The Chicago City Council rejected on Wednesday a recommendation from city lawyers to pay $2 million to the family of a man who was shot and killed by a Chicago police officer after a foot chase in August 2014.
The 22-26 vote represented a rare, if not unprecedented, decision by the City Council to reject a proposed settlement after it was endorsed by the Finance Committee and the mayor.
The City Council voted to pay $6.5 million to settle three other lawsuits alleging police misconduct, including $5 million to settle a 2015 class-action lawsuit that claimed people’s civil rights were violated when Chicago police officers stopped and frisked them.
The city and its lawyers will now have to convince a jury that an officer did nothing wrong when he shot and killed Darius Cole-Garrit in 2014 after a brief foot chase or hope any award in the case is less than what their lawyers recommended paying to resolve it plus the cost of a trial.
Mayor Brandon Johnson said he was committed to ensuring that the Chicago Police Department “engaged in constitutional policing.” The Chicago Police Department is under a federal court order to reform itself after a 2017 federal investigation found officers routinely violated the rights of Black and Latino Chicagoans.
“The history of brutality in this city is well documented,” Johnson said. “And we have a long way to go.”
The lawsuit filed by Cole-Garrit’s family claimed the officers who shot him threatened him hours before they nearly ran him over and then shot him in the back as he fled.
However, Ald. Bill Conway (34th Ward), a former assistant state’s attorney, said Cole-Garrit’s autopsy showed that eight of the nine gunshots he suffered were to the front of his body, contradicting the lawsuit’s claim that officers shot him in the back.
The officers said when they approached Cole-Garrit he turned toward them pulled out a gun, and pointed it at them from a “tactical stance,” before fleeing. A gun was recovered from Cole-Garrit’s body, officials said.
The officers were investigating a tip that gang members in the area were transporting guns by bicycle, and Cole-Garrit was on a bike.
The shooting took place before officers were required to wear body-worn cameras, and before the Chicago Police Department had a policy that governed when officers were allowed to chase those suspected of committing a crime.
The shooting was reviewed by the Independent Police Review Agency, which was replaced by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability in 2017, and deemed justified.
City lawyers urged City Council members to settle the case because lawyers for Cole-Garrit’s family will call witnesses expected to testify that the officers encountered Cole-Garrit before he was shot and killed, and because there was no video of what happened.
$5M to Settle Stop-And-Frisk Lawsuit
Pedestrian and traffic stops have been a flashpoint in the half-dozen serious efforts to reform the Chicago Police Department, since they put officers in close contact with Chicagoans, often under tense circumstances.
All but $112,500 of the $5 million settlement in the stop-and-frisk case will go to pay the plaintiffs’ attorneys, officials said.
In addition, Chicago taxpayers will pay $750,000 to a man who was body-slammed by a police officer on Thanksgiving Day 2019. The incident was recorded by a passerby, and the video created a firestorm of criticism.
Bernard Kersh, whom police had stopped for drinking in a CTA bus shelter, said Officer Jerald Williams seriously injured him when he slammed him to the pavement. Kersh said the incident exacerbated an eye injury, resulted in a concussion and injured his shoulder.
In the final case, taxpayers will pay an additional $750,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a 61-year-old man who was seriously injured during a 2018 police pursuit.
The unexpected rejection of the proposed settlement in the Cole-Garrit case and the fact that the City Council has authorized spending $15.3 million to resolve police misconduct settlements since Johnson took office triggered a pointed debate among alderpeople about the massive financial toll of misconduct by Chicago Police officers at Wednesday’s meeting.
Ald. Anthony Napolitano (41st Ward) kicked off the debate by exhorting his colleagues not to just rubber stamp recommendations from the city’s lawyers to settle these cases. A former firefighter and police officer, Napolitano frequently votes not to settle police misconduct cases.
“We’ve been asking, hey, let’s see what happens when we try some of these, these cases in court,” Napolitano said. “And I can’t sit here any longer and hear that ‘put your money where your mouth’ is and ‘you pay for it’ because it is my money. It’s my tax dollars. It’s your tax dollars. It’s your constituents, tax dollars. All I’m asking for is for you to do your due diligence on both sides of everything.
Ald. Jason Ervin (28th Ward) took umbrage at Napolitano’s remarks.
“I rise to take issue with the comments from the alderman of the 41st Ward,” Ervin said. “All of us in our individual capacities have a right, the ability to sit down, go through the facts, go through the evidence and make a, make a decision. I do not believe that anyone here is acting in any way that is not in the interest of the city.”
Before Napolitano and Ervin clashed, Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th Ward) blasted Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th Ward) for objecting to the proposal to settle the lawsuit alleging officers stopped and frisked Black and Latino Chicagoans because of their race.
“I know what city I was born and raised in,” Vasquez said. “A city that every year has over $100 million of misconduct settlements. A city that has a consent decree for a reason. Because we know that if you happen to live in this city and you’re Black or brown, it’s not the same experience and we have money that we pay out every single year to show for it.”