Unveiling Justice: The Luis Cruz Case - Seeking Truth Amidst Controversy in Peoria
Updated: Aug 25
Update: On Thursday, August 24, 2023, after five days of trial and less than two hours of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict in favor of officer Isonhart and the defendants. The jury found that Isonhart did not use excessive force when he shot at Cruz seven times, and that Cruz’s civil rights were not violated. The jury also rejected the claim of wrongful death brought by Cruz’s estate. The verdict was met with disappointment and outrage by Cruz’s family and supporters, who believe that justice was not served. They vowed to continue their fight for accountability and reform in Peoria’s police department.
The civil lawsuit against the City of Peoria, the Peoria Police Department, and officer Ryan Isonhart, brought by Luis Cruz's estate through his sister Lyrah Hernandez on behalf of his two young daughters, began last Thursday in Federal court in Peoria. The Honorable Judge Shadid presided over the proceedings. Jury selection and opening statements occurred on Thursday, followed by the start of witness testimony on Friday.
Cruz was 19 years old on July 19, 2018, when he was fatally shot at seven times by the PPD's target offender unit. This happened after an informant provided a description of the vehicle Cruz was a passenger in, to an officer. This led to over half an hour of searching for the vehicle and then another half an hour of waiting at the location once the vehicle was spotted parked and Cruz’s location confirmed by a Facebook Live video viewed by the two officers who first located the described vehicle while waiting for the other 3 vehicles of the unit to arrive.
The lack of tactical planning for the arrest shifted into a covert pursuit when the pursued vehicle was allowed to leave the monitored parking lot by officers Isonhart and Mason at Greenbriar Apartments near W Martin Luther King & Sterling.
After following the vehicle up Sterling and then down Western in covert and semi-covert vehicles, and passing the suspect in failed attempts to verify Cruz’s presence in the vehicle, only the marked “stop vehicle” that was not a covert unit and was occupied by Isonhart & Mason remained alone when the decision was made to initiate a traffic stop for an improperly displayed front plate located on the windshield rather than the front bumper, which many unfortunately don’t realize is an illegal placement in Illinois as the window glare can obstruct the plate.
Since Peoria had not yet implemented body cams and only one vehicle was a non-covert unit, there is only one camera's coverage of the stop where Luis Cruz then exited the passenger side and ran in front of the car across the street away from the police and out of the video frame. Within 7 seconds after leaving the vehicle, he was shot at 7 times.
Officer Isonhart claims in defense that Cruz turned and raised a gun, pointing it at officer Mason, though no gun can be seen on the camera. The officers then discussed the incident at the scene against protocol, followed by a lunch gathering and playing ping pong with food and alcohol at officer Isonhart’s house as a “welfare check” by team members and friends before filing any official reports per the stated 1-2 sleep cycle break, as per department policy before reporting for a critical incident.
Prosecutors argue that paperwork from the field log at the scene was improperly filled out and other errors in the report, combined with the lack of a strategic tactical plan, show evidence of collusion and conspiracy. They allege that Cruz’s civil rights were violated and believe he was unarmed at the time of the shooting. They also argue a claim of wrongful death and excessive force.
Although the initial testing confirmed a handprint from Cruz on the gun, the prosecution attempted to retest the gun for prints on the slide to corroborate or disprove officer Isonhart’s account of Cruz manipulating the slide. However, that motion was rejected by the judge at the start of the trial.
We hope that you’ll come to show support this week for the family throughout the rest of the trial.