SOUTH LOOP — After Chicago Police officers barged into her home without a warrant, breaking her toe, Debra Cargo said she was looking for justice by filing a federal lawsuit claiming her civil rights were violated.
Earlier this month, a jury agreed police were out of line when they entered her home four years ago, court records show. They awarded the South Loop resident $22,000 in damages, her attorney, Jeffrey Granich said.
"If you do wrong, you have to pay for what you did," Cargo, 57, said in an interview. "I know I didn't do no wrong. Why should I be the one to get hurt?"
But the jury went even further, specifically requiring two of the officers involved in the incident, Larry Dotson and Jean Parker, to personally pay $16,000 of the reward, even though they were on duty at the time, Granich said.
"Obviously the jury was upset at the conduct, and here the conduct is complete disregard for civil rights," Granich said. The jury did this "to send a message to other cops," he said.
An attorney with the private firm contracted by the city to handle the case, Meyer & O'Connor LLC, declined to comment on the ruling and referred questions to the city. A spokeswoman for the City of Chicago said last week that officials "are determining our options for appeal."
The suit stems from an incident in April 2010, when Cargo said she saw police at the corner outside her building in the 8200 block of South Ellis Avenue. One of them yelled up to her as she stood at her window, asking to speak with her 13-year-old son, she said.
The officers were looking for someone they saw rummaging around inside a car earlier that day, Granich said.
Without inviting the officers inside her home, Cargo called the boy to the front door, she said. As soon as one of the officers saw him, they allegedly grabbed the boy’s shirt and tried to pull him out into the hallway, she said.
But the boy slipped out of one of the officer's grasp and disappeared inside the house, she said.
Cargo, who has since moved to the South Loop, said she’d already agreed to get her son and bring him back to the officers when the police barged in. Dotson allegedly forced the front door open, smashing her toe in the process, she said.
Later, "she sits down, takes off her sock and blood is pouring from her foot," Granich said. She was treated at Jackson Park Hospital, court records show.
In court documents, lawyers for the city admitted police did not have a search warrant, but said an officer only "momentarily stepped over the threshold" of Cargo's apartment. They admitted she was injured but denied excessive force was used.
At trial, the officers claimed that Cargo became confrontational and tried to close one of their arms in the door, Granich said.
Cargo's son was never charged with a crime in connection to the police investigation.
"If the cop[s] would have done this arrest one of 20 different ways, there wouldn't be a problem," said Granich. "All [they] ever had to do was be polite to a citizen of Chicago."
The two officers, who are now both retired, were ordered to pay personally under instructions given to the jury allowing punitive damages that "punish a defendant for his conduct and serve as an example or warning to defendant[s] and others not to engage in similar conduct in the future."
Neither man could be reached for comment.