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City to pay $1.3 million to family of cook who died in police custody

Updated: September 7, 2011 9:02PM

Chicago taxpayers will spend $1.3 million to compensate the family of an unemployed cook who died in police custody after swallowing several packets of heroin during a chase, under a settlement advanced by a City Council committee Wednesday.

John Coleman Jr. allegedly ingested the drugs while being chased by Chicago Police at 2:30 a.m. on July 11, 2010 at 104 W. Division near Cabrini Green.

When police caught up with Coleman, they allegedly beat and tased him before handcuffing the 40-year-old suspect and placing him in the back seat of a police SUV, according to John Winters, an attorney representing the Coleman family.

Five officers were involved in apprehending Coleman, according to Winters, who said he has 911 tapes of witnesses who called to report the alleged beating. A second 911 call was placed by two women who claimed they were accosted by police officers who accused the women of using their cell phones to take video of the alleged Coleman beating.

Winters argued that police procedure requires officers who tase a suspect to immediately transport that prisoner to a hospital. That was particularly true for Coleman, whom the officers had verbally accused of ingesting drugs.

Instead, the officers slowly drove to the 18th District station while Coleman slumped over in the backseat. Winters said cameras in the police SUV show officers did not follow proper procedure.

“When they initially placed him in the back of the SUV, you could hear them yelling about swallowing the contraband. … They were accusing him of doing that. At that point, they had an obligation to take him to a hospital, which they did not do,” Winters said.

“John Coleman is in trouble. He’s gasping for breath and falls down in the backseat. He is clearly down for a few minutes. Then the car pulls over. After 30 seconds, the back door opens up. Coleman’s body slides out onto the curb area and two police officers are standing there. One officer takes his foot and pushes him back into the car and closes the door. They drive to the 18th District.”

When the SUV arrived at the station, officers allegedly opened the door, prompting Coleman’s body to slide out onto the cement drive. A police officer can be seen putting on black gloves, grabbing the suspect’s upper torso and yanking him out of the car before summoning an ambulance. When paramedics arrive, they use forceps to remove two or three packets of heroin.

The cause of death was listed as cocaine opiate intoxication.

“When they filled out the reports, they said when John Coleman exited the vehicle, he suffered a sudden seizure event. They made it sound like he walked out on his own. Nothing could be further from the truth,” Winters said.

First Deputy Corporation Counsel Leslie Darling acknowledged that the case was being settled, in large part, because of the powerful video.

“Based on the evidence in the video and that the officers were aware that he was in distress, this plaintiff would be very sympathetic and a jury verdict could far exceed the settlement,” Darling told aldermen.

“Jury verdicts of up to $5 million have been awarded in similar cases of denial of medical care.”

Finance Committee Chairman Edward M. Burke (14th) demanded to know why the Independent Police Review Authority was still investigating the case, long after the two officers in the SUV were relieved of their police powers.

“How complicated could this really be?” Burke said. “The city is losing the services of the police officers. They’re sitting taking call backs. And the police officers don’t have the ability to get on with their lives. Does this make any sense?”

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