Chicago nears $32M settlement in police lawsuits
CHICAGO – A Chicago City Council committee preliminarily approved settlements in two police misconduct cases Tuesday that would cost the city nearly $33 million, including $22.5 million to a California woman that apparently would be the largest to a single such plaintiff in the city's history.
The full City Council is expected to sign off on the settlements Thursday.
The bigger of the two would go to the family of Christina Eilman, who will require care for the rest of her life for severe brain injuries suffered in a 2006 fall from a 7th-floor window at a Chicago housing project where she had just been raped.
The second settlement would pay $10.25 million to Alton Logan, one victim of the city's notorious police torture scandal involving officers under former Lt. John Burge. Logan spent 26 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit, and his award would be the biggest handed out in any case to stem from the investigation into the Burge unit, which framed black murder suspects and tortured many into confessing.
The aldermen voted unanimously to approve the settlements after Alderman Edward Burke said he was "embarrassed and ashamed" that the city had put Eilman's family through a such a long legal fight, and another alderman suggested the city should have paid far more to Logan, who spent more than a quarter-century behind bars before he was released in 2008.
The alderman asked few questions before voting – perhaps because police misconduct cases have become a regular occurrence in recent years. Among other crimes, officers have been convicted of robbing suspected drug dealers of hundreds of thousands of dollars and beating a man who was handcuffed to a wheelchair. In November, a federal jury awarded $850,000 to a female bartender who was beaten by a drunken off-duty police officer, concluding police adhere to a code of silence in protecting rogue officers.
In often graphic and chilling detail, Steve Patton, the city's corporation counsel, outlined the police actions or inaction that justified settling the lawsuits for so much money.
Eilman, he said, was trying to fly back to California in May 2006 after visiting Chicago but wasn't allowed to board her flight at Midway International Airport because she was acting strangely and violently. Police took her to the airport's train stop, but her odd behavior continued, as she began disrobing, danced suggestively and verbally attacked people around her, including a blind man.
Police took her to a bus stop, but the behavior continued, so they arrested her. She continued acting strangely while in custody, babbling and even smearing menstrual blood on the holding cell's walls. Her parents in California repeatedly phoned police to tell them not to release the 21-year-old college student because she was bipolar and was clearly having a breakdown. Still, Eilman was released to fend for herself near the last standing high-rise of the Robert Taylor Homes, a notorious South Side public housing complex that since has been demolished.
Patton said Eilman ended up in a vacant apartment on the high-rise's seventh floor, where a man raped her at knife point.
"She was thrown or jumped out of a seventh-story window," Patton said. Authorities still don't know exactly what happened because the fall caused massive brain injuries, leaving her with the mental capacity of a child, according to court documents.
Eilman's case was scheduled to go to federal trial next week. Patton suggested the family's case is strong, and that a jury could have awarded her family far more money than the settlement amount.
Burke, who chairs the finance committee, said he was embarrassed by the officers' behavior and ashamed he and other members didn't order the city to settle with the family, which he said should have been allowed to focus on tending to her needs instead of being put through a protracted legal fight.
Cleary angry, he read from an opinion by a federal appellate court that decided last year to allow Eilman's lawsuit to proceed.
Police didn't so much as walk her to a train station, warn her about the dangers of the neighborhood or "even return Eilman's cellphone, which she might have used to summon aid," he read. "They might as well have released her into the lions' den at the Brookfield Zoo."
Logan's lawsuit is one of several stemming from one of the darkest chapters of the Chicago Police Department's history.
Logan was arrested in 1982 in the slaying of an off-duty Cook County corrections officer, who was shot to death at a McDonald's while working as a security guard.
Logan and another man were convicted, even though there was no physical evidence linking Logan to the crime. Logan was freed in 2008, months after two attorneys representing the other man came forward with a confession from their client, a confession the attorneys did not reveal until the other man died because they were bound to honor the attorney-client privilege.
According to Patton, there were many problems with the investigation, including there being no evidence Logan even knew his co-defendant. While there was no evidence Logan was tortured by Burge's detectives, another man gave authorities information implicating Logan after being tortured. Furthermore, Patton said Burge has admitted he believed Logan was innocent. Burge has been convicted of lying under oath by testifying in another case that he never witnessed or participated in the torture of suspects.
Alderman Ray Suarez suggested the city was getting off easy with a settlement that, after attorneys' fees, will pay Logan less than $8.75 million.
"He spent $26 years in jail [and] I think $8 million is really not enough," Suarez said.
But Logan himself said the money will "bring a measure of happiness because it will allow me to live in a comfortable manner." Besides, he said at a news conference at his attorney's office Tuesday afternoon, his eyes welling with tears, "Nothing, no amount of money will ever make up for the time I lost. ... I lost everything."