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Chicago Police Officer Faces Murder Charges in Off-Duty Shooting

Lowell Houser, 57, is shown in a booking photo. (Credit: CNN)

Lowell Houser, 57, is shown in a booking photo. (Credit: CNN)

A Chicago police officer was charged Wednesday with first-degree murder in the killing of a man while the officer was off duty, police said.

Lowell Houser, 57, allegedly got into an argument with a man who was moving into a home on Chicago’s Northwest Side on January 2. The argument escalated, and Houser allegedly fired multiple shots at the man, Jose Nieves, killing him.

Nieves, 38, was unarmed at the time of the shooting, police said.

Police said Nieves and Houser knew each other and had an altercation weeks before the deadly shooting. Houser was stripped of his police powers shortly after the shooting, police said.

Houser was arrested Wednesday, according to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, which filed the charges against him. Houser is scheduled for bond court on Thursday.

“The Nieves’ family is devastated by the loss of Jose,” said attorney Andrew Stroth, who is representing the victim’s family. “The state’s attorney’s action today will not bring back Jose but it’s an important and swift step in the criminal justice process.”

The Nieves family has filed a federal lawsuit against the city and Houser. The suit alleges that Houser “illegally detained and threatened to arrest and physically harm” Nieves before firing the deadly shots. A representative of the city’s law department said it would not comment on pending litigation.

“The Chicago Police Department turned the case over to the state’s attorney and the Independent Police Review Authority once the possibility of criminal violations were suspected,” said Chicago Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi in a statement released Wednesday. “CPD will fully cooperate with the state’s attorney throughout the judicial process.”

Houser becomes the second Chicago police officer currently facing murder charges. Officer Jason Van Dyke has been charged in the October 2014 fatal shooting of Chicago teen Laquan McDonald. Van Dyke has pleaded not guilty.

The McDonald shooting by police prompted a US Department of Justice investigation into the Chicago Police Department in late 2015. The charges against Houser come less than a week after the Justice Department issued a report on its investigation. The agency announced Friday it uncovered a pattern of unconstitutionally excessive and deadly force, and the city has agreed to negotiate a reform plan to be overseen by a federal judge.

US Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the deficiencies were due, in part, to poor training of officers, failure to collect data on misconduct complaints and the lack of review of use of force incidents.