Illinois police officer buys teen a gym membership after catching him trespassing

PHOTO: Skokie Police Officer Mario Valenti bought Vincent Gonzales, 15, of Chicago, a gym membership after the teen was caught trespassing. Gonzales said hed texted the officer to say thank you.Facebook
Skokie Police Officer Mario Valenti bought Vincent Gonzales, 15, of Chicago, a gym membership after the teen was caught trespassing. Gonzales said he'd texted the officer to say thank you.

When a police officer in Skokie, Illinois caught a teen trespassing at a gym's basketball court, his response "astonished" the staff there, Justin Pritchett, the operations manager at X-Sport Fitness, told ABC News.

Pritchett, 28, said he caught Vincent Gonzales, 15, of Chicago, sneaking into the facility three days in a row and gave him verbal warnings on each occasion, even going so far as to explain the liability issue of having a minor in the gym without written permission from a parent or guardian.

"I felt for the kid. He really did just want to play basketball, but it was a policy enforcement issue more than anything," Pritchett told ABC News. "I said, 'If you sneak in again, I'll have to call the cops.'"

"I even posted the picture from his expired membership at the front desk so that our staff would know to look out for him," Pritchett said. "My manager was walking a new member on a tour and he said 'Dude, that kid is here on the basketball courts again.'"

Pritchett said he finally made the call to police on August 17 to come "spook him" from trespassing again. Skokie Police Officer Mario Valenti was the one to respond.

"Officer Valenti approached him with a stern and authoritative demeanor and said, 'Hey kid, you know you can't be in here, man, grab your stuff,'" Pritchett said, adding that the teen "looked so startled, with a face like 'I've been caught.'"

Once they arrived at the front desk, Valenti asked Gonzales why he kept sneaking onto the court. The teen admitted that he just wanted to play basketball, but could not afford a membership, Pritchett said.

Valenti pulled out his personal debit card, looked at Pritchett and said, "What will 150 bucks get him?"

Valenti said that Gonzales "seemed like he was a gentle type of kid."

"After 23 years in this job, you size up people pretty quickly," Valenti told ABC7Chicago.com.

"I was just really stunned honestly and kind of astonished by the gesture that he made," Pritchett said. "He could've just walked him out, driven him home or given him a basketball, but to see [Valenti] just nonchalantly say, 'What can I do?' -- it was amazing."

Gonzales said that he'd texted Valenti to express his appreciation.

"I said, 'Thank you, that meant a lot'" he told ABC7Chicago.comaid.

"He immediately took the initiative of the helping route -- instead of doing just his job and doing the right thing, he did the better thing," Pritchett added.

Pritchett received the go-ahead from the X-Sport's human resources office to give Gonzales a two-year, all-inclusive membership, and the gym agreed to cover the remaining $718 balance for it.

"We told him he just needed to have his mother come in and sign the liability waiver before he could use the membership," Pritchett said, adding that she came in a couple days later and met with him personally.

Skokie Police Public Information Officer Eric Swaback told ABC News that Valenti was "very overwhelmed" by the positive reaction he has received for his gesture.

"The reaction to this whole case and outpour of public sentiment has been great and really appreciated," Swaback said. "Positive stories and these kinds of things happen daily, but they just don't always get reported. We don't look for notoriety. We’re just doing our jobs."

The Skokie Police Department and X-Sports said they are in the process of planning a program that would partially sponsor memberships for others in the community who do good deeds or public service.

"Through this whole thing, we accidentally created a platform for doing good. So why not help make it reach its full potential?" Pritchett said.

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