A key city panel narrowly endorsed a proposal on Thursday to settle a lawsuit for $1.67 million filed by five people who were pulled from their car by seven Chicago Police officers during the unrest that swept the city after the police murder of George Floyd during the summer of 2020.
The Chicago City Council’s Finance Committee voted 13-7 to send the recommendation from city attorneys to the full City Council for a final vote on Wednesday.
During the raucous committee meeting, Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38th Ward) said he was convinced that the four Black women and one Black man who were pulled from their car outside the Northwest Side’s Brickyard Mall were there to loot a sporting goods store because they would not have traveled from North Lawndale to shop at the mall for party supplies and items for a baby.
That comment drew rebuke from other members of the committee.
Assistant Corporation Counsel Caroline Fronczak said the probe of the incident by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability uncovered no evidence that tied Mia Wright, Tnika Tate, Kim Woods, Ebony Wilbourn and Javon Hill to any criminal activity.
None of the people in the car fit the description of a person an officer at the time alleged had a hammer, Fronczak said. There was no hammer or stolen goods recovered in the car, she added.
The group was driving away from the mall after realizing the Target was closed because of the unrest when a swarm of officers approached the car and began using their batons to smash the car’s windows and demanded that they get out of the vehicle, causing “chaos and confusion,” Fronczak said.
None of the five people ever left their car while at the Brickyard Mall, Fronczak said.
Seven officers have been disciplined for their role in the incident by Supt. David Brown, including a recommendation that at least one officer be fired, Fronczak said.
Wright, 26, who was studying to be an emergency medical technician, was pulled from the car by her hair by an officer. An officer restrained her by kneeling on her back and neck, according to the lawsuit.
The incident was captured by several bystanders on cell phone videos and prompted widespread outrage.
The proposed settlement would pay Wright $650,000 while the other members of the group would get $243,750 each. Disorderly conduct charges filed against Wright were dropped, Fronczak said. Wright's sight was damaged as a result of the incident, according to the lawsuit.
Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th Ward) said any suggestion that Black Chicagoans cannot shop at stores outside their neighborhood was racist.
“When you are a person of color in this city you are targeted because of the color of your skin,” Hairston said.
Sposato’s statements brought a sharp response from Ald. Jason Ervin (28th Ward), who noted that there is no Target in North Lawndale where the group could shop.
“People do have the right to move about the city or move about the nation as they choose,” Ervin said.
If the city helps West Side residents build a Target, “you won't see us up at the Brickyard,” Ervin said.
Ald. Emma Mitts (37th Ward) called the entire debate “stunning,” especially during Black History Month.
The five alderpeople who joined Sposato in rejecting the proposed settlement were Alds. Raymond Lopez (15th Ward); Brian Hopkins (2nd Ward); Marty Quinn (13th Ward); Silvana Tabares (23rd Ward); Ariel Reboyras (30th Ward) and Anthony Napolitano (41st Ward).
All of the Black members of the Finance Committee who were present for Thursday’s meeting voted for the settlement, making this vote another in a series of racially polarized decisions by the Chicago City Council.
Lopez said settling this lawsuit would open “Pandora’s Box” by giving “everyone an excuse to start suing us now because of what happened that day.”
In January 2021, the city settled the first of the lawsuits that alleged police misconduct during the protests and unrest during the summer of 2020.
The city has only a 5% to 10% chance of prevailing if this lawsuit goes to trial, Fronczak said.
A probe by the city’s inspector general found that Chicago Police botched nearly every aspect of its response to the protests and unrest triggered by Floyd’s murder. A parallel probe by the team charged by a federal judge with overseeing reforms to the Chicago Police Department said it was unprepared for the protests and unrest.