CITY HALL — The Finance Committee approved $4.7 million in three new police settlements Tuesday, including $3.75 million to the family of an unarmed man shot and killed in 2013 in Albany Park.
The family of Esau Castellanos was approved for a $3.75 million settlement. According to Jane Notz, of the Law Department, he was shot in Albany Park in the early morning hours of March 16, 2013, by two police officers who had seen him in a car speeding, running a red light and apparently crashing into parked cars.
The officers stopped him and, according to Notz, asked him to show his hands above the steering wheel, but "he did not comply but instead looked in the officers' direction while holding what they believed was a gun."
One officer fell to the ground, Notz added, while the other fired 15 shots, killing Castellanos. Police officials originally reported that Castellanos had fired on officers, who were injured diving for cover, but Notz testified that "no gun was recovered."
"I can see why we're settling. Because nobody believes these reports anymore," said Ald. George Cardenas (12th). "We don't have any credibility any longer.
"I don't know what to believe anymore, what to think anymore," Cardenas added. "I don't want to say anymore, to be honest with you."
An autopsy found Castellanos had a blood-alcohol level two and a half times the legal limit, but Notz said Castellanos' three children, aged 18, 15 and 11 at the time of the shooting, "are likely to appear highly sympathetic" in court, and the lack of a gun found on the scene would be damning. The family originally sought $32 million in damages.
According to Notz, the officers named in the suit, Shawn Lawryn and Juan Martinez, were in a plainclothes car with no video. "They had never fired a weapon on duty," she said, before the incident. She added that the Independent Police Review Authority is still investigating the case, and the FBI and Cook County state's attorney both have open investigations, but the officers remain on "full duty."
The committee also signed off on a $550,000 settlement in what Notz said was the last police-misconduct case involving former officer Jerome Finnigan.
According to Notz, Finnigan led a brutal and warrantless search of a firefighter's home in 2002 after an informer had named him as a drug dealer. The firefighter and two children at the scene filed suit claiming mental distress after Finnigan was arrested later that year. Finnigan was later accused of being a rogue officer who shook down drug dealers.
According to Notz, the Law Department has handled 35 cases involving Finnigan over the years, with 25 settled at a total cost of $1.4 million.
"This one man has cost the taxpayers a tremendous amount of money," said Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd).
According to Notz, Finnigan is now serving a 12-year sentence in a murder-for-hire scheme.
The committee also approved $425,000 for two teens injured in the aftermath of an apparent high-speed police chase on the South Side in 2010. According to Notz, the suspect in that case, driving a car reported stolen, led police on a chase before hitting a pedestrian and crashing into a light post which fell and injured another.
Notz said the officers would have been charged in court with "willful and wanton conduct" for violating Department policy on when to pursue a high-speed chase. Although the officers reported they did not engage in such a chase, she said, global-positioning-satellite data would have shown their car traveling at 99 miles an hour on Stony Island Boulevard.
Thus, Notz said, opposing attorneys would have argued in court that "the officers' version of events is not credible," so settling the suit was "an appropriate means of limiting the city's financial exposure."
"To me, this was a damned if you do, damned if you don't," said Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38th), pointing out the officers were rightfully pursuing "bad guys."
The settlement cleared committee, but Sposato and Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th) asked to be recorded as voting "no."
All three settlements advance to the full City Council for final approval Wednesday.
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