CHICAGO – A federal judge dismissed three of seven counts against a Tinley Park police officer accused in an off-duty Tasering incident and remanded the other four counts to Cook County Court due to lack of federal jurisdiction. Alexander and Claire Mendez claim Tinley Park Police Officer Joseph Vega came into their restaurant while off duty, asked Claire Mendez if she wanted to see him scare her husband, and after she said no, pointed his Taser gun at Alexander Mendez’s head as he walked out of a walk-in cooler. Then the gun went off, striking Alexander Mendez.
The Mendezes’ sued The Village of Tinley Park and Mendez in a seven-count suit. Judge Harry Leinenweber ruled that three counts – which claim that Tinley Park and Vega violated Alexander Mendez’s 5th and 14th Amendment rights and that Tinley Park fails to properly train its officers – are federal jurisdiction and the other four counts involve state law.
Leinenweber found in the defendants’ favor on the three federal counts. He ruled that the counts were duplicative and that Vega was not acting under the color of local or state authority.
“Officer Vega was not performing or attempting to perform any police activity such as attempting to arrest Mendez,” Leinenweber wrote. “On the contrary he was attempting to ‘scare’ Alexander Mendez while acting as a customer in a restaurant. To convert an off-duty status to one where the officer was acting under color of law, the off-duty officer must purport to exercise police authority in some manner, such as flashing a badge, identifying himself as a police officer, placing an individual under arrest, or performing a duty imposed by police department regulations.”
But Leinenweber did not absolve Vega of wrongdoing.
“This is not to say that Mendez is without remedy for the atrocious behavior of Vega. However, he must look to state law for his remedy,” Leinenweber wrote. Tinley Park is 25 miles south of Chicago.