Chicago May Pay $4.9M to Family of Man Who Died in Custody

After officers used a Taser on Coleman, he was taken to a hospital, where he had a fatal reaction to an anti-psychotic drug

Chicago would pay $4.9 million under a proposed settlement of a lawsuit brought by the family of a man who died at a hospital after officers subdued him with a stun gun and dragged him from his jail cell, a city official said Monday.

Alderman Roderick Sawyer said Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office is recommending that city council members approve the proposed settlement for Philip Coleman's family and has been briefing them on the deal.

Coleman, who was black, was taken into custody in 2012 after allegedly attacking his mother. After officers used a Taser on Coleman, he was taken to a hospital, where he had a fatal reaction to an anti-psychotic drug. His family's federal lawsuit contends Coleman would still be alive if he had been taken to a hospital to begin with instead of jail.

The settlement is the latest example of wrongdoing by police officers resulting in a huge settlement with a victim or the person's family. Chicago has paid about $662 million on police misconduct since 2004, including judgments, settlements and outside legal fees, according to city records. The payouts, for everything from petty harassment to police torture, have brought more financial misery to a city already drowning in billions of dollars of pension debt.

Sawyer said he was told last week by Emanuel's office about the proposal in the Coleman case and the meetings with council members in anticipation of a formal hearing before the council's finance committee and the full council next week.

The proposed settlement follows the release in December that shows the 38-year-old Coleman in jail. In the video, six officers enter Coleman's cell, with one officer firing a stun gun at Coleman before another officer drags him from his cell by his handcuffed wrists.

The city released the video just days after it was forced to release the video of a white police officer shooting black teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times, killing him.

The lawsuit from Coleman's family was bolstered when the judge presiding over the case found that "brute force" was used unnecessarily on Coleman and that a supervisor should have intervened to stop Coleman from being dragged away. The ruling pertained only to how Coleman was dragged from his cell, not how he died, but it was widely seen as a message to the city to settle the case.

Sawyer, who chairs the council's Black Caucus, said the settlement makes sense, both because it compensates the family and because it allows the city to avoid a trial in which a jury could watch the video and award the family far more than $4.9 million.

Sawyer said he agreed with the recommendation to settle the lawsuit for $4.9 million — an amount that is just shy of the $5 million the city agreed to pay the McDonald family.

"I accept the decisions of the [city] lawyers that it would be wise to settle this case," Sawyer said.

Sawyer also hopes the officers involved in the Coleman case are disciplined. The city's Independent Police Review Authority reopened its investigation of the Coleman case amid anger over the McDonald case.

Alderman Proco Joe Moreno agreed.

"We are going to the public for dollars and the accused are still walking around collecting a paycheck," said Moreno. "I can tell you the mood during my briefing is that people were very upset about that. "

Ed Fox, an attorney representing Coleman's family, declined to comment on the proposed settlement.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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