Chicago to Pay $6 Million in Deaths of 2 Men After They Were Taken Into Police Custody


This city moved Monday toward paying more than $6 million in settlements to the families of two men who died after being taken into police custody, frustrating City Council members who said such cases showed the need for urgent changes to police training and discipline. 

“We come here settlement after settlement after settlement, and we never hear termination,” said Alderman Anthony A. Beale, who represents part of the South Side.

“We’re spinning our wheels here. We need to start firing some of these people.”

The estate of Philip Coleman, who was recorded being subdued with a Taser by Chicago police officers and dragged from a cell in handcuffs hours before dying at a hospital in 2012, would receive $4.95 million if the agreement is approved by the full City Council on Wednesday. The estate of Justin Cook, who died of an asthma attack after a foot pursuit led to his arrest in 2014, would receive $1.5 million. Several witnesses said the police refused to let Mr. Cook use his inhaler despite repeated pleas that he could not breathe, a city lawyer told aldermen on Monday.

In both cases, the city’s Independent Police Review Authority has an open investigation, though no officers have been fired or criminally charged.

The settlements were advanced without objection by the City Council’s Finance Committee after a lengthy hearing in which aldermen questioned Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s top lawyer and the Police Department’s chief of internal affairs.

The agreements come at a perilous financial time for the city, which is struggling to fund employee pensions and recently raised property taxes. The Better Government Association, a local watchdog group, found that since 2004 Chicago has paid more than $500 million to settle police misconduct cases.

At Monday’s hearing, Alderman Carrie M. Austin said she knew Mr. Coleman, and recalled him as “a role model to the young men in our area.” Ms. Austin criticized how the city lawyer, Stephen R. Patton, characterized Mr. Coleman’s mental health problems. She said the Police Department “had a deaf ear” when she tried to assist the family and suggested that the Colemans deserved more money than the agreed-to settlement.

“To be snuffed out — 4.9 ain’t enough for me,” Ms. Austin said. “It is absolutely not enough. But as an elected official, I have to go with that decision.”

Abuses by the Chicago police, and the large sums the city pays out to settle alleged misconduct, gained broad attention last year after the City Council approved a $5 million settlement in the death of Laquan McDonald, a black 17-year-old shot and killed by Officer Jason Van Dyke in 2014.

The McDonald settlement came months before Officer Van Dyke was charged with murder and city officials released police dashboard camera video of the shooting, setting off weeks of protests.

Since then, the Police Department has been in turmoil. Mr. Emanuel fired the police superintendent, the Justice Department opened an investigation, murders have increased and officer morale is said to have plummeted. The department is now on its second interim superintendent, Eddie Johnson, who was installed last month after Mr. Emanuel declined to hire one of the three finalists chosen by the city’s Police Board.

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Source: The New York Times | MITCH SMITH