‘Embarrassed’ aldermen OK almost $33 million in police misconduct settlements
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporterfirstname.lastname@example.org January 15, 2013 12:13PM
Updated: February 17, 2013 6:23AM
With Chicago’s most powerful alderman describing himself as “embarrassed and ashamed,” the City Council’s Finance Committee agreed Tuesday to shell out nearly $33 million to settle two cases of police misconduct that gave the Chicago Police Department another “black eye.”
The largest of the two settlements — $22.5 million — will go to Christina Eilman, a mentally-ill California woman who was arrested at Midway Airport in 2006, held overnight in a South Side lock-up, then released in a high-crime neighborhood, where she was kidnapped and sexually assaulted before falling or being pushed from the seventh-floor window of CHA high-rise.
The remaining $10.25 million goes to Alton Logan, who spent 26 years in prison for a murder he did not commit because of an alleged cover-up engineered by now-convicted former Area 2 Cmdr. Jon Burge.
The city is insured only against catastrophic claims exceeding $15 million. That means $7.5 million of the Eilman settlement will be covered by insurance. The rest will come from funds set aside in the city budget to settle claims against the city. Three more cases now in settlement talks could result in multimillion dollar payouts.
“We’re gonna continue to have ugly cases, but we’ll just have fewer of them,” said Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton, referring to a backlog of unresolved police misconduct cases left behind by former Mayor Richard M. Daley.
The $22.5 million Eilman settlement is believed to be the largest in Chicago history to a single plaintiff.
Patton justified it by painstakingly describing the Police Department’s cavalier treatment of a then-21-year-old woman who had exhibited bizarre and clearly disturbed behavior over a two-day period at Midway, at a bus stop, at the Chicago Lawn station and at the Wentworth District lock-up.
He further disclosed that Eilman’s parents placed at least nine phone calls to the Wentworth District warning officers that their daughter was bipolar, that she might be “having an episode,” and that she was unfamiliar with Chicago and should not be released in a strange neighborhood.
The fall from the seventh-floor window of the last remaining high-rise at Robert Taylor Homes left Eilman with devastating brain injuries and several broken bones, including a shattered pelvis. She now requires around-the-clock care.
“Our police officers don’t run a limousine service. But, there is a law that says you can’t put someone in a worse situation than the one you found them in,” Patton said, noting that the Police Department has dramatically changed the way it handles mentally disturbed arrestees.
Finance Committee Chairman Edward M. Burke (14th) responded to the facts of the Eilman case with disgust.
“I’m both embarrassed and ashamed. I’m embarrassed that a poor girl like this would have been so callously treated by members of the Chicago Police Department,” Burke said.
“I’m ashamed that, even though I’ve raised this case with the corporation counsel and his predecessors perhaps 15 times, we didn’t do what we did in the Ryan Harris case and offer an order directing the Law Department to settle this case. It’s gone on much too long.”
Burke suggested that whatever changes the Police Department has made in the way it handles mentally ill patients be written into the municipal code, as he proposed to no avail in 2006 and 2007.
“Maybe we could call it the Eilman ordinance by way of apology to these parents,” the chairman said.
Ald. Richard Mell (33rd) countered, “If we had settled this case immediately, we would have paid $100 million. They didn’t want to budge until quite a ways down” the road.
Calling the case a “tragedy” for Eilman and a “black eye” for the Police Department, Mell said, “It’s unfortunate this family didn’t have somebody in Chicago they could have called to run down to the police station. If it was my child and I knew my child was of that mental state, I would have done everything I possibly could to get somebody to run down to the station. My poor daughter was arrested at a gay rally and I ran down to the station.”
Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) agreed that the police officers who released Eilman and failed to get her the psychiatric evaluation she needed were guilty of “atrocious behavior.”
Four detention aides and nine police officers had allegations sustained against them for failure to properly care for Eilman. All but one got off with a reprimand, according to Law Department spokesman Roderick Drew.
“We couldn’t find a disciplinary recommendation for the one remaining officer, but we have no reason to believe that the officer wasn’t given the same discipline: a reprimand,” Drew said.
Dowell, though, took issue with a federal appeals court ruling that said police “might as well have released her into the lions’ den at Brookfield Zoo” when they allowed the young woman dressed in short shorts and a cut-off top to leave without assistance in the high-crime neighborhood.
“Comparing a community to animals is inappropriate. There has to be another way to say that,” Dowell said.
Patton acknowledged that the Logan case represents another “dark chapter” in the history of the Chicago Police Department that “undermined the level of trust” between citizens and police, particularly in the African-American community.
But, he said, “These events occurred 25 or more years ago. Mr. Burge was fired 19 years ago. He now sits in a federal penitentiary. Every one of these defendants was either terminated, retired or died years ago. It is time to put this behind us — and we are trying diligently. ... With this settlement, we will have resolved five of the eight cases we inherited. We have four more to go. One was filed on our watch.”
Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) pressed the point with Patton.
“How confident are you that those practices are gone because Burge is gone?” he said.
The corporation counsel replied, “I’m very confident that the kind of egregious behavior — torture, forced confession — that extraordinary and effective steps have been taken to prevent that sad saga from repeating itself. But, we have to be very diligent for the next type of misconduct, for the next type of practice that could lead to exposure.”
The uninsured portion of the two settlements will eat up all but $2 million of the $27.3 million that Mayor Rahm Emanuel set aside to settle judgements and claims against the city for all of 2013.
The city plans to borrow money to pay excess claims, just as it did to pay nearly $80 million owed to black candidates bypassed by the city’s discriminatory handling of a 1995 firefighters entrance exam.