Death Classification: Line of Duty Death
Agency: Chicago Police Department
Served: 25 years, 11 months, 6 days
Unit of Assignment / Detail: Bureau of Investigative Services - Detective Division (DD): Unit 620 - Area 2 Detectives
District of Incident (Present Day): 001 - Central
Cause of Death: Gunfire - Enemy
Age at Time of Death: 53
Date of Birth: 21 Oct 1955
Date of Appointment: 29 Nov 1982
Date of Incident: 001 - Central
End of Watch: 04 Nov 2008
Date of Interment: 10 Nov 2008
Cemetery: Beverly Cemetery - Blue Island, Illinois
Grave Location: Unknown
Interment Disposition: Burial
Superintendent’s Honored Star Case: Panel # D-9
Gold Star Families Memorial Wall: Panel # 21
Illinois Police Officers Memorial Wall: Panel # 5, Line 13
National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Wall: Panel # 44-E: 26
Officer Down Memorial Page: Listed
Military Service: Unknown
Incident & Biographic Details
Detective Joseph M. Airhart, Jr., Star #20931, aged 53 years, was a 19 year, 11 month, 6 day veteran of the Chicago Police Department, assigned to the Bureau of Investigative Services – Detective Division: Unit 620 – Area 2 Detectives, detailed to the Bureau of Investigative Services – Detective Division: Unit 606 – Central Investigations Detail.
On August 28, 2001, at 10:05 a.m., Task Force Officer Detective Airhart, member of the FBI Bank Robbery Task Force, was leading a joint party of Chicago Police Officers and FBI agents into a South Loop apartment. Located at 1307 South Wabash Avenue they were there to arrest Daniel E. Salley, age 41, a former tax preparer turned bank robber, the prime suspect in two successive armed robberies of a South Side bank.
The incident occurred in apartment #301. Detective Airhart attempted to gain entry through a ruse. He knocked on Salley’s door and said he was a neighbor from apartment #307 and that some of Salley’s mail had been delivered to him. Salley said he did not want it and to throw it out, then the apartment door opened and Detective Airhart waived his hand signaling the other agents to approach. Salley, saw what was going on and attempted to shut the door but Detective Airhart pressed his shoulder to the door forcing his way in. As the team entered Salley’s apartment he fled into the apartment’s back room and opened fire, striking Detective Airhart. Salley shot Airhart in the head, shattering the left side of his skull and penetrating his brain. For the next two hours, Salley held hostage and used Airhart as leverage with law enforcement, denying him crucial medical aid. In the exchange of gunfire Salley was shot six times, four times in the left leg and two times in the chest. Salley eventually surrendered, was taken into custody and transported to Cook County Hospital by CFD Ambulance #41. During the ride to the hospital, Salley admitted to Detective John Pellegrini, beat 5438, that he shot Detective Airhart because he knew he was a police officer. He also stated that he was interfering with his “bank robbing business.“ Detective Airhart was rushed to Northwestern Memorial Hospital by CFD Ambulance #28.
Detective Airhart remained in a coma for two months, but never fully recovered. He was unable to speak, walk or swallow food as a result of injuries he sustained seven years earlier. Airhart’s eventual death was caused by bronchopneumonia, which was linked to the bullet wound he sustained in the shooting. He succumbed to his wounds at 1:00 p.m. on November 4, 2008.
Prior to Detective Airhart’s death, the suspect, Daniel Salley, had been sentenced to life in prison plus 132 years on 14 other counts, including the attempted murder of Detective Airhart. A judge declared him incompetent to stand trial in 2003, but medical experts eventually ruled Salley was fit. Disdaining three court appointed attorneys, Salley represented himself as he had done throughout almost 5 years of legal proceedings. Attorney Richard Kling was allowed to act as his standby attorney, though the two did not consult, and Kling rarely spoke. He admitted the bank robberies, but said he didn’t consider them criminal acts. Salley was eventually found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.
Detective Airhart was waked at Cage Memorial Chapel located at 7651 South Jeffery Boulevard. His funeral mass was held at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel located at 5850 South Woodlawn Avenue. He was laid to rest on November 10, 2008 in Beverly Cemetery, 12000 South Kedzie Avenue, Blue Island, Illinois.
Detective Joseph M. Airhart, Jr., born October 21, 1955, received his Probationary Appointment to the Chicago Police Department on November 29, 1982 and was issued Star #6460. On December 4, 1998, he was promoted to Detective and issued Star #20931. He earned 1 Superintendent’s Award of Valor, 1 Hundred Club of Cook County Medal of Valor, 1 Police Blue Star Award, 2 Unit Meritorious Performance Awards, 12 Department Commendations, 83 Honorable Mentions, the 2008 Hero Award, 1 State Crime Commission Officer of the Year Award, 1 FBI Star, 1 FBI Medal of Valor and 8 Complimentary Letters during his career.
Detective Airhart was a member of the Fraternal Order of Police. He was survived by his daughter, Melissa; parents: Clemmie Faye (nee Surratt) and Joseph M.; siblings: Debra, Denise and Zeddie.
Incident Recorded Under Chicago Police Department RD #G514099 and HP665338.