The early morning of May 3, 2015 seemed like any other for 27-year veteran Oak Park police Officer Johnny Patterson, a Chicago resident who usually left for work in the village around 5 a.m.
But the night before, Patterson had parked his car in the front of his house in the 300 block of West 103rd Place.
He had a habit of drinking a protein shake during the long drive to Oak Park and that morning was no different. He kept them in the garage behind his house, so he drove around to the alley, parked and stepped out of his vehicle.
After returning from the garage with his morning beverage, Patterson’s world was turned upside down. He noticed a man hiding behind a light pole.
“He started running toward me with a weapon,” Patterson recalled during a recent interview. “I’ve got a shake in one hand and a key in the other and he’s got a gun in my face.
“What’s going on? I’m police! I’m police!” he called out.
That’s when Patterson heard another man from behind.
“Shoot him! Shoot him!” the other assailant cried.
Shots rang out and in a flash Patterson had been shot in the arm, side and leg by a .45-caliber handgun. He fell to the ground and unloaded his weapon on the shooter, putting four bullets into the man.
“He shot me! He shot me!” the man yelled as he ran down the alley to escape.
Police later apprehended and charged Taiwan McNeal, who was 18 at the time of his arrest, and a 17-year-old boy. They both are currently in custody and await trial.
It’s not the first time Patterson’s been shot at in the line of duty, he said. And it is his contention that he was acting in the line of duty.
The village of Oak Park, which cut his pay in May, almost a full year after the incident, doesn’t agree. The village determined once Patterson had used up his sick leave and vacation time following the shooting, he was like any other employee and the paychecks stopped coming.
Patterson stopped receiving pay because the village determined the incident occurred while he was off duty. Patterson and the Fraternal Order of Police see it differently.
James Hawkinson, president of FOP Lodge 8, said state law stipulates that police officers are considered on duty the moment they identify themselves as a cop during a police incident.
After Patterson was shot, he was rushed to Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn. He was back at home three days later, but spent the next year in physical therapy to regain the use of his hand, which was damaged from the gunshot wound to his arm.
Patterson said he was given approval to head back to work by his physician on May 27, but the village is requiring him to undergo additional testing at Loyola Medical Center to determine whether he is again fit for duty.
The testing is expected to cost around $2,000, Patterson said.
His halted paycheck has required Patterson to dip into savings and even retirement funds to pay the bills.
He’s gotten some help from the FOP, which is raising money with a pistol competition fundraiser and dinner at the Villa Park VFW Post 2801 on Aug. 7.
“This is unacceptable,” reads the event page. “John has been attempting to return to work. His doctor has released him for duty, but the village’s doctor will not clear him to return to work.”
Village spokesman David Powers declined to comment about the incident or the withheld paychecks, but noted that, from the village’s perspective, “he was not on duty.”
“We treat all public employees the same, regardless of their position,” he said, adding that the village and the police department wish Patterson well on his recovery.
Patterson said it was always his understanding that if a police officer sees a crime taking place, even if it’s happening to them, it is their duty to take action.
“You’re not going to just stand there and watch someone get hurt or a law enforcement officer get hurt where you can assist; that’s not the law enforcement officer way,” Patterson said.
Hawkinson said in a telephone interview that police already have collected some money for Patterson, but the fundraisers aim to further assist him with his medical bills and lost wages.
“That’s a hardship no matter who you are,” Hawkinson said.
Meanwhile, Patterson has hired a worker’s compensation attorney and plans to challenge the ruling from the village.
He said his final medical examination ordered by the village at Loyola is set for later in August.
“I never thought I’d have to go through all this just to come back to work,” he said.