Chicago taxpayers will pay $8.8 million to settle three lawsuits claiming Chicago police officers committed a wide range of misconduct.
In all, the payments approved Wednesday are equivalent to approximately 11% of the city’s annual $82 million budget to cover the cost of police misconduct lawsuits.
The Chicago City Council voted unanimously to pay $7.25 million to Arthur Brown, who spent almost three decades in prison after being convicted of arson and a double murder before being exonerated. He was released in 2017 after a judge overturned his conviction, prompting Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx to drop the charges against him.
In 2018, a Cook County judge granted Brown a certificate of innocence.
Brown said he confessed to setting the fire that spread to a nearby restaurant after being choked by a detective and chained to the wall for five hours. No physical or forensic evidence was ever presented in court to bolster Brown’s confession, according to court records.
Brown, who was 37 when he was wrongfully convicted and is now 72, also sued Cook County, claiming that he was convicted, in part, because prosecutors lied to the jury. The Cook County Board of Supervisors is expected to settle that lawsuit for an additional $7.25 million.
But it was city lawyers’ recommendation that the city pay $1 million to the mother of a man who was fatally shot in May 2019 by a Chicago police officer who turned off his body-worn camera after a foot chase that kicked off a fierce debate in City Hall on Wednesday.
Sharell Brown, 26, was shot and killed during a confrontation with police officers who stopped him in Lawndale. Brown was shot four times in the head and twice in his right arm, according to the investigation of the incident by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, known as COPA.
Arthur Brown and Sharell Brown were not related.
The City Council voted 35-15 to approve that settlement, which stalled in January, one month before all 50 members of the City Council and the mayor faced voters.
Ald. Bill Conway (34th Ward) and Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd Ward) said they had no choice but to approve the settlement because Officer Joseph Lisciandrello turned off his body-worn camera before firing nine times at Brown, killing him.
Lisciandrello told investigators Brown pointed a pistol at him before he opened fire in two separate volleys, according to the probe conducted by COPA, which concluded that Lisciandrello “improperly deactivated and/or failed to properly re-activate his (body-worn camera)” during the incident.
COPA recommended that Lisciandrello be suspended for a minimum of 180 days or terminated. Lisciandrello remains a member of the Chicago Police Department, according to the city’s data portal.
However, Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38th Ward), a former firefighter who is one of the staunchest defenders of Chicago Police officers, said he would not vote for the settlement.
“This guy wasn’t a choir boy,” Sposato said, noting Sherell Brown’s criminal record. “He was a bad dude.”
Sposato’s remarks prompted a rebuke from Ald. Julia Ramirez (12th Ward).
“We should not justify killing people because of their criminal history,” Ramirez said.
Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th Ward) said settlements like the one for Brown’s family are fueling crime and violence on the South and West sides by “rewarding criminals.”
That brought a pointed rebuttal from Ald. Jason Ervin (28th Ward), the chair of the City Council’s Budget Committee.
“At the end of the day, all we want is constitutional policing,” Ervin said, adding that it does not matter what someone has done in the past — and that the city settles these suits to avoid paying significantly more after an expensive trial and jury verdict.
“It is easy to roll the dice when it is not your money,” Ervin said.
Mayor Brandon Johnson told reporters after the meeting that Chicago must repair the damage Chicago’s history of police misconduct has called.
“We still have a ways to go in order to ensure that blackness is not criminalized and or brutalized,” Johnson said.
In other action, the City Council also agreed to pay $550,000 to resolve a lawsuit brought by Joshua Habasek-Bonelli, who sued the city after he was tased by a Chicago Police officer later charged with felony battery and official misconduct.
Habasek-Bonelli was unarmed when he was confronted by Officer Marco Simonetti in August 2021 outside his Northwest Side home. Habasek-Bonelli was hospitalized and treated for trauma to his head and face, including a nasal fracture and lacerations that required stitches, according to officials.
Representatives of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office said the criminal case against Simonetti, who was stripped of his police powers after being charged in October, is pending. Simonetti is due back in court in July, officials said.