of the gang scene at the Armitage. Besides, Maria’s carefree days were over; she had a husband and two kids.
When they heard gunshots at about 10:30 on the night of Friday, April 29, 1988, Maria, Rosie, and their friend Claudia all ran to the window. In the street three floors below, they could see a black man running behind a car that weaved down Armitage toward their building and finally crashed into a parked car right across the street from them. Maria saw a gun in the black man’s hand. Rosie didn’t see a gun. Back by the dance hall, they saw another car parked in the middle of Armitage.
Gunfire was not a rarity around Armitage and Lawndale, but it always brought out the neighborhood. The three girls dashed down the steps, not even stopping to get jackets. A crowd gathered quickly. The girls found Polo in front of the tire shop, where he’d been hanging out with some friends.
First a gang fight had broken out, Polo said, and then there’d been a loud argument between a black man and a Hispanic who were standing between two cars sitting in the middle of the street in front of the dance hall. He couldn’t understand what they were saying because he didn’t speak English, but he could tell the black man was very angry. He was yelling loudly, meanly. The Hispanic, as Polo would recall many months later when questioned under oath, seemed to be “calmed down, you know, or quiet, like any person who has been drinking would be.”
Then Polo saw the Hispanic get into one the the cars on the passenger side and the black man lean into the car after him. Polo said the black man’s head, chest, and one arm were in the car. The next thing Polo heard was a shot. Then the car began to roll slowly down the street, winding left and right, and the black man was running after it. Then Polo heard another shot, and then the rolling car crashed into the parked car. The black man stopped running. Polo went down to the corner. Some men came running out of the Las Vegas and yelled in Spanish that the black man had fired the shot. The police came, and these men told the police that the black man had been shooting. The police went over to him and he took out his wallet. The man was an off-duty police officer.
Officer Johnny L. Martin, 27, was a short, trim, dark-skinned black man, 150 pounds and five feet six inches tall. That night he had decided to try out the Armitage dance hall. Martin loved to dance; he’d been going dancing, mostly by himself, as many as three times a week since he’d left the Marines in 1979. Rigoberto Rodriguez, one of Martin’s four Hispanic companions that night, had heard that the Armitage was one of the few places that let you in if you were underage. Rodriguez’s cousin Fatima was only 19. When Martin drove his brand-new baby blue Firebird up to the hall and saw all those kids hanging out on the street, he was filled with dismay. He’d been a cop only two years, but he knew gangbangers when he saw them. Maybe this wasn’t the place to be tonight.
Martin parked the car and surveyed the scene. He and Rodriguez decided they’d better have a look at the place before they took the women in. They crossed the street and went into the hall. Though it wasn’t mobbed, it was a “pretty good crowd,” Martin would later say. He and Rodriguez circled the dance floor and decided not to stay. They went back to the car and told the women.
As Martin was pulling out, a car bumped him from behind. Martin swore later that he’d looked carefully into his rearview mirror and his side mirror. He’d even looked over his shoulder. The car just came from nowhere. He told the police who questioned him that the car must have swerved to avoid an oncoming car and hit his rear fender. His car “rocked from side to side and rolled a few feet forward,” he said.
Martin (who would later pay $200 to have the car repaired) and Rodriguez jumped out to survey the damage. The driver of the other car, a ’77 Cutlass, also got out. His name was David Arana.
Martin approached Arana, who was about his size, slightly heavier, and said, “What’s your hurry?” And according to Martin, Arana said, “Fuck you, it’s not my fault.” Arana’s words were a little fuzzy, Martin would recall under oath months later, as if he were drunk or perhaps didn’t speak English very well. “His voice was loud, louder than mine. I felt intimidated,” he said under oath (though he didn’t mention that to the police who questioned him the night of the shooting). “And he was clenching his fists at his side and he had a strong odor of alcohol on his breath. His eyes were bloodshot and his face was red, but I’m not sure of that because he was a medium complexion for a Hispanic.”
Martin pulled out his wallet and showed Arana his badge. Arana said, “So what,” or “I don’t care,” Martin would recall. Rodriguez then told Arana, in Spanish, that Martin was a policeman and he “shouldn’t try anything.” Martin would recall Rodriguez telling him that he “sensed Arana was very angry and that he was about to throw a punch.”
This is the story of the evening as Johnny Martin eventually told it in a sworn deposition. He asked to see Arana’s license, but Arana refused. (It turned out that he was driving on a suspended license.) So Martin said, “We’ll have to go to the station to make a report” (a detail he’d forgotten to share with the police). Arana just stood there and glared. So Martin told Rodriguez to go over to the 7-Eleven and call the police (even though Arana hadn’t committed any crime). But first, Rodriguez moved Martin’s Firebird back into a parking space (although the Marentes girls would say they later saw it sitting out in the street). Martin and Arana continued to face off, with Arana “giving me what I considered hard looks and still clenching his fists,” according to Martin.
Suddenly, Martin became aware of a group of Hispanic youths standing on the curb and egging Arana on. “Hit him in the face” he said they were shouting in Spanish (another detail he failed to mention to the police). Those kids in the street were making Martin nervous. He was sure he was surrounded by gangbangers. So he repositioned himself in order to keep an eye on the whole scene.
