FACT CHECK: Viral Meme Claims A Cop Shot A Teen 53 Times After He Tried To Sneak Into A Chicago Gym
An image shared on Facebook alleges that a Chicago police officer shot a teenager caught sneaking into a gym 53 times instead of arresting him.
The police officer did not shoot the teenager who snuck into a Chicago gym 53 times, but rather contributed $150 of his own money to pay for a gym membership.
The meme, which has been circulating on social media since at least last week, displays a photograph and the full name of a police officer. “Police were called to a Chicago gym after a teen kept sneaking in,” reads the caption. “Instead of arresting him, Officer Mario Valenti shot him 53 times.” (Note that the font completely changes in the last four words.)
While it does, in fact, correctly identify Valenti, then a police officer at the Skokie Police Department in Illinois, the Facebook post gets the officer’s response to catching the teenager sneaking into a Chicago gym very wrong.
A quick internet search reveals that, in August 2017, Valenti actually offered $150 out of his own pocket to buy the teenager a new gym membership – not shoot him 53 times, as the image claims. (RELATED: Was A Police Officer Assaulted Every 9 Minutes In 2016?)
Vincent Gonzales, a Chicago teenager, started sneaking into XSport Fitness to play basketball after his mother could no longer afford to pay for his membership, according to the Chicago Tribune. Gym management repeatedly warned Gonzales against sneaking in and eventually had to call the police.
“I just want to play basketball,” Gonzalez, a highly-ranked high school basketball player who hoped to go pro, said at the time, according to NBC 5 Chicago. “I’ve been sneaking in there a lot, for a long time.”
Valenti responded to the call from the fitness facility and, instead of arresting Gonzales for criminal trespassing, offered to pay for his gym membership. Then, XSport Fitness waived the remainder of a two-year membership fee for the teenager, according to the Tribune.
“After 23 years in this job, you size up people pretty quickly. And I could tell he was a gentle type of kid,” Valenti told ABC 7, the local affiliate station.
“I thought it was really nice. I texted him and I said ‘thank you.’ That meant a lot,” said Gonzales in the same interview.