Cop misconduct deals clear hurdle
Officials are not happy, seek ways to stem problems.
By: Hal Dardick, Chicago Tribune: January 16th, 2013
Chicago aldermen gave preliminary approval Tuesday to nearly $33 million in settlements for two police misconduct cases, agreeing justice was being served, decrying the cost to taxpayers and seeking reassurances that Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration was working to prevent repeat incidents.
One settlement, likely the largest of its kind in city history, was for $22.5 million in a case filed by the family of Christina Eilman. She was a 21-year-old former college student in the throes of a bipolar episode in May 2006 when police released her into a crime-plagued South Side neighborhood.
Within hours, she was abducted and sexually assaulted at knifepoint, then plummeted from the seventh floor of a vacant apartment in public housing. She suffered permanent brain damage and other lasting injuries.
The other settlement, for $10.25 million, was in a case filed by Alton Logan, who spent 26 years in prison for a murder he did not commit because former Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge, head of the so-called midnight crew of detectives, allegedly hid evidence of Logan’s innocence.
Logan contends Burge, who is serving a 41/2-year federal prison term for lying about torturing suspects, knew that a convicted cop killer was the real murderer, a man later linked to the crime by a long-hidden confession and the weapon.
The City Council Finance Committee endorsed both settlements without dissent. Approval by the full council is expected Thursday. If approved, the settlement and legal fee tally for Burge cases will near $60 million — with four cases still pending.
“The taxpayers are on the hook each and every time that there’s a rogue cop,” said Ald. Leslie Hairston, 5th, who was among several of her colleagues seeking assurance from Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton, the city’s top attorney, that steps were being taken to prevent further abuses.
Patton noted Emanuel inherited both cases from the administration of former Mayor Richard Daley. Cases of potentially mentally ill people in police custody can now be referred to “designated crisis intervention teams” that can make an evaluation to determine if someone needs immediate psychiatric attention. Reprimands were issued against as many as four detention aides and nine police officers in the wake of the Eilman incident, a Law Department spokesman said.
When it comes to the kind of abuses that occurred under Burge, “police took steps literally decades ago and continue to take steps to make sure that this kind of abuse and torture and coercion does not happen again,” Patton said. He noted that all murder interrogations are now recorded on video — a requirement under state laws passed because of Illinois’ history of wrongful convictions.
Ald. Proco “Joe” Moreno, 1st, who worked with the Campaign to End the Death Penalty that took aim at Burge and his crew, also sought assurances.
“I am very confident that the kind of egregious behavior — torture, coerced confessions — is gone, that extensive and preventive steps have been taken to prevent that sad saga from ever repeating itself,” said Patton, who called the Burge incidents “a dark chapter in the history of our great city” but also pointed out Burge was fired 19 years ago.
Attorney Flint Taylor, who still has Burge-related misconduct cases pending against the city, disagreed that enough has been done to prevent coercion, noting murder suspects can be questioned outside police stations without being videoed. “Unfortunately, the steps that have been taken by the department under duress are inadequate, and the police discipline system is inadequate,” Taylor said.
Patton also worked to convince aldermen that he was doing his best to minimize costs to taxpayers. Logan, he said, sought a settlement that could have cost the city $18.5 million.
The $22.5 million settlement in the Eilman case “represents a fraction of the damages that could be awarded at trial if this case were not settled,” he said, adding that the Eilman family initially sought $100 million.
Patton said a breakthrough in settlement talks came last week when Eilman’s parents flew in from California to take part.
“It was the most emotional settlement day that I’ve ever spent, and I’ve settled far-larger cases,” Patton told aldermen. “We did right by the city and her taxpayers, and we did right by this young woman and her family, and ended up with a settlement that will provide for her for the rest of her life.”
The face-to-face interaction, he said after the committee meeting, may have helped bring the case to a conclusion.
“I thought this was a way to settle this case — we asked (the parents) if they would come here,” Patton said. “I was there for the city, a person they could talk to, share their frustrations, and I think that was very helpful in resolving this case.”
The family’s attorney issued a statement saying they won’t comment until after Thursday’s council meeting.