Reputed gang member charged in Friday shooting of ATF agent; brother also arrested on drug charges
Reputed gang member Ernesto Godinez slipped out of his Back of the Yards home in the predawn darkness Friday and cut through a gangway about a block away from where undercover federal agents were working a gang investigation, authorities say.
Surveillance cameras captured Godinez entering an alley moments before seven shots rang out, according to federal charges unveiled Tuesday. Bullets flew down Hermitage Avenue, striking the face of an agent with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. As officers called dispatch in for backup, Godinez ran back to his house before getting into a vehicle and driving off, charges alleged.
The details of Friday’s brazen shooting were included in an eight-page criminal complaint charging Godinez, an alleged member of the Almighty Saints, with assaulting the ATF agent with a deadly weapon. He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
While surveillance footage placed Godinez near the spot where the shots were fired, the criminal complaint does not allege he was seen actually firing the gun. Also unclear was why Godinez allegedly opened fire or whether he knew he was firing at agents, who were in plainclothes while attempting to replace a court-approved tracking device on a suspect’s vehicle.
Dozens of ATF agents packed the courtroom Tuesday as Godinez, who turns 28 on Wednesday, made his initial appearance at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse. U.S. Magistrate Judge Maria Valdez ordered Godinez held in custody until a detention hearing May 17.
Hours after Godinez’s court appearance, his older brother, Rodrigo “Gordo” Godinez, was brought into the same courtroom to face charges of cocaine distribution. Prosecutors said the older brother was arrested at the family’s home at 9 p.m. Monday, about a half an hour after Ernesto had turned himself in to authorities with his lawyer.
A Chicago police alert last fall described Rodrigo Godinez, 37, as a leader in the Almighty Saints gang.
The brothers’ middle sibling, Manuel, was shot to death last December in a rifle attack just around the corner from where the agent was wounded, according to police sources.
Although the charges were brought separately, a complaint filed against Rodrigo Godinez on Tuesday revealed the ATF had been involved in an extensive probe of his alleged drug dealing for at least two months, which included using an undercover officer to record conversations, wiretapping his phone and even conducting aerial surveillance as he drove to an alleged drug stash house at 44th Street and Wolcott Avenue on March 20.
“They don’t just let (law enforcement) just f—– tap phones, you know what I’m sayin’,” Rodrigo Godinez explained to the undercover officer in a conversation recorded that day, according to the complaint. “(They) gotta provide information. … So I rotate. Every 30 days, I f—– switch up my s—.”
Federal prosecutors said they would seek to have both Ernesto and Rodrigo Godinez held without bond as a danger to the community and a risk to flee. Rodrigo Godinez is scheduled for a detention hearing Thursday.
Records show both brothers have extensive criminal histories. Ernesto Godinez was charged in 2011 with attempted murder for a shooting in the Back of the Yards, then picked up a separate charge of aggravated unlawful use of a weapon for an incident in March 2012 while he was on bond, court records show. He ended up resolving both cases in 2015 by pleading guilty to aggravated discharge of a firearm and aggravated unlawful use of a weapon and was sentenced to five years in prison. Records show he was released in early 2016 and completed his parole in January.
Godinez also has misdemeanor arrests for having contacts with reputed gang members, reckless conduct, aggravated assault, marijuana possession and criminal damage to property, but most of those charges were thrown out, according to the records.
Meanwhile, Rodrigo Godinez’s arrest record stretches back to at least 1998. He has felony convictions for marijuana possession, gun possession and another narcotics conviction — each resulting in a sentence of boot camp, records show. In a separate case, he was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison in 2012 for a conviction of marijuana and gun possession.
Ernesto Godinez appeared in court wearing dark glasses and an orange jail jumpsuit. He kept his hands clasped behind his back and nodded silently when the judge asked him if he understood the charges. The judge then instructed him to answer out loud.
As he was led from the courtroom, Godinez paused to scan the courtroom gallery as agents glared back at him.
According to the criminal complaint, various surveillance cameras in the area captured Godinez leaving his residence in the 4300 block of South Wood Street — just a few houses north and east of where agents were working — and cutting through a gangway to an alley along Hermitage.
At 3:19 a.m., police ShotSpotter sensors detected at least seven shots being fired from the alley. The agent was struck in the face as he was walking just south of the alley, according to the complaint. Another bullet was found lodged in a tree.
After the shots were fired, private security video captured Godinez running west across the alley and then south on Wood before going back into his home, according to the complaint. Four minutes later, surveillance footage showed Godinez leave his home, the complaint said, adding that he was picked up by someone driving a dark-colored vehicle and left the scene.
The ATF agent, who is in his late 20s and is part of a joint anti-gun task force with Chicago police and Illinois State Police, was the fourth law enforcement officer wounded in the past year in an area of the South Side where warring gangs have been stepping up their firepower. The Almighty Saints and La Raza, rival street gangs in that neighborhood, have used military-style rifles, though the agent was not shot with a rifle.
The agent, who suffered a wound that caused damage near one of his eyes, was taken by a law enforcement vehicle to Stroger Hospital.
A Chicago police officer returned fire but didn’t hit anyone, sources said.
The ATF agent’s shooting sparked a massive manhunt and the offer of a $66,000 reward.
At an afternoon news conference at a police station in the Bridgeport neighborhood, Chicago police Superintendent Eddie Johnson declined to answer reporters’ questions about the federal investigation or say if Godinez knew he was shooting at federal agents since they were in plainclothes.
Last week, following the agent’s shooting, Johnson had vowed the gunman would be arrested.
“We will find you,” he said then. “We will knock on every door, talk to every witness, watch every piece of video and analyze every piece of evidence. Believe me, you will not get away with this.”
Noting that four officers have been shot in a year, he added, “Do you think that escapes us? Because it doesn’t.”
In Back of the Yards, ATF agents have teamed with Chicago police to investigate gang-related rifle shootings that have become more common over the past two years. The Tribune has reported that more than 140 people were shot — 50 of them fatally — from fall 2016 to the end of 2017 by gang members wielding rifles as their use spread across the South and Southwest sides.
The area where the agent was shot has been a stronghold of the Almighty Saints gang for more than 50 years, according to law enforcement sources.
The Almighty Saints traditionally feud with La Raza, whose members are mainly concentrated farther south in Back of the Yards, the sources said. But the Saints also have been in conflict with other gangs farther west in the Brighton Park community and surrounding areas.