HIGHLAND — Though investigators continue to review evidence in the shooting at Growlers on Highway, some close to the case say an East Chicago police officer may have just been trying to help break up a brawl when he was shot in the head.
However, it's not the first time East Chicago Officer David Aguilera has found himself in the center of a scuffle at the same bar while off duty.
A Highland police report shows Aguilera pointed a gun at another patron's face Sept. 14, while in the restroom of the bar at 2816 Highway Ave.
Officials at the Highland Police Department and Northwest Indiana Major Crimes Task Force, which has been asked to assist in the more recent investigation, confirmed Aguilera's involvement in the September incident.
In the recent case, Aguilera and Gary Officer Dwayne Brown, who was also off duty and working for the bar as a bouncer, were wounded during an altercation outside the bar. Police took two men into custody, but released them without charges as the investigation continued.
Highland officers viewed the September incident as a "mutual combat situation" and didn't investigate further because neither party wanted to proceed, Cmdr. John Banasiak said.
Police took statements from a Hammond man and Aguilera, but no other witnesses came forward, Banasiak said.
An East Chicago police officer, who was in the bar but not part of Aguilera's group, identified Aguilera at the scene and was expected to take the matter back to East Chicago police administration, Banasiak said.
East Chicago police and Aguilera did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
The Major Crimes Task Force is aware of the September incident, but has not found it to be relevant to the ongoing investigation into Saturday's shooting, said Griffith Police Chief Greg Mance, spokesman for the task force.
"As in any investigation, for a myriad of reasons, investigators look at any and all information related to the parties involved in an incident or crime," Mance said. "One of the reasons is to establish or rule out any direct relation between events. In this instance, it appears this prior report does not have any direct correlation to last weekend's shooting."
Man says pistol was shoved in his face
The Hammond man told police he attempted to enter the restroom and someone on the other side of the door shoved it back into a closed position, according to the Highland police report.
The man pushed harder, forcing the door open and encountering a man later identified as Aguilera on the other side.
The Hammond man told police he was shoved into a wall and Aguilera pulled a pistol and shoved it into his face, the report states.
The man left the restroom and spoke with security. Meanwhile, Aguilera and his group left the bar.
As the Hammond man spoke with police, another East Chicago police officer came forward and identified Aguilera as the man who pulled a weapon, the report says. That officer said he wasn't with Aguilera's group, but he knew Aguilera and another former East Chicago police officer had been in the bathroom at the time.
The Hammond man told Highland police he wanted the incident documented and planned to talk with East Chicago police administration, the report states.
Officer says he feared for his life
Highland police also spoke with Aguilera, who said he was with two former East Chicago police officers inside the men's restroom because one of his companions was vomiting.
Aguilera told police he was holding the door shut when he felt someone pushing on it. Aguilera said he told the person, "Hold on, we are cleaning up real quick," the report states.
Aguilera told police the person pushed on the door so hard, he became pinned between the door and the wall.
"Aguilera stated that the subject then used his hand and grabbed him by the face and forced his head into the wall, causing a contusion," the report states.
The report does not note whether a contusion was observed on Aguilera.
The report continues, "Aguilera stated that the subject continued to increase the force on the door and on his head causing a great deal of pain to Mr. Aguilera's head and body making it difficult to speak and breath."
Aguilera told police he unholstered a personal pistol "out of fear of his life" and pointed it at the subject, who released his head and walked away, according to the report.
Aguilera then exited the business with his friends after "being sent on his way," the report says.
When asked how police might have analyzed Aguilera's statements, Banasiak said police often must work with limited information.
The incident occurred in a bathroom, so there was no video to help corroborate statements, he said.
"Sometimes you've got one version of a story and another version of a story, and they just end there," he said. "We had nobody else come forward in that situation to say they witnessed anything."
Banasiak said Highland police could investigate further if more witnesses come forward or if more information surfaces.