The Chicago City Council on Wednesday gave final approval to four lawsuit settlement awards totaling more than $11.8 million, including a $10 million settlement with a man who was paralyzed when police officers shot him during a 2012 foot chase.
On Dec. 17, 2012, Tarance T. Etheredge III was walking near 75th Street and Stony Island Avenue on his way to work when two plainclothes officers driving an unmarked police car drove past, claimed he was acting suspiciously and asked him to “come here,” according to court records.
Etheredge ran away, fearing for his safety, and was subsequently chased on foot by Chicago police officer Robert McGee while his partner, officer Pedro Guzman, followed in the unmarked squad car.
After running for a period of time through backyards and alleyways, Etheredge was hiding in a yard when officer Mark Heinzel arrived on scene. Heinzel claimed he saw Etheredge point a gun in the direction of one of the officers, who was in the alley at the time of the incident. Heinzel said his fear for his fellow officer lead him to shoot Etheredge in the back.
But a six-foot fence separated Etheredge and the second officer and the two could not see each other, court documents stated.
One of Etheredge’s attorneys, Larry R. Rogers Jr. of Power Rogers LLP, said while his client admitted he had a gun on him at the time he never took it out of his pocket and it was not loaded. Etheredge, who had no violent criminal history, stated he had a gun to protect himself.
Etheredge sustained a spinal cord injury as a result of the shooting and is now a paraplegic.
“I think that this settlement represents an acknowledgement that the officers were unjustified in the shooting of Tarance Etheredge,” Rogers said. “I think COPA [Civilian Office of Police Accountability] should reinvestigate this shooting because the evidence reflects it was not justified.”
Etheredge was also represented by Jonathan M. Thomas of Power Rogers LLP.
The Cook County case is Tarance T. Etheredge III v. City of Chicago, et al., 17 L 2841.
The council also approved a $400,000 settlement involving a man who was wrongfully convicted of cocaine possession in 2000, largely based on the false testimony of Chicago police officer Glenn Lewellen. Lewellen was later indicted on criminal charges for conspiring to sell drugs with his informant.
Refugio Ruiz-Cortez’s case against Lewellen initially went to trial in December 2016. Lewellen invoked his Fifth Amendment right on every question, citing the pending criminal case against him.
U.S. District Judge Harry D. Leinenweber told the jury that it could, but did not have to, draw an adverse inference from Lewellen’s decision not to answer questions. After receiving these instructions, the jury found in favor of Lewellen.
In July 2019, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the jury’s verdict in favor or Lewellen and ordered a new trial. It found Leinenweber gave jurors incorrect instructions as to Lewellen’s Fifth Amendment invocation.
Ruiz-Cortez was represented by James M. Baranyk of Second City Law P.C., Christopher R. Smith of and Raymond J. Smith of the Christopher Smith Trial Group LLC.
They could not be reached for comment.
The federal case is Refugio Ruiz-Cortez v. City of Chicago, et al., 11 C 1420.
The council also approved a $1.2 million settlement in Janet Godinez v. City of Chicago, et al., 16 C 7344, a case that was first presented to the council’s Finance Committee late last year but discussions were delayed multiple times until this week.
Janet Godinez, Heriberto Godinez’s sister, filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the city in 2016, alleging officers used excessive force when attempting to arrest Godinez who later died in a police van.
Video footage of the incident showed an officer briefly placing his foot on Godinez’s neck while he struggled on the ground. The Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office found Godinez died of cocaine and alcohol poisoning with physical stress as “a significant contributing favor.”
Ald. Raymond Lopez, 15th Ward, who voted against approving the settlement, said Godinez was “beyond control” given how much alcohol and cocaine he had in his system at the time of the incident.
Ald. Nicholas Sposato. 38th Ward, also voted against approving the settlement, stating “sometimes we have to take a stand. Let’s roll the dice.”
Finance Committee Chairman Scott Waguespack, 32nd Ward, said while he understood his colleagues’ concerns he urged them to consider that if the case is not settled it could result in a much higher award.
“As we move forward on these we as a body have to change the way the police department works,” Waguespack said. “I think the mayor is starting to do that.”
Janet Godinez was represented by Jeffrey B. Granich of the Law Office of Jeffrey Granich and sole practitioner Joshua L. Morrison, as well as Torreya L. Hamilton, Kathleen A. Hennessy and Kevin T. Turkcan of The Hamilton Law Office LLC.
The case is Janet Godinez v. City of Chicago, et al., 16 C 7344.
Alderman also gave final approval to a $270,000 settlement to Cruz and Aurea Rodriguez over injuries they sustained when police allegedly entered their home in 2014 without a warrant or probable cause.
The plaintiffs were represented by Jeffrey B. Granich of the Law Office of Jeffrey Granich and sole practitioner Joshua L. Morrison, as well as Torreya Lyn Hamilton of Hamilton Law Office LLC.
They could not be reached for comment.
The case is Cruz Rodriguez, et al. v. City of Chicago, et al., 16 C 5720.
City Law Department spokesperson Kathleen Fieweger said in a statement, “in each case, the city council passed these settlements as being in the best interest of taxpayers.”