Chicago aldermen on Monday gave the first nod to settle four federal lawsuits worth nearly $10 million, but not before they raked the Law Department over the coals for apparently not disclosing to the aldermen first about the misconduct of one of its attorneys.
Earlier this year, former senior corporation counsel Jordan Eric Marsh was found withholding evidence in the wrongful-death suit brought by the estate of Darius Pinex, who was killed by two Chicago police officers during a 2011 traffic stop.
Marsh resigned immediately after U.S. District Judge Edmond E. Chang sanctioned the city and ordered a new trial. The Law Department hired a former federal prosecutor to conduct an independent review.
But the chairman of the Finance Committee, Ald. Edward M. Burke of the 14th Ward, never mentioned the misconduct in his brief recap of the case. A number of aldermen said they only learned about the misconduct when a citizen mentioned it in his remarks.
“To not have all of the information to deal with is unacceptable,” said 5th Ward Ald. Leslie A. Hairston. “For the people who are supposed to be giving this information upon to make a decision and to not have that information from our legal department — that is not helpful to us.”
Despite the misgivings, the Finance Committee approved all four settlements, recommending final passage to the full city council on Wednesday. The Pinex estate’s lawsuit will be settled for $2.365 million.
In addition to the Pinex case, the Finance Committee also voted to settle the lawsuits brought by a mother of 17-year-old Cedrick Chatman who was shot and killed by Chicago police and a man who accused police officers of trumping up felony charges against him.
The council is expected to settle these two cases for $3 million and $175,000, respectively.
In her remarks at the committee meeting, First Assistant Corporation Counsel Jane E. Notz said Marsh’s misconduct was referenced in aldermanic briefings prior to Monday’s committee meeting, a point that was repeated by Law Department spokesman Bill McCaffrey in an e-mail.
Hairston and a number of other aldermen said they did not attend the briefings.
The misconduct was also mentioned within Notz’s prepared remarks. But she never gave those remarks as Burke insisted on giving the synopses of the lawsuits in order to give her a reprieve, as she was ill.
Burke apologized to the committee for giving off the impression that Notz was hiding information from the committee.
If all four settlements are approved by the city council, aldermen will have approved more than $33.5 million in settlements this year — the majority of that settlement money involved allegations of police misconduct.
City council passage is required only for settlements worth more than $100,000. According to city records, Chicago has paid out more than $44.4 million in smaller judgments, settlements, fees and costs as of Oct. 31.
The largest settlement the Finance Committee approved is actually a supplement to another deal the council signed off on in 2014.
Two years ago, the city settled with a group of African-American female firefighters who claimed they were discriminated against by a physical test the Chicago Fire Department required of applicants. The $4.8 million settlement was premised on six women from the group being hired.
In reality, 12 were hired, and the additional $3.8 million settlement will be used to fund the overdue pension obligations of those 12 firefighters.
Burke advised the committee that the city would likely be found liable in each of the three lawsuits should they proceed to trial, and those losses would be much costlier than the costs to settle.
The Pinex case hinged on whether the Chicago police officers who shot and killed Pinex heard a radio call from the Office of Emergency Management and Communications that warned of a vehicle matching Pinex’s that had fled from a shooting and that there was a gun in the car.
The recording the officers heard made no mention of a gun or a shooting, despite their statements to the contrary. Marsh became aware of the recording’s existence, but he never disclosed it to anyone, not even his co-counsel.
It was only during the middle of the jury trial that the recording’s existence came to light. The jury found in favor of the officers; that verdict was later overturned by Chang, once Marsh’s misconduct came to light.
Chang’s ruling prompted the Law Department to hire Dan K. Webb of Winston & Strawn LLP to conduct an independent review of its practices. Webb’s review, released in July, found no evidence of city attorneys intentionally concealing evidence in civil rights cases.
Finance Committee members also voted to settle with Linda Chatman, whose 17-year-old son Cedrick was killed by Chicago police officers in January 2013.
According to Notz’s prepared remarks, two police officers in an unmarked car were traveling westbound on 75th Street when they encountered Cedrick Chatman’s vehicle. Their initial scan of the vehicle came up clean, but they later received a radio dispatch of a carjacking matching Chatman’s vehicle.
The officers tracked down Chatman and pulled up beside him. According to Notz’s prepared remarks and Linda Chatman’s Jan. 27, 2015, amended complaint, the officers exited the vehicle with guns drawn.
Chatman began running away with the two officers following him. The officers said Chatman turned toward them and he had a black object in his hand. Thinking it was a gun, one of the officers opened fire, killing the 17-year-old. It was actually an iPhone case; he was unarmed.
His mother’s lawsuit accuses the department of covering up and spreading false information about the circumstances of her son’s death. Notz said if the case went to trial, Chatman will bring up the fact that video surveillance of the shooting will show that her son did not turn toward the officers.
Additionally, the officer who fired his weapon was the farther of the two away from Chatman; evidently, the closer officer did not feel his life was endangered and required to use fatal force. Finally, Kevin Fry — the officer who shot and killed Chatman — will have his credibility called into question after his police powers were suspended in June 2016 when he was found to have made false statements in another police report.
The case was set to go to trial in June, but it was then set on status hearing for late November.
City lawmakers also voted to settle the lawsuit by Emmanuel Williams, who accused police officers of fabricating evidence against him and lying about it in November 2013.
According to his Oct. 22, 2015, complaint, Williams was detained by police officers outside of his girlfriend’s apartment. After finding no illegal items on him or in his car, police officers searched the building next to his girlfriend’s apartment, where they found drugs and weapons.
This is very different from the narrative the police officers would have provided, Notz noted in her prepared remarks. They maintained they had been doing surveillance of the area and witnessed Williams perform several drug transactions before the officers arrested him.
The 10 felony charges that were brought against Williams were dropped after his defense counsels presented video evidence corroborating his story. Williams in his lawsuit said he was incarcerated for 14 months, and that officers falsely reported the incident.
The cases are Linda Chatman v. Kevin Fry, et al., No. 13 C 5697; Matthew Coyler, et al., v. City of Chicago, No. 12 CV 4855; and Emmanuel Williams v. City of Chicago, et al., No. 15 CV 9354.
The firefighter case is Katharine Godfrey, et al., v. City of Chicago, No. 12 C 8601.