Arana asked if he could move his car out of the way of traffic. Fearing that as soon as Arana got behind the wheel he would take off, Martin said no. Then Arana suggested that Martin get in the car with him while he moved it. (According to a police detective’s report, Martin said that he ordered Arana to move the Cutlass.) The two men got into the car on the passenger side–the driver’s door was broken. Then Martin, for reasons he was never to make clear, decided to get out of the car. He thought Arana would follow him out; but instead Arana slammed the door and put the car in gear.
“I grabbed the door and opened it and grabbed him on the arm and told him to get out of the vehicle, that he was under arrest,” Martin would recall. Arana then “started punching me with a flicking punch, like a back fist.” Martin was half in, half out of the Cutlass, his left knee on the seat, his right foot on the ground. Two of Arana’s punches landed on Martin’s face, he said, “over my right eye.” The blows were pretty hard, even if Martin wouldn’t require any medical care. Martin threw a punch and caught Arana in the face (lacerations would be found on Arana’s mouth and nose, along with a bruised arm).
The car began to roll. “I was going off balance. Eventually I made it to my feet and I was still grasping Arana. I was running alongside the vehicle trying to keep up. It was going 15 miles an hour. At that point, I was in fear of being crushed or dragged along. So I reached in my back and grabbed the gun and ordered him to stop the vehicle.” But the car kept rolling, Martin would say, as he clung to Arana’s right shoulder and Arana struggled. Then Arana grabbed Martin’s hand with the gun in it. “I was still pulling on him. The first thing I thought of was that he was going to take the gun away, so I pulled back and at the same time was pulling him over and was starting to lose my footing. I was falling behind.” And that, Martin would explain, is when the gun went off–accidentally.
David Arana was shot in the right side of the neck. Having followed a downward path, the bullet was found lodged in his chest.
In his own deposition, Rigoberto “Rigo” Rodriguez remembered these events a little differently. To begin with, he seems to have been a closer friend of Johnny Martin than Martin had allowed. They had gone out dancing together a number of times–although Martin said this was their first night together on the town. They played ball together and “jived together.” But after the shooting Rodriguez didn’t see Martin again, and he talked to him on the phone only twice, one of those times coming when Martin called to ask if Rodriguez would cooperate in an investigation of the shooting.
Rodriguez described the collision as a “shake.” According to Rodriguez, he and Martin and the other driver all got out of their cars to inspect the damage, and when Martin asked to see Arana’s license, Arana “looked like he didn’t understand. So I told him in Spanish, ‘You show him your driver’s license. He’s a police officer.'”
Arana didn’t respond. Martin pulled out his star. A few words were exchanged that Rodriguez couldn’t recall. Arana was acting nonchalant, showing what Rodriguez would call “disregard.” He remembered, “I thought they might get in a fight, but Arana never looked like he might hit Johnny. It was just that he wouldn’t show him his license. He just wouldn’t cooperate. He was just silent, and arrogant, like he didn’t care what was going on. And he had the smell of liquor on his breath, but he didn’t seem drunk.”
Rodriguez said Martin told him to go to the 7-Eleven and call 911 and report a traffic accident. After putting down the phone, Rodriguez turned around and saw Arana’s car “speeding away.” The car was going, he said, “25-35 miles an hour.” Through the rear window, as the car moved away from him, he could see the left side of Martin’s upper torso inside the car, the right side outside the open door. Then he heard a pop and the car swerved and crashed. “All this happened in less than a couple of minutes,” he said.
Rodriguez went to see what happened. Martin was standing beside Arana’s car. “He told me to call an ambulance.” Martin “looked a bit frazzled,” Rodriguez said, and “he told me, ‘He tried to deck me and he wanted to pull out.'”
After the ambulance left with Arana, Rodriguez recalled, Martin told him, “Shit, I should have let him go. I should have let him go. I should have, you know, forgot about it.” Rodriguez said, “He was very regretful and everybody was shaken up.” Later, in a phone call, Martin again expressed his regrets, telling Rodriguez that “he wished that we would have never gone to that place.” Rodriguez said, “I wish that we had never gotten together that evening. But I’ll tell you one thing. If the police had come sooner, none of this would have happened.”
When the police did arrive, they questioned Martin and then went over to Arana’s car and pulled him out by the shoulders and put him down on the street, Rodriguez said.
Hilda Garcia, who’s Rodriguez’s sister, originally told police that she saw her brother go to the phone and then she saw Arana’s car “speeding along with Johnny dangling out of the passenger door.” She saw Arana’s car cross Lawndale and hit a parked car. She didn’t hear any shots, but then she and the other women were still in the backseat of the Firebird, with the windows closed and the radio on. In her deposition 18 months later, Garcia said that until 1990 she did not know that Arana was dead. Rodriguez finally told her. “The incident was not important to me at the time. All I wanted was to get out of that neighborhood, go home, that was it. I was frightened by all the people outside and the screaming, especially after the accident. It was all around me. Afterwards, I just put it out of my mind.”
