Family of unarmed man fatally shot in face by cop gets $3 million
By Fran Spielman City Hall Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org
The Daley administration has agreed to pay $3 million to the family of a 23-year-old unarmed man gunned down by Chicago Police in a 2003 shooting captured by a CTA surveillance camera.
If not for the video, widely viewed on YouTube, City Hall and police officer Alvin Weems might never have admitted that the shooting of Michael Pleasance at the CTA Red Line’s 95th Street station was not justified.
At the time, Weems was trying to break up a fight in which Pleasance was a mere bystander.
The Police Department initially maintained that the victim struggled with Weems for the officer’s gun. Only after the victim’s family sued and a judge ordered the CTA video released did the city and the officer change their stories.
The video shows Weems, dressed in plainclothes, arriving at the L platform with his gun drawn. The officer pulls a young man out of the fight as Pleasance stands off to the side pointing and apparently trying to talk to the officer. The video then shows Weems raising his gun and shooting Pleasance in the face.
The settlement, expected to be approved today by the City Council’s Finance Committee, pales by comparison to the $12.5 million that a jury awarded to the victim’s mother Pamela Pleasance in December 2007.
But that award, one of the largest in Chicago history to stem from a police shooting, was subsequently overturned by the Illinois Appellate Court. The appeals court ruled that the trial jury had been prejudiced by repeated use of the term “willful and wanton” to describe the officer’s conduct.
Allen Schwartz, an attorney representing Pamela Pleasance, noted that the $3 million settlement mirrors the amount recommended by the trial judge. If the city had offered that amount, the mother’s legal ordeal would have been averted, he said.
“At the time this happened, she was a nursing home administrator in Hickory Hills. After it happened, she couldn’t go back to work. She couldn’t function. She’s had some health issues. She wants it over,” Schwartz said.
“His mother said from the beginning there was no way her son would ever try to grab a gun from a police officer — and he didn’t. But the only reason they admitted responsibility was the whole thing was captured on videotape. It was an unprovoked shooting. Michael was standing there holding his friend’s jacket and got shot in the face.”
Law Department spokesperson Jennifer Hoyle refused comment on the settlement.
The Office of Professional Standards — now called the Independent Police Review Authority — initially recommended that Weems be fired. Then-Police Supt. Phil Cline reduced the penalty to a 30-day suspension, then promoted Weems to the rank of detective.