City Prepares to Pay $33 Million in Police Misconduct Cases
CITY HALL — Aldermen admitting to being "embarrassed and ashamed" cleared the way Tuesday for the city to pay $32.75 million to settle two cases involving police misconduct.
"Both of the cases we have in front of us today are embarrassing," said Ald. Willie Cochran (20th), a former Chicago policeman.
The Committee on Finance approved a $10.25 million payout to Alton Logan, who served 26 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of a 1982 murder following an investigation led by the notorious Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge.
Yet aldermen were even more abashed at the case of Christina Eilman, a 21-year-old California woman who was taken into custody in May 2006 after suffering a bipolar episode at Midway Airport. She was released the next day near the Robert Taylor Homes, where she was raped and fell from a seventh-story window.
"I'm both embarrassed and ashamed," said Ald. Edward Burke (14th), chairman of the Finance Committee and likewise a former policeman, who decried how Eilman was "callously treated by members of the Chicago Police Department."
The committee approved a $22.5 million settlement in that case. Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton said it was the largest of its kind and the largest he'd had to deal with, although it was dwarfed by the $50 million settlement the city eventually paid in the 2003 fire at the Cook County Building, 69 W. Washington St.
The full City Council is expected to endorse the settlements at its regular meeting on Thursday.
Patton left members of the committee stunned in recounting the circumstances behind the two cases.
He said Eilman, now 27, was left "severely and permanently disabled, both physically and mentally" following her attack at the Robert Taylor Homes. He said witnesses testified that "anyone could see there was something wrong with her" when she was taken into custody at Midway and that her parents called the Wentworth District station where she was held for 23 hours several times, warning about her condition.
Yet she was released on her own at 51st Street and Wentworth Avenue.
Patton said a federal appeals court ruled in its opinion: "They might as well have released her into the lion's den at the Brookfield Zoo."
Some aldermen took offense to that language. "Comparing a community to animals is inappropriate," said Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd).
Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) likewise called that "racially insensitive," yet she quickly admitted to the "blatant disregard for human life" shown by the police. Ald. James Balcer (11th) called both cases "horrendous."
In the Logan case, Burge, now serving a four-year prison sentence for lying about police torture committed by the "Midnight Crew" under his command came in for severe criticism.
"The reprehensible conduct of Mr. Burge and the detectives under his command is a dark chapter of our city," Patton said.
"This is probably one of the most disgraceful guys who ever served Chicago," added Ald. Ray Suarez (31st).
The Logan case, however, involved not torture as much as police ignoring evidence, such as the murder weapon turning up in the possession of the man who admitted the shooting 25 years later.
Regardless, Patton said it was the largest settlement the city had paid in a case in involving Burge. He said the city had now resolved five of the eight Burge "legacy messes" the Emanuel administration inherited, with another filed in the last two years and still in play.
Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) warned that many cases asking retrials on charges of Burge torture are still pending in Cook County Circuit Court and may cost the city more money.
Logan's suit accused the city of hiding evidence that would have exonerated him. The suit was halted just as it was about to go to trial last month.
"It's hard to say a $10 million settlement is fair to taxpayers, but in this case it is," said Ald. Joe Moreno (1st).
Burke went so far as to suggest the city should never have contested the Eilman case, in which her mother, Kathleen Paine of Sacramento, Calif., originally sought $100 million in damages.
"We're saving taxpayers millions and millions of dollars," argued Patton, who described the final negotiation in the Eilman case, hammered out with her parents, as "the most emotional settlement day I've ever spent."
Aldermen commenting on both cases took pains to make certain police procedures had changed to address the misconduct. Patton said that, particularly in the Eilman case, there had been "extensive revision" of "general orders" in the Police Department to address people showing signs of "mental issues."
Burke asked Cochran to join him in sponsoring an ordinance affirming those changes, originally proposed in 2006 and 2007, but which languished under the Daley administration. Burke suggested it could be named "the Eilman ordinance by way of apology to these parents."