Garcia did recall that Martin was angry when he got out of the car to assess the damages. And she remembered seeing “someone getting into a car and driving off with Johnny running beside it.” Then she saw him hanging out of the car. “I can see that scene in my mind now. After that, I heard a loud noise, and a lot of noise outside.”
Nadia Navas, a clerk at an Osco and an old friend of Martin and Rodriguez, and Fatima Idiaquez, a Wright College student and Hilda Garcia’s cousin, didn’t see or hear anything, they told police the evening of the shooting. In her deposition, Navas recalled stopping earlier at a north-side bar and meeting people from Truman College, where Garcia studied nursing. Navas said Rodriguez offered to buy Martin a drink and Martin said, “I don’t drink.”
Fatima Idiaquez said there was dancing, eating, and drinking at the north-side bar. She had a Coke; she couldn’t remember what anyone else in the party drank.
In April of 1989, attorney Edward Stein filed an 11-count, multimillion-dollar federal lawsuit on behalf of David Arana’s family against Johnny L. Martin and the city of Chicago. The suit accused Martin of using “deadly, excessive and unreasonable force” upon David Arana. Corporation counsels Gregory Wojkowski and James McCarthy were assigned to represent the city in the suit. The material reported in this article is drawn primarily from the depositions taken by Stein and by Wojkowski.
When the squad car arrived on the scene, the cops talked to Johnny Martin and then went over to Arana’s car. The three Marenteses and their friend Claudia watched as one of the cops grabbed Arana by the shoulders and dragged him out of the car. Maria Marentes told Stein, “His head hit the pavement first. We wondered why they dragged him out like that. I said, ‘How could they do that to him, drag him out like that?’ Lots of people were saying the same thing. ‘Why are they doing that to him?'”
Police are specifically instructed not to move the victim of an accident. The Marentes family didn’t know that Arana was still alive, but Martin did. When he looked into the car after it crashed he saw Arana move, he said.
A plainclothes cop came over to question the Marenteses and Claudia. Maria said she knew he was a cop because he wore a gun. She estimated that the cop spent about 45 minutes with them. Then he asked them to sign something, thanked them, and left. But if he was a cop he did not identify himself, and he did not give them his card so that they could reach him later. No one contacted the Marentes family again until Ramiro Chacon, Arana’s older half-brother, found them when he canvassed the neighborhood looking for witnesses. A police official reported that no witnesses had been found at the scene.
The day after the shooting, August Sylvain, acting assistant deputy superintendent of police, submitted a report of the incident to the first deputy superintendent of the Bureau of Operational Services. He said, “In the area the officer and all of the witnesses told basically the same story. It needs to be noted here that all of the witnesses were friends of the officer, and a canvas of the entire area for an independent witness turned out empty.”
What happened to those signed statements of the Marentes family?
Sylvain’s report continued, “Martin asked Rodriguez to go across the street to call the police, this he left to do. About this time, the relationship between the drivers decayed. Arana got back in his car (through the passengers door) and indicated he was going to leave. Martin argued that he had to stay for the police arrival. Arana answered this by hitting Martin in the face and putting the car into gear. Martin half in and half out of the passenger’s door grabbed Arana’s neck and drew his weapon. Arana grabbed the weapon and while the two men fought over the gun it went off striking Arana in the right lower neck. It should be noted that while the men fought over this gun the car was moving briskly with Martin half in and half out trying to run with the car so he believed that he was in fear of great bodily harm and had exhausted all available means of trying to stop the offender from resisting arrest and fleeing the scene. It would have been impossible for him to holster his weapon while running alongside a moving vehicle holding on to the offender with his left hand and struggling with the offender who was grabbing at his gun in his right hand, accordingly the undersigned finds that Officer Martin’s conduct conformed to Department Policy, guidelines and the law concerning the use of deadly force.”
Since 1975, James Henry has been an investigator for the Office of Professional Standards, the police unit that looks into questionable conduct by officers. He has investigated about 1,000 cases in which excessive force was alleged, and about 60 shootings. He was assigned to the shooting of David Arana five days after the incident. Nine days later, he submitted a signed five-page report to his boss, Ann Lombardo. His investigation was presumably complete. Yet he had never interviewed Johnny Martin or any of the witnesses. He had not reviewed the medical records or visited the scene of the incident. He had not examined Martin for bruises, even though Martin had told police he received some pretty hard punches. Arana’s hands were not tested for powder burns–which would have been evidence that the gun had gone off as Martin had said, while he and Arana were fighting for it. The autopsy report, which Henry did see, raised no questions in his mind, he later said when deposed, even though it revealed multiple bruises on Arana’s body.
Henry didn’t take notes on his conversation with Lombardo about the case. He didn’t recall what Lombardo might have asked him to do. He signed the report, but he said in his deposition that he didn’t actually work on it; Kevin Connolly did the investigation. He didn’t know whether Connolly saw any medical files or interviewed any witnesses or visited the scene. He didn’t know whether Martin’s blood had been tested for alcohol (had he been drinking?) or whether the gun was examined for prints (were Arana’s prints on the gun?). Henry didn’t find out whether there had been any previous OPS complaints against Martin alleging excessive force. He didn’t study Martin’s personnel file. He didn’t know Martin was a martial arts expert and said later that this fact was irrelevant.
