Aldermen are set to consider recommendations from the city’s attorneys to pay approximately $3 million to settle five lawsuits claiming Chicago police officers committed a wide range of misconduct, including during a high-speed chase that ended with the death of a 55-year-old woman.
The largest settlement — $2 million — would go to the family of Julia Lynn Callaway, who was killed in May 2018 when she was struck by a car driven by Curtis Pugh while he was being pursued by police after officers smelled marijuana coming from his car.
Pugh was convicted of offenses connected to the crash, records show.
Police pursuits — which often reach high speeds on crowded city streets — frequently end in crashes that injure not only those being sought by police but also bystanders and police officers.
The city paid $6.2 million for vehicle pursuit-related settlements in 2019, accounting for nearly one-third of the entire amount the city spent settling police misconduct cases, according to the most recent litigation report from the department.
The department changed its policy for vehicle pursuits in August 2020. That policy now requires officers to “consider the need for immediate apprehension of an eluding suspect and the requirement to protect the public from the danger created by eluding offenders” and ensures that no officer could be disciplined for terminating a pursuit.
Marked police cars must also take the lead in pursuits, and activate their lights and sirens, according to the revised policy.
Wrongful Conviction Claims
In a separate case, members of the Chicago City Council will consider a recommendation to pay $300,000 to a man who claimed he was wrongfully convicted of a 2003 murder after detectives interrogated him without reminding him of his right to remain silent and that he was entitled to an attorney.
Anthony Johnson said that while he drove the man who shot and killed Brandon Baity at Emerald Avenue and 69th Street in October 2003, he did not know he was armed or planned to kill anyone.
Found guilty at two separate trials where the testimony of the detective who Johnson said violated his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination was central to the prosecution’s case, Johnson’s conviction was overturned in 2014 and he sued the city.
In addition, city attorneys recommended a payment of $175,000 to resolve the lawsuit brought by Lavelle Taylor, who claimed he was framed for a 1996 murder committed by his brother.
Taylor accused Detective James O’Brien of fabricating evidence against him, leading to his conviction.
Between 1989 and 2002, O’Brien was accused of fabricating evidence and coercing confessions 36 times. In addition, the Illinois Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission identified O’Brien as a detective who “engaged in various acts of misconduct to concoct evidence against persons he suspected of having committed a crime.”
The suit accused the city of failing to supervise O’Brien and prevent him from violating Taylor’s rights.
Brothers Shot by Police
Members of the Chicago City Council will also weigh whether to pay $250,000 to a man shot and wounded by an on-duty Chicago Police officer at a Roseland New Year’s Eve party in 2014.
Michael Williamson sued Officer Wilfredo Ortiz, alleging that the officer used excessive force when he opened fire and struck him, his brother, Princeton Williamson, and their sister, Kierra Williamson.
To resolve the Williamson siblings’ claims against the city in a separate suit, a jury ordered the city to pay Michael Williamson, a Navy veteran who was on leave when he was wounded, $2.1 million in damages, his brother $1.65 million and their sister $1 million in 2017.
After that verdict, Michael Williamson sued Ortiz.
Police said the brothers fired a gun into the air outside a home to celebrate the new year, prompting Ortiz to investigate. Ortiz told investigators that he was in fear of his life when he fired.
Michael Williamson was charged with aggravated assault and weapons charges, but acquitted after a judge determined that police improperly obtained a statement from him while he was in the hospital recovering from his injuries and ruled that Ortiz lied about how many people were present outside the home when he opened fire, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Police Resources Challenged
In addition, the city is set to pay $250,000 to resolve a lawsuit filed by the Central Austin Neighborhood Association and the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois in 2012 that accused the city of inequitably deploying officers across the city, forcing Black and Latino Chicagoans to wait longer for help after calling 911 than white Chicagoans.
The lawsuit alleged the city’s policies violated the Illinois Civil Rights Act of 2003, which bans government actions that have an adverse racially disparate impact.
If endorsed by the Chicago City Council’s Finance Committee on Monday, all five proposed settlements would head to the full City Council for a final vote Wednesday.