HIGHLAND — An off-duty cop's fumbled weapon wound up in the wrong hands May 19 after a fight between a Growlers on Highway patron and a bouncer spilled into the parking lot and ended in the shooting of two off-duty police officers, newly released court documents revealed Friday.
O’Neill Cruz-Burgos, 25, of Burnham, Illinois, faces the most serious felony charges in the case — two counts each of battery by means of a deadly weapon and battery resulting in serious bodily injury and one count of criminal recklessness.
Cruz-Burgos, his cousin and off-duty Gary police Officer Dwayne Brown all jumped for the fumbled weapon and wrestled for it before Cruz-Burgos emerged from the tussle, pointing the gun at Brown, court records state.
"I told you I would kill you (expletive)," Cruz-Burgos allegedly stated before he fired off several shots.
One bullet lodged in Brown's arm.
A second off-duty officer, East Chicago police Officer David Aguilera, returned fire, documents state. In exchange, Cruz-Burgos fired several shots back, striking Aguilera in the head.
Police and prosecutors were initially investigating whether any off-duty officers at the scene instigated or contributed to the melee, a source close to the investigation previously told The Times.
However, Brown and Aguilera — patrons at the bar that night — are not facing charges.
Four people charged in brawl, shooting
Investigators interviewed dozens of witnesses as they sifted through conflicting statements and stories over the past two weeks, sources and investigators have said.
The Northwest Indiana Major Crimes Task Force assisted Highland police, the lead agency in the case.
Four people, including Cruz-Burgos, who has had past run-ins with police, were ultimately charged Friday in Lake Criminal Court in connection with the brawl and shooting at Growlers on Highway, 2816 Highway Ave.
Court documents show Cruz-Burgos left the bar in the early morning hours May 19 to take a phone call but was denied re-entry and then forcibly removed by a bar bouncer, Martin Rodriguez, 29. Rodriguez has been charged with battery, a Class A misdemeanor.
As their confrontation spilled out into the parking lot, a crowd of patrons and staff left the bar to watch. That's when the two off-duty officers, Brown and Aguilera, stepped in to assist the bouncer.
Brown told investigators he watched Cruz-Burgos and a cousin being confrontational with the bouncers and refusing to leave the premises, charging documents state. After hearing Cruz-Burgos' cousin said he had a weapon, Brown said he watched the cousin go into a car and appear to retrieve something.
Fearing for his life, Brown struck the man in the head with his own weapon, which then fell to the ground and a struggle ensued before Cruz-Burgos grabbed the gun and fired shots at the two officers.
Highland police were called out to the disturbance at about 2:40 a.m. May 19 to learn Cruz-Burgos had fled the area on foot with his cousin.
Cruz-Burgos tossed the handgun in the sewer before he and his cousin were arrested by Highland police, documents state. Both were released early last week without being charged, but prosecutors at that point never ruled out future charges against anyone involved. Ultimately, that cousin was not charged.
Cruz-Burgos' female cousin, Chris Aimee Ortiz, 28, faces one misdemeanor battery charge, court records show. She allegedly pushed and attempted to strike bouncers and staff and physically fought with a bouncer, Breanne Misner, 24.
The Lake County prosecutor's office confirmed Friday afternoon that Misner is a Lake County corrections officer. A state database of public employees lists Misner as a jail/correctional officer with an annual compensation of $41,943.00.
Lake County Sheriff Oscar Martinez confirmed Friday evening that Misner was placed on paid administrative leave about two weeks ago when prosecutors told him she had been involved in the melee.
Martinez said Misner will remain on leave until the charges work their way through the courts.
The sheriff also confirmed the department will be reviewing possible disciplinary action against Misner once the court case is decided.
Martinez said the jail and sheriff’s police department have clear policies against county police or jail guards working side jobs in establishments in which alcohol is the main product served.
“They’re allowed to work side jobs, but it must be submitted in writing and approved by administration,” Martinez said. “We don’t believe she did that.”
Ortiz is accused of striking Misner with a closed fist and in return, Misner struck back.
Once Ortiz was subdued on the ground, Misner allegedly continued to strike Ortiz's head with a closed fist, court records state. Misner is charged with misdemeanor battery.
Both officers were taken to Methodist Hospitals Northlake Campus in Gary. Aguilera was later transferred to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Illinois, for treatment of a head injury.
Both men survived and were placed on paid leave after the shooting.
Not his first run-in with police
This is not Cruz-Burgos' first run-in with police. He pleaded guilty in 2013 to misdemeanor battery on law enforcement in connection with a fight at Southlake Mall in Hobart.
In November 2012, Hobart police subdued Cruz-Burgos with a Taser during a fight involving several people at Southlake Mall, according to a police report.
A Hobart police officer responded to the Zumiez Skate Apparel store Nov. 18, 2012, and found mall security officers chasing a then-19-year-old man accused of stealing a $59 Diamond Supply Co. sweatshirt. The officer caught up with the man, ordered him to stop and pointed a Taser at him. The man stopped and was arrested, the report says.
The man's girlfriend followed officers as they took the man back to the Hobart police substation. Officers told the woman to leave several times, but she became enraged and shouted profanities, the report says.
An officer attempted to arrest the woman on a disorderly conduct charge, but she pulled away and began to kick and flail her arms, according to the report.
While the officer struggled with the woman, Cruz-Burgos and another man began grabbing a security officer, who also was trying to restrain the woman, the report says.
Cruz-Burgos struck the security officer with a closed fist, while the other man kicked the security officer. Several more police officers arrived, and one of them took down Cruz-Burgos.
As Cruz-Burgos hit the ground, an officer attempted to apply a distraction technique to nerves in his neck but inadvertently struck his nose area, the report says. Cruz-Burgos continued to fight, so officers used a Taser on him before taking him into custody.
Cruz-Burgos suffered a bloody nose and was taken to St. Mary Medical Center in Hobart for observation.
Cruz-Burgos pleaded guilty in November 2013 to misdemeanor battery on law enforcement in that case.
Past incidents at Growlers
Highland police released 36 police reports detailing calls involving the bar during the past year, including nine disturbances, two fights and two batteries. In seven cases, officers were conducting routine checks at the bar.
In one case, Aguilera was accused of pointing a gun at a Hammond man during a scuffle in the bar's restroom, reports show.
Aguilera never faced charges in the incident.
In an additional case, Highland police Officer John Swisher was seriously injured in December 2016 when a man who had been drinking at Growlers struck his squad while driving the wrong way on Kennedy Avenue, court records show.
Several Town Council members said they met with the owners of Growlers, who seemed receptive to suggestions about curtailing incidents at the bar, Councilman Bernie Zemen said. Zemen said council members have suggested earlier closing times, more selective background checks and hires for bouncer positions, and more community-centered events.
Highland police conducted routine checks last weekend at Growlers and some of the town's other bars.
Martinez said none of the charged parties had been booked into Lake County Jail as of Friday evening.
Gallery: Recent arrests booked into Lake County Jail