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City Council Awards $2.5 Mil Settlement In Strange Wrongful Death Case

By Marcus Gilmer in News on Jan 14, 2009 5:00PM

2009_01_14_shooting.jpg The Chicago City Council voted 35-4 yesterday to award a $2.5 million to the family of Juan Salazar (pictured left), a 14-year-old shot and killed by Rafael Balbontin (pictured right), an off-duty police officer in 2002. The Council reasoned it was less than would be awarded if the case went before a jury. But here's the first thing that makes this strange: Salazar was shot during a home invasion of Balbontin's parents' home.

Officer Rafael Balbontin was in the basement of his parents' Northwest Side home when two men wearing yellow ponchos and masks and armed with a pellet gun knocked on the door and forced their way into the house.

Juan Salazar, 14, and his 26-year-old accomplice were apparently looking to steal cologne sold by the officer's father at a local flea market.

After hearing his mother shout out in Spanish, "They have guns," the officer's father ran upstairs and attacked the offenders with a mop.

Officer Balbontin followed them out of the home in the 3000 block of North New England and fired six shots. One of the shots struck his father and another struck Salazar in the back, killing him.

If this was where things stopped, you'd think Balbontin would have a good case of self-defense, no? But this is where the second thing that makes this case weird comes in: in 2006, Balbontin was convicted for stabbing his wife to death and injuring his mother-in-law when she tried to intervene. Of course, the debate in the Council boiled down to the rights to defend one's home to home invaders versus the fact Salazar and his accomplice were fleeing the scene. Aldermen Jim Balcer (11th), George Cardenas (12th), Ray Suarez (31st) and Bernard Stone (50th) voted against the settlement and Cardenas said, "If you're a robber, it's very simple: You left your rights at the gate," while Stone added, "I still don't think we should justify a home invasion." Meanwhile, Don Shapiro, attorney for the Salazar family, said, "They were tucking tail --running away as fast as they could. . . . There was no reason to shoot and kill this young boy. Police officers are supposed to arrest people. They're not supposed to be judge, jury and executioner."

We get both sides of the argument here, but something tells us Balbontin's current whereabouts have something to do with the ease with which this settlement was reached.

Image courtesy Fox 32, via Sun-Times