Chicago taxpayers paid $142.8 million to resolve lawsuits that named 141 Chicago police officers whose alleged misconduct led more than once to payouts between 2019 and 2022, according to an analysis of city data by WTTW News.
In all, the city spent $295 million to resolve lawsuits alleging more than 1,000 Chicago police officers committed a wide range of misconduct — including false arrest and excessive force — in 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022, according to WTTW News’ analysis. Through the end of November, the city spent $62.3 million in 2023 to resolve police misconduct lawsuits.
Cases that involved at least one officer with repeated claims of misconduct accounted for 60% of the cost borne by taxpayers to resolve police misconduct cases between 2019 and 2022, according to the analysis.
In 2022 alone, the city spent $51.5 million to resolve lawsuits that named officers whose alleged misconduct more than once cost Chicago taxpayers money. The total for all officers in was 2022 nearly as much as the city spent to resolve lawsuits naming officers more than once between 2019 and 2020, according to the data.
A spokesperson for the Chicago Department of Law, led by Corporation Counsel Mary Richardson Lowry, said a new legal case management system designed to provide officials with “better data and analysis” remains scheduled to launch in March.
WTTW News’ analysis is the second annual examination of data published by the Chicago Law Department in annual litigation reports, which are required by the consent decree, the federal court order designed to compel the Chicago Police Department to change the way it trains, supervises and disciplines officers.
The consent decree was signed nearly five years ago, and CPD has fully complied with approximately 6% of its requirements.
The reports reviewed by WTTW News did not contain the full names of all officers, which were pulled from federal and state case documents and compared against a record of officers’ badge numbers, which sometimes accompany civil suits. In some cases, it was not possible to identify the officers involved.
The reports are “an effort to inform the public about lawsuits against the city involving allegations of civil rights violations or injuries due to a vehicle pursuit involving a CPD officer,” according to the consent decree, which took effect in March 2019 after a federal investigation found officers routinely violated the civil rights of Black and Latino Chicagoans.
The 2022 annual litigation report was published online in November by the Law Department without any notice to the public or the City Council, which has never held a hearing about the data.
The four annual reports are the most comprehensive source about police misconduct lawsuits, and the only official source that links individual officers to specific cases.
Calls by Inspector General Deborah Witzburg for Chicago officials to systematically track the number of settled lawsuits and their costs have fallen on deaf ears.
The lack of that data makes it impossible for police brass to effectively manage the risk posed by the way the Chicago Police Department operates, Witzburg said.
None of the Chicago police officers whose alleged misconduct led to more than one jury verdict or settlement have been disciplined, retrained or offered counseling in an effort to prevent additional incidents.
In 2017, the Department of Justice urged city officials to “review settlements and judgments on a broader scale to spot for trends, identify officers most frequently sued, and determine ways to reduce both the cost of the cases and the underlying officer misconduct.”
There is no evidence city officials heeded that warning at any point in the six and a half years since then President Barack Obama’s Department of Justice released its probe of the Chicago Police Department triggered by the police murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in October 2014.
The $295 million the city paid to resolve more than 500 cases between 2019 and 2022 includes the costs of judgements, including punitive damages, as well as settlements, plus lawyer fees, according to WTTW News’ analysis. Former Mayors Rahm Emanuel and Lori Lightfoot led during the period analyzed by WTTW News.
Two officers who were the subject of 10 or more cases that led to payouts between 2019 and 2022 were former Officer David Salgado and former Sgt. Xaiver Elizondo. Both were found guilty in 2019 on charges of conspiracy and obstructing justice in their roles as tactical officers.
Multiple misconduct cases for officers were marked with a note from COPA, “This case involves convicted accused Elizondo and his team. THERE ARE STILL ACTIVE ACCUSED MEMBERS.”
Officer Rocco Pruger, who earns $125,580 annually and is a detective, was named in six lawsuits in the past four years, according to the analysis. He worked alongside Salgado and Elizondo and testified in 2016 that he found heroin when he searched Elgin Jordan, a 46-year-old Black man.
Jordan was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison and served nearly two and a half years before being paroled.
Jordan’s conviction was overturned in 2019, and he was granted a new trial. A few months later, the charges against Jordan were tossed out after Salgado and Elizondo were convicted.
Jordan sued the city of Chicago and settled for $100,000 in 2020. That means Jordan’s case never came before the Chicago City Council, which only reviews proposed settlements of more than $100,000, a key method of oversight.
Jordan was granted a certificate of innocence in December 2022, and won $109,682 in state compensation in August.
In all, lawsuits that named Pruger cost Chicago taxpayers $260,000, according to the analysis.
Pruger did not respond to an email from WTTW News seeking a response.
A spokesperson for Mayor Brandon Johnson declined to answer a question from WTTW News about why Pruger remains a Chicago Police officer in good standing given his extensive, and costly, record of misconduct.
Pruger has been a Chicago Police officer since 2005 and has faced 43 misconduct complaints, according to records obtained by WTTW News. That is more than nearly every other active member of the Chicago Police Department.
Just one of those complaints was sustained, a December 2009 complaint that alleged he neglected his duty.
In addition, Pruger has used force against a Chicagoan 33 times during his more than 18-year career, more than 99.1% of all officers, according to the Citizens Police Data Project.
Six officers were named in five lawsuits, while 14 officers were named in four lawsuits that led to either a settlement or verdict, according to WTTW News’ analysis.
Four officers were named in three lawsuits that led to a payment by Chicago taxpayers, and 141 were named in at least two lawsuits resolved with a payment, according to the analysis.
Failure to Establish Early Warning System
The consent decree requires the Chicago Police Department to develop an early warning system to flag officers who were named in lawsuits alleging police misconduct.
A system custom-designed by the University of Chicago Crime Lab could have been rolled out citywide in May 2021 — but has yet to be fully implemented.
A CPD spokesperson said the early warning system “remains in the pilot phase” and did not answer questions about when, or if, it would be rolled out citywide.
University of Chicago Crime and Education Lab Executive Director Roseanna Ander has told WTTW News there is a clear need for a system that flags officers with multiple complaints and lawsuits to prevent incidents that make it impossible to restore the public’s trust in the beleaguered Police Department, which has faced decades of scandals, misconduct and brutality.
If the city does not implement an early warning system that passes muster with the federal court, it could face sanctions and additional layers of oversight, under the terms of the consent decree.
A spokesperson for Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul said he strongly supports the creation of an early warning system to prevent misconduct by officers as required by the consent decree his office is in charge of helping to enforce.
“An effective and well-utilized intervention system is essential for meaningful officer support and proactive reform,” the statement from Raoul said. “Achieving this will require collaboration, transparency and a sense of urgency.”