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City to pay $22.5 million to bipolar woman released in high-crime area

Exterior Wentworth District headquarters 5101 S. Wentworth where ChristinEilman was held later released. Phoby Brian Jackson/Sun-Times Media

Exterior of Wentworth District headquarters, 5101 S. Wentworth, where Christina Eilman was held and later released. Photo by Brian Jackson/Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 16, 2013 6:16AM

Chicago taxpayers will spend $22.5 million to compensate a mentally-ill California woman who was arrested and held overnight, then released in a high-crime neighborhood, where she was kidnapped and sexually assaulted before falling from a seventh-floor window of a CHA high-rise.

The settlement to Christina Eilman, now 27, is one of the largest to a single plaintiff in Chicago history — and $4.5 million more than the $18 million paid to the family of LaTanya Haggerty, one of two unarmed civilians shot to death by Chicago Police in 1999 after high-speed chases during the same summer weekend.

The $22.5 million settlement is on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting of the City Council’s Finance Committee, which must approve the payment.

A former UCLA student, Eilman was arrested in May 2006 after allegedly creating a disturbance at Midway Airport. At the time, she was suffering from a bi-polar breakdown.

She was taken to the Wentworth District police station, 5101 S. Wentworth, where she was held overnight and continued to behave erratically.

The following day, despite frantic calls from her parents, Eilman was released without assistance or instruction into a high-crime neighborhood while dressed in short shorts and a cut-off top.

She was subsequently lured into the last remaining high-rise at the Robert Taylor homes, where she was sexually assaulted before falling from a seventh-floor window.

Eilman suffered a devastating brain injury and several broken bones, including a shattered pelvis. She now requires around-the-clock care and lives with her parents in California.

City attorneys had initially argued that Chicago Police officers were not responsible for Eilman’s injuries and that the then-21-year-old woman seemed cogent when a police sergeant interviewed her after her arrest.

But that was before several other police officers gave sworn depositions in the case saying they saw signs of the young woman’s mental illness.

The other officers also acknowledged under oath that a supervisor had ordered arresting officers to take Eilman to a hospital for psychiatric evaluation, but that there was no vehicle available for the transport.

An even more devastating blow to the city’s case came last spring.

That’s when a federal appeals court rejected the city’s attempt to dismiss the case and said police “might as well have released her into the lions’ den at Brookfield Zoo” when they ignored frantic calls from Eilman’s parents and allowed the young woman to leave without assistance in the high-crime neighborhood.

Six months later Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration asked a federal judge to explore the possibility of settling the case amid demands from the Eilman family for as much as $100 million.

Lori Lightfoot, a finalist to replace retired U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, was subsequently added to the city’s legal team.

A former federal prosecutor, Lightfoot once ran the Office of Professional Standards (OPS), now known as the Independent Police Review Authority, which investigates police brutality and other wrongdoing.

In the federal appeals court ruling that turned about to be the death knell of the city’s case, Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook did not mince his words in talking about the cavalier disregard that Chicago Police officers exhibited for Eilman’s safety before her release.

“She was lost, unable to appreciate her danger and dressed in a manner to attract attention,” Easterbrook wrote last spring.

“She is white and well-off while the local population is predominantly black and not affluent, causing her to stand out as a person unfamiliar with the environment and, thus, a potential target for crime.”

Eilman’s parents, Rick and Kathleen Paine, have argued that the injuries their daughter suffered during the fall made her bipolar disorder even worse. They have further maintained that, since their daughter is not insured, she relies on state aid to bankroll the formidable cost of her medical care.

Jeffrey Singer, an attorney representing Eilman, refused to confirm or deny that a settlement has been reached.

“I’m not at liberty to talk about the case,” Singer said. “We have a trial date set for Jan. 22. We’re not supposed to talk about the case until then. We don’t want to ruin the prospect of having a jury hear the evidence. If the case settles, that will be something disclosed to the media.”

Lightfoot and Deputy Corporation Counsel Matthew Hurd could not be reached for comment.

The item listed on the Finance Committee agenda names Chicago Police Sergeant David Berglind, Police Officers Teresa Williams and Pamela Smith and Detention Aides Sharon Stokes, Cynthia Hudson and Catonia Quinn as defendants in the lawsuit filed by Eilman’s parents.

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