Henry didn’t remember how he reconciled some conflicts between what detectives reported that Martin told them and what he said a brief time later to police and OPS officials who quizzed him about the shooting.
Henry didn’t try to find out who removed Arana’s body from the car, or how. He didn’t know whether the scene of the incident had been preserved for the crime lab technicians. He never heard or saw any tapes of interviews with witnesses, nor did he ever read any transcripts taken by a court reporter. All he had to go on were police reports, plus a report from someone else with OPS who had been present when Martin was quizzed.
Henry said it was normal procedure for Martin to enter Arana’s car “to stop a fleeing offender.” On the other hand, Henry wasn’t sure an offense had been committed. “It was just an accident, but I don’t know the whole scenario,” he said. So far as he knew, Arana hadn’t committed a crime when Martin pulled his gun.
Henry’s report was based entirely on police statements. But he admitted in his deposition that there is a code of silence among cops according to which “police officers basically, before they say anything on their partner or a fellow officer, they would not say anything.” Henry failed to find such witnesses as the Marentes family despite knowing from experience that there might be things that Martin’s fellow cops who did interview witnesses would not have told him. Those raw reports taken at the scene are called street files, and Henry admitted he didn’t look at them.
On May 19, Henry signed the two-page summary of the two-week-long investigation that was sent to Superintendent LeRoy Martin. It concluded: “The shot fired by Officer Johnny Martin . . . was ACCIDENTAL. Officer Martin was JUSTIFIED in having his gun drawn. Officer Martin was in fear of his life because the victim/offender refused to stop his vehicle while part of Officer Martin’s body was hanging out of the car and while the victim/offender punched Officer Martin in the face.”
Henry’s supervisor Ann Lombardo said when she was deposed 30 months after the shooting that the only work she had assigned investigator Kevin Connolly on the case was to write a summary based on Henry’s investigation. She said that before turning Henry’s file over to Connolly she would have reviewed it several times. She knew no witnesses had been interviewed after the night of the incident. She knew that Henry had never talked to Martin. But she believed the investigation had been vigorous and thorough. There was nothing to indicate that Martin might have lied, she insisted. She believed his statement that Arana had tried to grab his gun. She didn’t believe he was drinking because he said he wasn’t.
While doctors at Illinois Masonic Hospital were trying to save David Arana’s life, he was charged with battery, leaving the scene of an accident, and negligent driving. During the trip to the hospital he was sufficiently awake and alert, despite the liquor in his system, to ask the paramedics (according to their report), “Will I be all right?” In the emergency room he followed the directions of the doctors and nurses.
But two hours after the shooting Arana suffered cardiac arrest. The medical team brought him around in about 40 minutes and worked on him for 25 minutes after that. He was then taken to the operating room and anesthetized. He suffered two more cardiac arrests. The last one killed him.
From the time he was an adolescent, Johnny Martin loved the martial arts. At 14 he took lessons in tae kwon do, and until he went into the Marines at 18 he practiced it about three times a week either by himself or with a friend. It was mostly a matter of throwing punches, kicking, and blocking, he explained. In 1977, he joined the Marines “for the challenge. I just wanted to get away from high school and serve,” he said. “I wanted to go into the toughest branch, just basically for the challenge and the discipline. I liked it.” He served for two years as a radio operator in California, Okinawa, and Japan, before being discharged for flat feet.
Back home, he took a job as a bagger at a Jewel near his house. A friend turned him on to kung fu, a Chinese martial art that, Martin said, is “designed to discipline the mind and body and for self-defense. It puts you in a frame of mind where you would only use it for self-defense, not for, say, just taking advantage of someone. It builds confidence.”
He trained at the Seven Star Kung Fu Academy at Argyle and Kenmore, not far from his family’s home. He won a green sash. When his instructor opened his own school on Broadway Martin followed him there. By 1983 Martin was teaching beginner classes without pay. He liked the challenge.
He strengthened his hands by squeezing a tennis ball, by using hand grips, and by pushing his fingers into a pot of sand. “It’s like push-ups on your fingers,” he said. He could do 60 to 70 push-ups at a time and was widely admired for his back flips. In addition to his martial arts, he lifted weights. “I like my exercise regimen,” he said in his deposition, “because I know it develops the body and mind as far as discipline is concerned. It helps you control yourself and develop routine. Not that I’m trying to control something. It’s just that I like the idea of being able to control.”
Perhaps Johnny Martin looked more controlled–erect, trim, strong–than he was. During his three and a half years on the police force, he was in seven traffic accidents off duty and two on duty. Three times he was reprimanded for failing to appear in court to follow up arrests he had made. Three times citizens filed complaints against him. In one, he was accused of taking money from someone he arrested. Another accused him of using excessive force in an arrest. In the third case, he was accused of deliberately letting a suspect escape. All three complaints were dismissed by the OPS.
