THE LOOP — A mother who last week was awarded $8.5 million by a jury in a civil suit after her teenage son was killed by police says she offered to settle the case for $3 million or less, but was rebuffed by the city.
Annie Johnson's son, Aaron Harrison, 18, was fatally shot by a Chicago cop on Aug. 6, 2007, as he ran from police in North Lawndale.
Police said Harrison turned and pointed a gun at Officer John Fitzgerald, forcing the officer to use deadly force. But attorneys representing Harrison's mother argued during a wrongful death trial last week that he didn't have a gun and that the police concocted the story as a cover-up.
But before the case ever went to trial, the teen's mother told the city that she would settle the case for $3 million, and also indicated she would lower that demand during negotiations, her attorney said.
"[The city] forced her to seek justice from 12 members of her community," said attorney Jack Kennedy on Friday.
Officials from the Law Department said Monday that the city settles cases on a regular basis when a "reasonable" settlement can be reached.
"We do so based on our evaluation of the evidence in favor of the City, the likelihood of victory at trial, and the willingness of the plaintiff to settle at a reasonable amount in order to protect taxpayer dollars," Roderick Drew, Law Department spokesman for the Chicago Law Department, said.
"In this case, the amount demanded by the plaintiff to settle was not reasonable," he said. "In fact, when the case was tried in May, not only were eight of the 12 jurors in favor of the city, but according to the jurors we spoke with, the amount of potential damages discussed was in the hundreds of thousands of dollars — not in the millions of dollars."
About a year ago, Johnson's attorneys tried to negotiate a settlement with the city, Kennedy said. They initially offered to settle for $3 million and set $1 million as a minimum, he said.
According to Kennedy, the city ultimately decided against a settlement.
"Miss Johnson attempted to negotiate with the city in good faith to avoid the jury trial," Kennedy told DNAinfo.com Chicago. "The city offered her $100,000 and then pulled that off the table, effectively offering zero."
In an email statement issued Friday, a spokesman for the Chicago Law Department said the city was "disappointed" with the verdict, and "will be exploring all available options, including filing an appeal."
The spokesman did not respond to requests for comment about Johnson's settlement offer.
On Friday, Johnson told reporters, "I'm overwhelmed. I'm lost for words right now."
Lead attorney James Montgomery said the strength of eyewitness testimony was essential for the defense's case, which posited Harrison could not have pointed a weapon at police if he was shot in the back. A witness said the teen did not have a gun, and implied one was placed next to his body.
"To have eyewitnesses like this is rare. We challenged the jury to reenact the shooting, and anyone who reenacted it could see that Aaron was gunned down," Montgomery said.
Johnson said she doesn't exactly know what's next, but said she has kept her son's legacy alive by giving away school supplies to children on the West Side and hosting community basketball tournaments in his name.
"I never stopped fighting for my child. I hope this influences others to stand up for themselves, rather the culprit is the police or anybody else," Johnson said.