Man Cleared of Hitting Cop Awarded $1 Million After Spending Year in Jail
DOWNTOWN — He was arrested and thrown in jail for more than a year after he was accused of head-butting, kicking and spitting on a Chicago cop.
But six years after he was cleared of the charges and he filed suit, John Collins was awarded $1 million by a jury Tuesday.
"I just wanted people to know that the police did wrong, and you just can't do wrong out here if you are the law," said Collins, 42, at a press conference at the downtown offices of his attorney, Lawrence Jackowiak, after the civil judgment from a Cook County jury was handed down.
In a statement, Chicago Law Department spokesman Roderick Drew said city officials were "disappointed with the verdict" and "will be exploring all available options, including an appeal."
Collins was arrested in January 2006 after he got a ride to his South Side home near 79th and Paxton streets from his job as a barber. According to a written statement from Collins' attorneys, Chicago Police officers Jeffrey Mayer and Michael Garza pulled up behind the car Collins was in and ordered Collins and the driver out of the car at gunpoint. No legitimate reason was ever given for the traffic stop, Collins' attorneys said.
On the way to a police station, near 97th Street and Jeffrey, the officers pulled over the squad car, and there was a "confrontation," the statement said. Garza "falsely claimed that John kicked him, head-butted him and spit on him," the attorneys said.
Collins was charged with felony aggravated battery to a police officer, but was found not guilty by a jury in 2007 and was released after spending 385 days in jail.
Collins' fiancée gave birth to his first child while he was in prison. He was only able to view his son through a glass window during his incarceration. Their visits were often "canceled when the jail was put on lockdown for stabbings and murders," the lawyers' statement said.
During his time in jail, Collins was forced to sleep on the floor of the Cook County jail due to overcrowding, he said.
"I felt like a right in a pool of wrong," Collins said of his time in jail. "I didn't want to swim in that pool, and I didn't want to drown, either."
A jury eventually cleared him of the charges and Collins was released from jail on Jan. 24, 2007, but Collins said he and his fiancée have since separated due to trauma he experienced in jail.
"She said I wasn't the same person," he said. "She said I was going through too much emotional stress."
He filed a civil suit against the city in Cook County Circuit Court, and that trial wrapped up Tuesday.
City of Chicago attorneys had "refused reasonable attempts at settlement," Jackowiak said. Jackowiak said a settlement of $100,000 was offered by the city a week ago, but was lowered to $36,000 over the weekend. City attorneys then withdrew their settlement 45 minutes before the verdict was filed, he said.
"They were increasingly confident they were going to win," said another attorney for Collins, Amanda Yarusso.
The Law Department's statement did not address whether any settlement offers had been made.
Collins said Tuesday has since resumed full-time work as a barber — a certification he completed shortly before his arrest. He said Tuesday he hopes to do "something to help somebody" with his $1 million award.
Collins said waiting so long to be vindicated was difficult, but he was relieved to win the case.
"It was frustrating, I was very sad, but I was just focused on justice," Collins said.
Contributing: Erin Meyer