Initial Report: Police Justified In Shooting Portage Man

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December 12, 2014 –A preliminary report released Friday morning from the Lake County Major Crimes Unit about Tuesday’s fatal police-action shooting at Lake Station City Hall shows that the three officers were justified in using deadly force, and that their actions may have prevented other catastrophic events from happening.

It also offers some insight about 84-year-old John Laco of Portage, who died in the Lake Station City Hall parking lot from gunshot wounds.

The report will be turned over to the Lake County Prosecutor for an official review.


Here is the news release from the Major Crimes Unit:

The Northwest Indiana Major Crimes Task Force has completed their investigation of the December 9, 2014, Lake Station Police Department shooting of an armed man at the Lake Station City Hall parking lot located at 1969 Central Avenue, Lake Station, IN.

John Laco, 84, of Portage (IN) was killed by police after Laco exited his vehicle with a shotgun and pointed the gun at officers. Lake Station Police Chief Kevin Garber requested that the Major Crimes Task Force conduct an independent investigation of the shooting.

The investigation reveals that at 10:29 AM Tuesday, city hall employees heard a gunshot and looked outside their windows to see an armed man standing in the middle of the parking lot.  The gunman then walked to his vehicle, got inside of it and waited.  The city hall and police station are housed in the same building.  Lake Station Police Lt. John McDaniel, Detective Dennis Dover and Detective Glenn Gulley, exited the police station to investigate the gunshot and found Laco sitting inside his vehicle with the window rolled down and the barrel of a shotgun exposed out the window.

With weapons drawn, the police officers ordered Laco to drop the gun and to display his empty hands.  Laco responded by exiting his vehicle and pointing his shotgun at the police.  All three police officers fired their weapons at Laco.  From a distance of approximately 15-20 yards, eleven shots were fired by the police and Laco sustained three gunshot wounds (head, chest and right hand).  Laco died at the scene.  Investigators determined that Laco died with his finger on the trigger of a loaded 16 gauge pump shotgun.  Laco also had an inoperable pellet handgun in the front pocket of his sweatshirt that he was wearing.

Laco’s vehicle, two adjacent vehicles and the nearby Lake Station-New Chicago branch of the Lake County Public Library sustained gunshot damages from several bullets and bullet fragments.  No injuries were sustained by the public or the police.

Lake Station police officers rescued Laco from his burning house (2701 Central Avenue) at 12:05 AM on February 20, 2014.  Since that time, Laco has lived with several friends and relatives, most recently renting a room from a friend at a Portage residence.  Laco’s fire damaged residence became a source of concern to the city because it was vacant, structurally impaired and a hazard to public health.  As such, the Building Commission Hearing Authority of the City of Lake Station Building Department served Laco with a second formal legal notice ordering him to appear before the Authority, with the second meeting scheduled at 6 PM on Monday, December 8, 2014 at the city council chambers.  The hearing was for Laco to provide them with a status report on what he was doing with his property.  Laco failed to appear for the Monday night hearing.

Associates of Laco described him as an angry, elderly man who at times suffered from depression.  He frequently made negative comments about the Lake Station Mayor and how the city was trying to force him to demolish his fire damaged residence.

At 4:30 PM on Monday, December 8, 2014, a neighbor of Lake Station Mayor Keith Soderquist heard what appeared to be a gunshot.  When the neighbor looked outside, he observed what appeared to be a small, dark colored, sport utility vehicle driving away.  The mayor was not at home at the time and the neighbor did not call the police.  While investigating Laco’s death on Tuesday, detectives learned about the report of gunfire near the mayor’s home the prior night.  Detectives went to the mayor residence to search for evidence and it was determined that the house had not sustained any type of damage.  However, the internal portion of a fired shotgun shell was located in the mayor’s front yard.  It is noted that the portion of the shotgun shell found in the mayor’s front yard was consistent with the internal portion of the fired shotgun shell found in the city hall parking lot after Laco had fired his shotgun.  Furthermore, it is noted that the vehicle Laco owns, a black Dodge Caliber, is similar in appearance to the vehicle witnessed driving away from the mayor’s house after a gunshot was heard.  That said, without any firm witnesses or definable physical evidence, investigators cannot say with any certainty that Laco was involved in the discharge of a firearm at the mayor’s residence.  Mayor Soderquist did not know John Laco and had no known prior contact or interaction with him.

A search of Laco’s personal belongings uncovered a notebook from 2007 wherein Laco detailed his personal stalking of the then Lake Station Police Chief Michael Stills.  Handwritten notations listed the dates, times and locations of the police chief.  Police also recovered an audio cassette tape of a recorded phone conversation Laco had with Chief Stills.  The stalking acts allegedly were a result of Laco’s displeasure with how police handled a juvenile assault case involving a family member.  The stalking stopped when the police chief discovered Laco parked outside of the chief’s residence and the chief confronted him.  Also found was a handwritten, undated letter of Laco’s providing instructions for family members to follow in the event of his death.

On Monday evening, Dec. 8, at the Lake Station Building Commission Hearing Authority hearing that Laco did not attend, the Authority determined that it was necessary to demolish and remove all of the unsafe property at Laco’s fire damaged residence.  The notice ordered that the property be demolished, removed, filled and graded at a cost of $9,500, and that Laco would be billed for the work.  The notice was set to be mailed on the day that Laco died.


Preliminary Investigative Finding: The Northwest Indiana Major Crimes Task Force has determined that the deadly use of force by the three Lake Station police officers was justified and that their actions potentially prevented other catastrophic events from occurring.  A formal report will be forwarded to the Lake County Prosecutor’s Office for an official independent review of the task force investigation.  The Lake Station Police Department will also conduct an internal review of the shooting and formally report their findings to their Board of Works.



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