Chicago police officer shot in confrontation with woman

July 2, 2008 8:35:57 PM PDT
A veteran Chicago police officer was shot and killed early Wednesday morning outside a police station on the city's Northwest Side.The officer was shot during a confrontation with a woman who was able to take the officer's gun away. It happened around 2 a.m.

The officer has been identified as Richard Francis. He was 60 years old and had been with the Chicago Police Department since 1981. The shooting happened in the intersection of Belmont and Western, only steps away from the district headquarters where he served.

Officer Francis was on routine patrol early Wednesday morning when he was called to the scene of a disturbance at a CTA bus stop under an overpass. Police say a homeless woman was apparently causing problems on a CTA bus, right across the street from District 19 headquarters.

Police say Francis approached the woman, who then started attacking him. During the fight, the woman managed to grab the officer's gun. She fired the weapon three times, and Francis was struck in the head.

"One of our 19th District officers was on routine patrol. He observed a disturbance involving a female. He approached that situation. A struggle ensued. The offender was able to secure the officer's weapon, fatally wounded him. Other officers responded to the scene. The offender threatened them. They engaged that offender. They wounded her," said Supt. Jody Weis, Chicago Police Dept.

Police say the woman, armed with the officer's gun, began threatening other officers who responded just before and after Francis was shot. About four officers shot her several times.

Both Officer Francis and the woman were rushed to Illinois Masonic Medical Center where fellow officers waited on word of his condition. He was pronounced dead just before 3 a.m.

Police said the woman allegedly responsible for the shooting is a 300-pound, homeless woman in her 40s. She is still in the hospital in stable condition. Authorities say they have yet to contact her family.

Police officials would not comment on a report that the suspect is mentally disturbed and that officers frequently had been called to remove her from CTA buses.

Charges were expected to be filed against the woman sometime Thursday.

The killing, a block away from 19th District headquarters, stunned officers there and around the city.

"It gives credence to the idea that nothing is routine patrol and nothing is a routine call no matter the situation. Nothing is routine," said Mark Donahue, Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge #7.

"Our focus right now is on his family. It's a tragic loss to the family. It's a terrible loss for the Chicago Police Department. Our hearts and condolences and prayers are with the family and friends and members of this department," Weis said. "It's a stark reminder of the dangers police officers face every day."

The Life of Richard Francis

Francis worked the midnight shift, driving a police transport wagon. Normally he worked with a partner, but Wednesday he was working alone out of a squad car instead. He lived in Chicago's Jefferson Park neighborhood with his wife. He also leaves behind two grown stepdaughters. He was just three years from retiring with full benefits.

"He'd come home from work and if I was driving to work, he'd always say hi. The nicest person you could meet in your life. I don't understand why it happened," said neighbor Barbara Rehn in tears.

At 19th District headquarters, 11-year-old Jacob Doyle brought flowers.

"My stepbrother is a cop and he used to work with him," Jacob said.

Officer Francis was the kind of guy who was the backbone of the Chicago Police Department, say fellow officers who are remembering him. They say he was not a complainer, he did a good job and went home to his family.

And at his home in Jefferson Park, person after person said he was about the nicest guy they had ever met.

Fellow officers in mourning arrived with gift baskets and food, flowers and love for Officer Francis' family at his Northwest Side home throughout the day Wednesday.

Still sitting on the street out front was his beloved motorcycle.

"Always a great guy. Always got along with everybody and he loved his motorcycle," said Ron Schmidt, former neighbor.

Officer Francis also loved his dogs - two Basset hounds he rescued.

And he was most devoted to his family. Rehn says he raised his stepdaughters like they were his own.

"They were his daughters, never did he say stepdaughters. They were his daughters," Rehn said.

"He was always feeding the birds and then they would come to my yard, always walking two Basset hounds, walk with his daughter. They walk around the block, my dogs would go crazy." Delores Schmoldt.

His friend of more than 50 years, Kevin O'Connor, went to grade school with Francis at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish.

"Ricky was a gregarious, outgoing, always there, laughter, full of fun, we played a lot of practical jokes on each other," he said.

O'Connor stood outside the Grace and Leavitt Fire Escape, a watering hole for police and firefighters, where they were trying to comfort each other.

Later, back outside Officer Francis' home, Weis paid his respects to the family. And the Hundred Club of Cook County presented his widow a check for $50,000.

"Obviously, they're still in shock. what happens in this world, why did it happen to us, which is normal for every family," said Ralph Scheu, Hundred Club president.

This is the 235th family of a fallen Chicago police officer that the Hundred Club has given its help to.

As a senior officer, Richard Francis could have worked any shift he wanted but preferred the night shift.

Friends say he wasn't one to seek the spotlight, but he did earn 25 honorable mentions during his police career, as well as a department commendation and several complimentary letters about his service.

A flag of mourning was flown at half staff outside police headquarters for Officer Francis. At daybreak, the dead officer's co-workers raised the mourning flag and later hung a purple and black bunting.

While officers at the 19th District and around the city grieved, some already were whispering a question: Why was Officer Francis working alone at 2 o'clock in the morning? So far, police brass have not been available to answer that question.

Officer Francis is the first Chicago police officer killed in the line of duty in more than two years.

The last Chicago police officer to die in the line of duty was Officer Eric Solorio, 26, in 2006. Solorio and his partner were chasing a speeding vehicle when their squad car spun out of control and crashed on Chicago's South Side. Solorio later died from injuries he suffered in the crash.

In March of 2002, Officer Donald Marquez was shot and killed as he attempted to serve court papers at an apartment in the city's Logan Square neighborhood. The gunman was shot and killed. Marquez was a 20-year veteran of the police force.


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