CHICAGO (CBS) — A Cook County judge has allowed a Chicago police officer charged with the murder of an unarmed man to go free on electronic monitoring.

Lowell Houser, 57, has been charged with first-degree murder in the off-duty shooting of 37-year-old Jose Nieves during a confrontation in the Hermosa neighborhood earlier this month.

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At Houser’s bond hearing Thursday afternoon, Cook County Judge Donald Panarese Jr. issued a $150,000 recognizance bond, and ordered him placed on electronic monitoring.

Defense attorney Will Fahey told the judge Houser acted in self-defense and that Nieves “made an action as if he was reaching for a gun.”

He said Houser has been receiving treatment for cancer – one reason the judge may have allowed the defendant to put on electronic home monitoring, CBS 2 Legal Analyst Irv Miller says.

“We completely disagree with their position,” Nieves family attorney Andrew Stroth says of the defense claims. “We think this was an officer, operating within his police powers, that used excessive and unreasonable force,to kill Jose Nieves.”

Authorities have said Houser got into a verbal argument with Nieves on Jan. 2 in the 2500 block of North Lowell. The confrontation escalated and Houser shot Nieves. Nieves’ sister, Angelica, has said her brother was moving furniture with his girlfriend at the time.

Police have said Nieves did not have a weapon. Houser was stripped of his police powers a day after the shooting.

Jose Nieves (Credit: Facebook)

Jose Nieves (Credit: Facebook)

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Nieves’ family has filed a federal lawsuit against the city and Houser. The lawsuit does not offer details of the fatal shooting, but alleges “Houser illegally detained and threatened to arrest and physically harm” Nieves on the morning of the shooting.

“Without cause or provocation, Defendant Officer Lowell Houser shot Jose Angel Felipe Nieves to death,” the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit also alleges the Chicago Police Department was warned Houser “had illegally detained and threatened to arrest and physically harm” Nieves on one or more occasion before the shooting.

“The family is seeking fundamental and transformative change within the Chicago Police Department. Their son, their brother was killed for no reason by a man who was operating with his police powers.”

Angelica Nieves said Houser had pulled a gun on her brother in the past.

A Chicago police department spokesperson told CBS 2 that police were called to Jose Nieves’ home on Dec. 11 for an alleged assault he was committing. At the time, Nieves told police that a man who identified himself as a Chicago police officer pointed a gun at him. Internal Affairs was trying to determine if that officer was the same one who fatally shot Nieves. A department spokesperson could not say if Nieves had been charged with a crime after that December police call.

Nieves’ family members also believe the confrontation might have had something to do with one of the officer’s family members, but police said they could not confirm that.

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According to the Chicago Tribune, Houser has been the focus of 20 disciplinary investigations since the 1990s.