The Chicago City Council Finance Committee approved payment of more than $6 million, Monday, to settle two wrongful death cases involving Chicago Police.
Aldermen expressed outrage at still more cases involving what appeared to be excessive force, or at the very least, indifference to a suspect's suffering, with at least one council member wondering why the officers had not been criminally charged.
“This is, to me, clearly not an issue of policy and training,” said 17th ward alderman David Moore. “And I will go on record saying this is purely criminal.”
The largest settlement, $4.95 million, was for the family of Philip Coleman, who died in police custody after being tased three times in a jail cell and 13 more times in a hospital emergency room, despite the fact that his family warned officers he was suffering mental episodes and should have been hospitalized.
In that incident, a police supervisor at the scene was quoted telling Coleman's father, "We don't do hospitals, we do jail."
“It could’ve been my son,” said an angry 34th ward alderman Carrie Austin, who noted that she knew Coleman’s family personally. “And for him to be treated that way? That is totally unacceptable!”
Committee Chairman Edward Burke reminded the gathering that in 2006, the City had been forced to pay over 22 million dollars to the family of a mentally ill woman who jumped from the eighth floor of the Robert Taylor Homes, shortly after being released into the neighborhood by Chicago Police. Following that incident, Burke noted, the Council established new guidelines for dealing with mentally ill suspects, which he said clearly had been disregarded in the Coleman case.
“I believe the police bureaucracy failed this young woman,” Burke said. “And I believe the police bureaucracy failed this family.”
“It’s almost like déjà vu,” he said, “an insult to our profession, to the profession of law enforcement.”
In the second case, the Finance Committee approved payment of $1.5 million to the family of Justin Cook, who died while suffering an asthma attack during arrest. Witnesses at the scene said Cook begged for his inhaler, and that one of the officers sprayed it in the air, rather than letting him use it.
"It's clear these officers may be taken into account by a higher authority," said Burke, a former police officer, who expressed shock that the officers were still on the force, with the potential "to neglect again."
After the hearing, Corporation Counsel Steve Patton expressed hope that new reforms announced last fall, aimed at reinforcing crisis training, might cut down on abuse.
“Those should over time, bring down the number of incidents we have,” said Patton. “Believe me, there’s nobody who would be happier to see fewer of these types of incidents than me!”
The Independent Police Review Authority is still investigating the Cook Case, IPRA previously investigated the Coleman case without finding any of the officers at fault. Newly appointed IPRA investigator Sharon Fairley recently announced plans to reexamine Coleman’s arrest and how it was handled..
But many aldermen wondered why more hadn't been done to discipline the officers in both incidents.
"We need to start firing some people" said Alderman Anthony Beale. "Here we are paying out millions of dollars, and nobody's being terminated!"