COOK COUNTY CRIMINAL COURTHOUSE — Two city police officers ordered by a jury to pay $16,000 to a woman whose toe they allegedly broke during an illegal search are off the hook as part of a legal settlement.
The woman whose toe was broken, 57-year-old Debra Cargo, filed a federal lawsuit against the city and police claiming that the two officers forced their way in her home without a warrant, violating her rights and causing serious injury in the process.
In February, a jury agreed with Cargo, awarding the South Side resident $22,000 in damages, including $16,000 that the officers were ordered to pay out-of-pocket in punitive damages, her attorney, Jeffrey Granich, said.
But hoping to avoid a long appeals process, Cargo has agreed to settle the lawsuit for a lesser amount — $6,000 plus lawyer fees, which will be paid by the city. That means officers Larry Dotson and Jean Parker will not have to pay, despite the jury's decision.
In an interview, Dotson, who is now retired, said he strongly disagreed with the jury's finding.
"I am still adamant that we did not violate anyone's rights or civil liberties," said Dotson, who maintained throughout the trial that Cargo was the aggressor. "Throughout my career I have done everything to the best of my ability."
Dotson, a former U.S. Marine who also worked for the Cook County Sheriff's Department and as a field training officer for the Chicago Police Department, said that during his career as a police officer, he received no founded complaints of abuse, excessive force or civil rights violations.
Jean Parker could not be reached for comment.
The lawsuit stemmed 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.
Dotson and Parker 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 the grasp of one of the officers 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 the door on an officer's arm, Granich said.
The two officers, who are now both retired, were ordered to personally pay the judgment under instructions given to the jury that allow 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."