His job record also reflected what could be a lack of control, or perhaps it was merely restlessness and ambition. A month of bagging groceries was enough for him. He found a job as a construction worker. A few months later he took a job packaging and mailing books. But he was soon laid off. Business was bad, he said. He collected unemployment for a few months, then enrolled at DeVry Institute of Technology to study electronics. He attended DeVry for two and a half years. DeVry professor Ken Kramer says the job of cellular phone installer that Martin received when he finished school does not demand the skills achieved by DeVry’s better graduates.
He didn’t like the work; it required him to travel out of state. So he quit after two months and collected unemployment for four months until he got a better job in Skokie as a troubleshooter and repairman. But six months later Martin quit again and went back on unemployment for six months, after which he took a computer course at Control Data and was then hired there as an instructor and lab assistant. But that didn’t last long either. He had applied to the Police Department the year before, and in July ’86 he was accepted. The pay and opportunities were better on the force, he said. Besides, there was that challenge, like the Marines had been.
Once on the force, Martin worked for about a year as a beat officer in the 13th District. That wasn’t challenging enough. He volunteered for the CTA task force. “I wanted to combat crime on the trains. It’s a riskier job. You wear plain clothes, you catch people off guard and never know what their reaction will be. It was more exciting than riding around all day in a beat car.” Unfortunately, the task force was dissolved and Martin went back to a beat.
Johnny Martin seemed calm and collected after he shot David Arana. Following police procedures, he saw a psychologist, but the interview lasted only 30 minutes and he never returned.
He owned three guns–the regulation .357 revolver with a four-inch barrel, a .38, which had a two-inch barrel and clipped onto his belt, and a nine-millimeter semiautomatic pistol. He bought the .38 to have “as a backup weapon in case the .357 failed,” he explained in his deposition. The only time the .357 had failed him was while he was at the Police Academy, but he “just preferred to have a second weapon,” Martin said. He shot Arana with the .38.
He always carried it with him when he was not on duty because “I never know when I am going to get involved in some type of action that requires police intervention.” He bought the semiautomatic, he said, because the Police Department was planning to approve it as a second weapon. And it was cheap, he said.
Martin couldn’t remember how many times he’d pulled a gun while on duty. He did remember one occasion off duty when “I just happened to come downstairs and saw someone in my roommate’s car, at which time I drew my weapon and told him to exit the vehicle.”
David Arana, 27, five feet five inches, beefy, might have been someone who got belligerent when he got drunk, but we have only Johnny Martin’s word for it that he was that way the night he died. Rigoberto Rodriguez said Arana was silent and “arrogant.” Polo Marentes said he was calm, quiet. Arana’s wife Mariela and his four sisters and brothers said they never saw him more than “light-headed.” Mariela was a Seventh-Day Adventist; she didn’t permit even beer in the house.
To drink, Arana had to go to a tavern or to his mother’s apartment. That’s where he went every Saturday, when the whole family got together. Ramiro Chacon, his half-brother, said, “I’m not going to say David never went to a tavern, but we’re not a tavern family. On Saturdays, we’d put a bunch of money together and get two or three six-packs for the evening. The girls each had one and the four of us men drank the rest.”
On at least one occasion Arana had quite a few; he lost his license for drunk driving. The only one in the family who knew why was Ramiro–Arana seems to have been quite ashamed. His two sisters said that several times they offered him their cars to drive to his work in the suburbs; but he always refused, saying that he had “lost his license and didn’t want any trouble with the police.” Therefore, he was out of character when he borrowed his sister Marta’s Cutlass the night he was shot. He’d been visiting his mother’s apartment, where Marta also lived, a block from his own place in Logan Square. He’d walked home; but when he called Mariela at ten o’clock to say he was on his way, she asked him to pick up a gallon of milk at the 7-Eleven.
He’d probably had a few beers at his mother’s. But he’d been baby-sitting six of the family’s little children there, and it wasn’t his style to get drunk when he had responsibilities.
Though not the eldest, David Arana was the acknowledged head of his extended family. On his $17,000 a year he helped support his mother and his sister Ruth–“Peachy,” she’s called–and her three children, as well as his own family. He went to Peachy’s house regularly to help her children with their homework and to give her moral support. “Any problem I had I could discuss it with him and he could help me. We had a lot of closeness. We were together a lot,” said Peachy. “He advised my son and told him the things he should do. He was the one my son trusted most, the one he spoke to most.”
David gave Peachy about $25 a week, and in addition bought occasional things such as medicine, shoes, and books. The day he died she was expecting him to bring her $40 to help pay the telephone bill. Marta, his other sister, said, “We could always count on him. He would always have time for us.”
Mariela was proud of David’s role in the family. “There was something strange in the family,” she said. “When we were going to organize something simple like going to the park, we could never agree. We would be yelling at each other. Then David would say, ‘Well, let’s do it this way because I know it would work out that way.’ And then everything was fine. Everything was better because he could organize us. Now things are not good. Before David died, there were always smiles at his family’s house. There were jokes, music. After he died, we blamed ourselves for many things. It was as if we didn’t want to be together anymore.”
