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Family of slain Chicago police commander sues online gun dealer

The federal lawsuit alleges that a felon prohibited from owning a gun obtained one from the Armslist website and used it to kill Commander Paul Bauer


An 18th District officer holds the program for the funeral mass of slain Chicago police Cmdr. Paul Bauer at Nativity of Our Lord Roman Catholic Church in Chicago on February 17, 2017.


Annie Sweeney
Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — A federal lawsuit has been filed against the online gun dealer Armslist for facilitating the sale of a handgun that was used in the 2018 fatal shooting of on-duty Chicago police Cmdr. Paul Bauer.

The lawsuit was filed in Milwaukee federal court on behalf of the family of Bauer, who was allegedly shot and killed by a convicted felon in February 2018.

The lawsuit was filed by the Brady organization, formerly known as the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which has brought numerous other lawsuits that target the gun industry for negligence that leads to gun violence, including against Armslist.

The journey of the Glock 26 9 mm was detailed in a 2018 Chicago Tribune story that revealed how the so-called Baby Glock was passed along through both licensed and private sales until it wound up in the hands of a Wisconsin man who regularly sold guns over Armslist and, allegedly, into the hands of Shomari Legghette, a four-time felon, the lawsuit alleges.

The fact that the gun wound up in the hands of Legghette, who was prohibited from owning a gun as a convicted felon, is a result of Armslist’s practice of allowing private sellers to sell guns anonymously and without the oversight required at federally licensed dealers, including keeping sales records and doing background checks, according to the lawsuit.

“The Armslist Defendants knew or should have known their actions would foreseeably supply Prohibited Purchasers like Legghette,” the lawsuit reads. “If the Armslist Defendants had acted with reasonable care — instead of callous and willful disregard for human life — Commander Bauer would still be alive.”

The lawsuit seeks both financial damages and injunctions to force Armslist to change its practices.

Bauer, 53, had just parked his police vehicle at Clark and Lake streets when he heard a police radio description of Legghette, who had bolted away from officers who tried to detain him on nearby Lower Wacker Drive, authorities said.

Wearing body armor and carrying the Glock, which was outfitted with an extended magazine, Legghette ran to Upper Wacker toward the Thompson Center, according to the charges against him. Bauer tried to detain Legghette at the top of the Thompson Center stairs, but the two struggled.

Legghette stumbled down the stairs, and Bauer either fell or followed him down the stairs to a landing.

There, Legghette allegedly drew the Glock and fired seven shots at Bauer, striking him six times, the charges allege.

Legghette, 46, is expected to stand trial for first-degree murder later this year.

Bauer, who was married and had a daughter, was a 31-year department veteran and was commander of the Near North patrol district. He was the highest-ranking Chicago officer killed in decades.

The Tribune’s 2018 report showed that the Glock’s tragic path started in December 2011 at a small shop in south-central Wisconsin, where it was first sold.

Thomas Caldwell then bought the Baby Glock in March 2015 for about $350 from the man who had purchased it from the gun shop.

Two years later, Caldwell allegedly sold it to a Milwaukee man with ties to Chicago after they met over Armslist, according to federal authorities and the lawsuit.

Caldwell, a Vietnam War veteran diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, was sentenced to three years in prison for his illegal gun sales, which he had described as an addiction.

John Escalante, a former interim Chicago police superintendent and a childhood friend of Bauer’s, gave an emotional address at Caldwell’s sentencing, saying there needed to be accountability for the slaying of the devoted family man and cop.

“That accountability has to be on those who commit the violence and those who put the guns in the hands of people who commit the violence,” Escalante said.