This city moved Monday toward paying more than $6 million in settlements to the families of two men who died after being taken into police custody, frustrating City Council members who said such cases showed the need for urgent changes to police training and discipline.
“We come here settlement after settlement after settlement, and we never hear termination,” said Alderman Anthony A. Beale, who represents part of the South Side.
“We’re spinning our wheels here. We need to start firing some of these people.”
The estate of Philip Coleman, who was recorded being subdued with a Taser by Chicago police officers and dragged from a cell in handcuffs hours before dying at a hospital in 2012, would receive $4.95 million if the agreement is approved by the full City Council on Wednesday. The estate of Justin Cook, who died of an asthma attack after a foot pursuit led to his arrest in 2014, would receive $1.5 million. Several witnesses said the police refused to let Mr. Cook use his inhaler despite repeated pleas that he could not breathe, a city lawyer told aldermen on Monday.
In both cases, the city’s Independent Police Review Authority has an open investigation, though no officers have been fired or criminally charged.
The settlements were advanced without objection by the City Council’s Finance Committee after a lengthy hearing in which aldermen questioned Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s top lawyer and the Police Department’s chief of internal affairs.
The agreements come at a perilous financial time for the city, which isstruggling to fund employee pensions and recently raised property taxes. The Better Government Association, a local watchdog group, found that since 2004 Chicago has paid
The agreements come at a perilous financial time for the city, which is struggling to fund employee pensions and recently raised property taxes. The Better Government Association, a local watchdog group, found that since 2004 Chicago has paid more than $500 million to settle police misconduct cases.
At Monday’s hearing, Alderman Carrie M. Austin said she knew Mr. Coleman, and recalled him as “a role model to the young men in our area.” Ms. Austin criticized how the city lawyer, Stephen R. Patton, characterized Mr. Coleman’s mental health problems. She said the Police Department “had a deaf ear” when she tried to assist the family and suggested that the Colemans deserved more money than the agreed-to settlement.
“To be snuffed out — 4.9 ain’t enough for me,” Ms. Austin said. “It is absolutely not enough. But as an elected official, I have to go with that decision.”
Abuses by the Chicago police, and the large sums the city pays out to settle alleged misconduct, gained broad attention last year after the City Council approved a $5 million settlement in the death of Laquan McDonald, a black 17-year-old shot and killed by Officer Jason Van Dyke in 2014.
The McDonald settlement came months before Officer Van Dyke was charged with murder and city officials released police dashboard camera video of the shooting, setting off weeks of protests.
Since then, the Police Department has been in turmoil. Mr. Emanuel fired the police superintendent, the Justice Department opened an investigation, murders have increased and officer morale is said to have plummeted. The department is now on its second interim superintendent, Eddie Johnson, who was installed last month after Mr. Emanuel declined to hire one of the three finalists chosen by the city’s Police Board.
But there have also been changes, and city officials sought to highlight them during Monday’s hearing. More officers have received crisis-intervention training to assist the mentally ill, all patrol officers will soon carry Tasers and more than 450 body cameras were shipped to Chicago recently as the department tests those devices. Mr. Johnson, the interim superintendent, has said he plans to wear one.
Still, deaths like Mr. Coleman’s and Mr. Cook’s continue to haunt the Police Department.
In December, city officials released video of Mr. Coleman’s limp body being handled roughly and dragged, about three years after the episode and at the height of the protests over Mr. McDonald’s death. The county medical examiner ultimately ruled that an allergic reaction to a medication had caused his death, but Mr. Coleman’s lawyers contended that the repeated use of a Taser had contributed.
On Monday, Mr. Patton, the city lawyer, urged aldermen to approve the settlement, citing the “horrific video” and warning that if the case went to trial a jury might find against the city.
In the case of Mr. Cook, Mr. Patton said, two officers chased the young man after he fled a traffic stop. Officers recovered a gun after the foot chase, Mr. Patton said, and handcuffed Mr. Cook, who complained he was having an asthma attack and asked to use the inhaler in his pocket.
Mr. Patton said the two officers, who both had just completed their probationary period at the time, claimed they helped Mr. Cook use the inhaler. But Mr. Patton said that several witnesses disputed that, and that some said the officers had taunted Mr. Cook with the inhaler even as he screamed that he could not breathe. He died later in the hospital.
Alderman Edward M. Burke said the case could be “a clear violation of one’s humanity toward fellow man.”
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