When Mariela came to the States in 1983, she left behind her young son Eddie with her mother in a little town outside Guatemala City. In 1987, after she and David had been married a couple of years and were settled down with a new baby, Pablo, David insisted on bringing Eddie to live with them. “David treated Eddie just like a son. He was going to adopt him. He helped him with his homework every night. He was so patient. It was something incredible to watch. I felt very proud to be married to someone like David because he was so incredible.”
David’s modest salary had to stretch a long way. But Mariela said, “We were comfortable. We had financial problems but David always tried to make me feel better. Even if there was a financial problem, I felt comfortable. I didn’t care if we didn’t have much money.” After his death, she received $39,000 from a life insurance policy he’d bought, and $1,000 from a collection taken up by David’s fellow employees.
David worked for six years at Chapco Carton Company in River Grove. He was a machine operator’s helper. He left the house every morning, including many Saturdays, at 5:30 and returned about 4:30. David often complained to his brother Ramiro about the wages and working conditions at Chapco. He was frustrated that he couldn’t use the skills he brought with him from Guatemala. “David was already a skilled sheet metal worker by the time he was 12,” Ramiro said.
The week before he died, David spent a week’s vacation trying out a job at the Crane Carton Company on the north side of Chicago. The company had offered him $2 an hour more than he earned at Chapco. He decided to take the job.
Though they regularly quarreled over Mariela’s strict adherence to her religious beliefs–David was a Catholic–and though she got angry when he would rather go to his mother’s house on Saturday than to church with her, Mariela remembered him as “my best friend.” She said, “How can I talk about it? About not seeing him coming home in the afternoon, sitting down for a meal, all four of us going out, to the park, for instance, and kissing each other before we went to bed and in the morning. It didn’t matter how tired he was, he always gave me moral support. He told me we should continue to get ahead no matter how hard it was. That’s why I’m going to school now, because I am trying to become something out of myself because I’m sure he would have liked that.”
The night David Arana was killed, he was supposed to have helped Ramiro Chacon paint his apartment. Instead he sent his sisters–and he baby-sat their children at his mom’s. Ramiro was furious. “I wanted him there, not Peachy. I helped him plenty of times.” Even so, Ramiro admired David a lot. “I could sit for a year and still not list all the things we did together.”
Ramiro, 32, was the one sibling to get a good education, having earned a university degree in social work in Guatemala. He was the only one in the family who spoke English fluently, the only one who could get around comfortably in the Anglo world. But he’d been unlucky in his jobs since he came to the U.S. in 1979, having worked for a variety of social-service agencies that kept losing their funding. Now and then David helped Ramiro out financially, too.
When a cop came to Mariela’s house early the morning after David was shot, Ramiro got angry and suspicious. “He was an asshole,” said Ramiro, “making jokes about the incident even though we were talking about a person being seriously injured, maybe dead. He was completely insensitive to the idea that he was talking to people who he thought were the relatives of this person whose picture he was showing us.”
Ramiro and the family had already gathered at Mariela’s house in response to her frantic phone calls. They didn’t recognize David from the photo. “He was all swollen up,” Ramiro said. But David had not come home the previous night, and that was unheard of. He and Mariela had not spent a night apart since they began living together in 1984. So maybe this actually was a picture of David.
Ramiro called Illinois Masonic and couldn’t get any information. He called the morgue and was told he couldn’t see the body until later that morning. At seven, the family went to the morgue. “We were told to come back the next day.” Why? The morgue never closes, Ramiro knew. Were they doing something to the body? They went back the next day, and by now they knew they would find David’s body there. He had been missing for two days.
“I wanted to find out what happened to my brother,” Ramiro said. “I couldn’t believe the story that cop told us.” Through a friend, he located Edward Stein, an attorney who specializes in police brutality cases. He asked Stein to help him get to the bottom of everything. Stein told him to go to the scene of the shooting and try to find some witnesses. Meanwhile, Stein got the police reports through a Freedom of Information request. And as Stein learned more about the case, he became convinced that the story told by Johnny Martin had been falsified, that David Arana had been wrongly shot, and that OPS had covered up the facts. He filed suit for the family on April 19, 1989. The case will come to trial this fall.
Professor James Fyfe, 49, of the American University School of Public Affairs, said he thought the story Johnny Martin told in his deposition was “a crock.” There was, he told Stein, “an intentional nondiscovery of evidence” to protect Martin. “The omissions in the investigation are so glaring that they can only have been intentional.” Fyfe is a former New York cop whose nine-page vita is full of honors and awards; he now advises police departments around the country and counsels both police and victims in cases of alleged brutality. He is advising Stein in the Arana lawsuit.
Fyfe believes that the Chicago Police Department did not adequately screen Martin before he was accepted onto the force. “Martin was hired,” he said in his own deposition, “after they put him through a physical, a medical, and a written examination, and a background check. They hired him despite the fact that he’d been arrested twice as an adult. And apparently there was no psychological screening.”
