By Bob Uphues
Police spent about six hours combing the bank of the Des Plaines River just west of the Barrypoint Road bridge in Riverside on Oct. 4 as they searched for a handgun thrown there by one of three street gang members who got into a physical altercation on the bridge that afternoon.
Using three K-9 units – from Brookfield Zoo, the Cook County Sheriff's Police and the Elmhurst Police Department – Riverside police were able to locate the fully loaded Glock 17 handgun at about 7 p.m. in a rocky, wooded area about 300 feet west of the bridge.
Police also apprehended and have charged all three men involved in the incident. Alijandro M. Mosqueda, 21 of Lockport, and Ruben Fallas Sapaula, 21, of Stickney were charged with mob action and reckless conduct.
Amir J. Johnson, 21, of Lyons, was charged with felony aggravated unlawful use of a weapon by a felon. He was convicted in connection with a 2016 auto theft case out of Oak Park. He and another man were charged with possession of the stolen vehicle by Riverside police in March 2016 in that case.
The incident on Oct. 4 began near the intersection of Joliet and Ogden avenues just after 1 p.m., according to Police Chief Thomas Weitzel.
According to Weitzel, Johnson had just purchased two clips of handgun ammunition on the street from an unidentified person near the Lyons Public Library and was riding a bicycle toward Ogden Avenue when he encountered Mosqueda and Sapaula, who were in a vehicle.
The parties knew each other, said Weitzel, and all of them are documented gang members. Weitzel said the three men were involved in a prior altercation, and when Mosqueda and Sapaula saw Johnson, they drove after him, physically confronting him on the bridge.
Police received several 911 calls from witnesses about a disturbance, believing it might be a robbery, because two men looked to be trying to steal a bicycle from the third man.
During the confrontation said Weitzel, Mosqueda and Sapaula wrestled Johnson's bike from him and threw it over the side of the bridge into the river.
Johnson reportedly responded by pulling a handgun from his backpack, pointing it at Mosqueda and Sapaula and threatening to shoot them. When the two men wouldn't back off, Johnson reportedly began running from them.
Near the intersection of Barrypoint and Fairbank, Johnson was invited into a passing vehicle, whose driver believed Johnson was the victim of a crime and was trying to get away from his attackers.
When the Good Samaritan told Johnson he'd drive him to the police station, Johnson reportedly told the driver to stop, jumped out of the car, threw the gun toward the river and then ran back east toward the bridge. Police apprehended Johnson just east of the bridge.
Another officer detained Mosqueda and Sapaula in their vehicle on Fairbank Road west of the bridge.
While looking for the handgun, police cordoned off a large section of the wooded area west of the bridge until after 7 p.m. and obtained help from the Cook County Department of Homeland Security search team, which also brought in flood lights to assist after dark.
"That area is traveled by families and kids, and we didn't want to leave the gun out there," said Weitzel, who stated that several witnesses reported that Johnson had displayed the weapon.
Police also fished out Johnson's bike from shallow water near the bridge. While the handgun has not been reported stolen, said Weitzel, Johnson reportedly admitted stealing it from another gang member, who likely did not want to report the gun stolen.
Riverside police have now enlisted the help of the federal ATF agency to trace the gun to its original owner.