Fyfe said that it was clear, from the decisions made in this case, that there is no adequate training of cops in Chicago as to when and how to draw their guns. “The department said the shooting was justifiable because it was an accident. In my experience, police officers are trained that you don’t pull a gun when you anticipate wrestling with someone,” he said. “You don’t pull a gun while you’re in actual physical contact with another individual because the chance of an accidental shooting is great, the chances of being disarmed are great. If you believe his story, Officer Martin did draw his gun under those circumstances in a grossly inappropriate way, and the department found nothing wrong with that.”
Secondly, Fyfe said, “Police are trained not to open car doors and get into automobiles with people for a variety of reasons. You really don’t know what the person will do. According to Martin, he got into Mr. Arana’s car twice. Police are trained not to put any part of their bodies into a car because that can be very dangerous. The department doesn’t seem to have found anything wrong with Martin doing just that, according to his story.”
Then there’s Martin’s story of what he did when he got into the car. Fyfe said, “It would seem that an officer in that situation would try to slam the gearshift into park and stop the car instead of getting into a wrestling match with the driver. I find it very difficult to believe that Officer Martin, the martial arts expert, couldn’t get himself out of the position he said he was in without drawing his gun.”
Fyfe added, “He said he smelled liquor on Mr. Arana’s breath, yet he let him get in the car and drive it.”
Fyfe said, “This was an incident in which an off-duty officer got involved in a situation that emanated from no major crime in which an apparently intoxicated motorist winds up dead. In essence, it’s a homicide investigation, and in fact, two homicide detectives did show up. But there’s no indication in any of the documents that any officer advised Martin of his right to silence and counsel, thereby effectively insulating him from any criminal liabilities based on his statements. Any attempt to prosecute him would be immediately thrown out of court because he had not been Mirandized.”
And, said Fyfe, there was no record besides summaries of any interviews police conducted with Martin. “And the homicide detective who did the investigation at the scene threw away his field notes. The report of the detective conflicts with the story Martin told [in his deposition], but we don’t have his notes to find out exactly what he learned and from whom. Either the detective was wrongly paraphrasing what he was told or Martin was lying, but without the notes we’ll never know.”
Removing Arana’s body from his car and moving the car before the homicide squad arrived and pictures could be taken also violated proper police procedure, Fyfe said. “One of the first things all police personnel learn is that they should not disturb scenes like this.” (After dozens of depositions, including 15 with cops, Stein still cannot identify the officer who moved Arana’s body.)
Fyfe pointed to the conflicts in various stories and observed that OPS seems to have simply ignored all of them but Martin’s. “I believe the most reliable story is the one told by the uninvolved witness [Polo Morentes] who says he saw Martin leaning into the car and firing the shot right after. The reason I believe this is because I can’t believe a martial arts expert could have gotten himself into the situation he describes. And the physical evidence supports it. He said he fell out of a moving car, but nothing happened to him or his clothing. And the path of the bullet fits this theory. It doesn’t fit Martin’s at all.”
The capper, said Fyfe, was the negligent-driving charge police hit Arana with as he lay dead or dying in Illinois Masonic. “Here’s a guy who ran into someone who was pulled out of a parking place in front of him and the policeman says, ‘It’s true that Mr. Arana had the right-of-way, but I gave him a ticket because he should have been able to stop.’ You know, that seems to me, to use a bad pun, like sort of nailing the coffin down. A very strange thing to do.”
What would have happened, Fyfe asked, if the situation had been reversed, if Arana had shot and killed Martin and told a comparable story? In fact, we know what would have happened. Last June, Johnny Martin was shot and killed and the accused man pleaded self-defense.
When the word went out on the police wire on June 28, 1990, that an officer had been shot, as many as 60 cops converged on the scene from the adjoining 19th and 23rd police districts in Lakeview. The district commanders, the commanders of the area patrol and detective divisions, the chief of detectives, and the deputy superintendent of the Bureau of Investigative Services, who is number three in the Police Department, plus detectives, uniformed cops, gang crimes cops, and tactical cops swarmed into the alley behind Johnny Martin’s house at 3228 N. Wilton.
Within two hours, two officers from gang crimes had arrested Lionel Myles in his house at the rear of 3311 N. Sheffield, a block away from the murder scene. Myles, a 32-year-old dark-skinned black man of slight build who worked as a cleaner in a nursing home, was sitting in his living room with a friend, telling him what had happened. When the police knocked on his door, he denied any knowledge of the shooting. But when the cops searched his house they found a box of gun cartridges, a ten-speed bike like the one on which witnesses had said the killer escaped, and a black jacket like the one that witnesses said the killer was wearing. When the police spoke to her, Myles’s companion, Diane Russell, quickly admitted that, on his instructions, she had dumped his .32 revolver into a garbage can in the alley. She led the cops to the gun. Myles was taken into custody, and soon he admitted that he had shot Martin. At his arraignment the next morning, bail was set at $200,000.
In their house-to-house canvass of the area, the cops managed to find nine witnesses who had seen some part of the incident, including a neighbor of Myles’s who had seen him speeding up the street on his bike and crashing through the front gate; a woman who had seen “a white man on a bike” fleeing down the alley, but later changed her story to say that it was a black man; and a maintenance man who had seen a quarrel in the alley before the shooting occurred, in which a Hispanic man seemed to be trying to chase away a smaller black man who looked angry and unwilling to be chased.
Myles told this story of the killing: While taking his usual route home from work, along the alley that runs between his apartment and Johnny Martin’s house, he saw two men standing there, one a large Hispanic man and the other an unidentified black man. Myles stopped and said, “Can I ask you a question?” The Hispanic, Myles said, told him “to get the fuck out of here.” There were more words and then Myles turned to leave, at which point the Hispanic hit him on the back of the head with some kind of stick. (A policeman who examined Myles later insisted there was no bruise on his head. Myles said he had a bump.)
Myles ran home, got his gun, stuck it in his belt, got on his bike, and rode back down the alley to confront his assailant. When he got there, he said to the Hispanic, “Why did you hit me on the head?” Myles was, he said in court testimony, “loud, angry.” At that moment, the black man, who was standing in front of the Hispanic, reached down into his ankle holster and pulled a gun. As he came up holding the gun, his hand struck Myles in the face. The gun went off but didn’t hit him. Myles pulled his gun out and put it against the black man’s chest and pulled the trigger. “I was scared for my life,” Myles said later. Then he turned his bike around and sped away. As he peddled, he heard five shots behind him. When he got home, he threw the gun on the couch and told Diane Russell to get rid of it. “I was scared and it wasn’t registered,” he’d explain.
At Lionel Myles’s arraignment the next morning, his attorney, Leo Fox, said for the record that Myles had a bruise on his face that he got when Johnny Martin hit him with his gun. The existence of a bruise wasn’t contested.
Lionel Myles’s father, Joseph Myles, a machine operator, said in an interview that Lionel had never been in any trouble except “to get caught with some reefer back in ’75.” Confronted with the fact that his son returned with his gun to the scene of an argument, Joseph Myles said, “He shouldn’t have done that. It was stupid. But that’s how we do things. In the black community, we handle our own things. Even if you call the police, they don’t come.” Joseph Myles lives in Lakeview, not far from where his son lived.
Roberto “Rico” Pizarro, who weighs 255 pounds, was the Hispanic in the alley. Pizarro was Johnny Martin’s downstairs neighbor and they worked out together regularly. He said in court that he had caught Lionel Myles trying to vandalize his ’88 Jeep parked in the alley.
Crime lab tests found no fingerprints of Myles’s on Pizarro’s car. Pizarro said he asked Myles, “Can I help you?” and Myles swore at him. “He looked like he would push me. I put up my right arm [it was in a cast]. His hands pushed me. I pushed him. He got upset and started jumping and screaming and said, ‘I’ll be back.’ Then he pointed up at the second floor [Martin’s place] and said, ‘I know all about him.’ Then he went down the alley.”
Pizarro said he went to his house and asked Martin for help. He and Martin returned to the alley. They stood there for a moment, and as they were about to go back to the house Pizarro turned at the sound of a bicycle and said, “That’s him and he’s got a gun.” Pizarro said Myles was carrying his gun in his hand on the handlebar. He and Martin stood there, waiting to see what would happen. Martin did not identify himself as a police officer. “He was smiling,” Pizarro said about Lionel Myles. He rode up to Johnny and put the front wheel between his legs and just put the gun up to his chest and fired.”
According to Pizarro, Martin then hit Myles’s gun hand. And as Myles pedaled away, Martin reached down to his ankle holster and got his gun. He fell down but quickly rose and ran after Myles, firing two shots. Then he handed the gun to Pizarro, said, “Go get him and don’t let me die,” and fell to the ground. Pizarro ran down the alley shooting at Myles but failing to hit him.
Dr. Robert Kirschner of the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office did the autopsy on Johnny Martin. He says it is within the realm of possibility that Martin could have done what Pizarro described after being shot in the chest.
Lionel Myles admitted killing Johnny Martin. The only question was whether he shot him in self-defense because he was “scared for his life” after Martin had pulled a gun and hit him in the face with it, or shot him in cold blood–as Pizarro claimed and the state charged. On January 30, at the end of a three-day bench trial, Criminal Courts Judge Michael Getty found Lionel Myles guilty of first-degree murder. He said he didn’t believe Myles’s story; he believed Pizarro’s.
Did the judge accept Pizarro’s testimony because the victim of the shooting was a cop? Perhaps. Perhaps not. On April 9, Getty will sentence Lionel Myles to prison for not less than 20 years and not more than 60. Perhaps he will be lenient in sentencing this very simple man with no previous criminal record. Perhaps not. He did, after all, kill a cop.
On November 27, 1990, the Chicago City Council, at the urging of Mayor Richard M. Daley, took the unusual step of proclaiming December 5 “Johnny Martin Day,” to honor this policeman who was “killed in the line of duty.” Normally, the City Council merely passes a resolution honoring a slain cop. Was this proclamation issued with an eye to the pending lawsuit that had been filed against the city by the family of David Arana? Or was it issued, as one white cop presumed, because a white mayor was seeking to be reelected with black votes? Who can say?
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/John Zielinski.