As cops’ versions of shootings contested, City pays millions

Graphic by Sam Hart

Ten times in the last five years, the City of Chicago has paid $1 million or more to settle claims stemming from fatal shootings by Chicago police officers.

While each shooting is unique, some circumstances recur.

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All of the 10 people shot were African-American. Eight were 25 or younger. Nine were men. Nine of the shootings occurred on the South Side.

At least five of the people shot were unarmed.

In nine of the 10 cases, the settlement came after key details of the initial police account were contradicted by evidence.

Police officials contended that Officer Ruth Castelli believed Jamaal Moore had a gun, and that her life was in danger when she shot Moore to death in December, 2012, in a gas station parking lot.  U.S. District Judge James F. Holderman ruled that video from the officer’s dashboard “undercuts portion of Defendant’s [the police] version of events,” and show Moore was shot as he attempted to flee.

Three police officers contended that Calvin Cross had opened fire on them before the officers fired 45 shots at Cross, who was trying to flee – striking him five times.

But the city’s Independent Police Review Agency reported that the gun recovered was inoperable, was still fully loaded, and that Cross had no gunshot residue on his hands.

Three police officers fired a total 24 shots at the rapper Freddie Latrice Wilson, hitting him 18 times, after Wilson’s car was stopped on the street. The officers contended that they fired after one officer saw Wilson had a weapon, according to court documents. Witnesses disputed that account, and the gun police reported from the scene had neither Wilson’s fingerprints, DNA nor blood on it.  A city attorney said at the time that  the city was settling the case because the medical evidence contradicted the officer’s accounts, according to news accounts.

The city paid Moore’s mother $1.25 million to settle her lawsuit. Cross’s family received $2 million, and Wilson’s family received $4.5 million.

In all, the 10 cases cost the city more than $31 million.  The largest of the 10 settlements — $5 million – was paid to the mother of Laquan McDonald, the teenager whose shooting riveted national attention after the video of the incident was released in November, and contradicted the police account that McDonald had charged the officers with a knife.

Only two officers have been charged with crimes in connection with those shootings: Jason Van Dyke, who was charged with murder in November for the shooting of McDonald, and officer Dante Servin, who was acquitted last year of reckless homicide in the fatal shooting of Rekia Boyd, 22.

Boyd was struck as Servin, who was off duty, fired upon a group of people in the city’s Douglas Park neighborhood. The city paid $4.5 million to Boyd’s family to settle the case.

Injustice Watch reported last week that the city has paid, on average, more than $14 million a year in recent years to settle claims that officers used excessive force, while few officers are called to account for those incidents. The settlements in shooting cases make up a sizeable portion of the excessive force cases, city records show.

William Hope Jr. was shot in July, 2010, by police when they approached him as he sat in a car at a Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen parking lot. The officers, Armando Ugarte and Michael St. Clair, contended they were suspicious of Hope sitting in the car, motor running, on his cellphone with currency visible in the console.

The officers parked their car in front of Hope and approached to question him, according to civil attorney Mark Parts.

Hope attempted to maneuver his car out, and Officer Armando Ugarte reached inside to grab control of the car. What happened next was a matter of dispute.

The police contended that Ugarte became wedged through the open window, hanging out and in danger, as Hope attempted to leave. He remained stuck as his partner, Michael St. Clair, then fired four shots at Hope.

Parks, who represented Hope’s estate, contended that the video surveillance undercut the police version. The video showed the incident happening quickly, and Ugarte was seen running from the car seconds after the first shot was fired.

The jury ruled that the officers had no legitimate basis to even stop to question Hope, and then used improper force on him. The city was ordered to pay $4.57 million, and both officers were ordered to present their case at the academy as an example of bad policing.

The city paid $4.1 million to the family of Flint Farmer, 29, shot in the Englewood neighborhood in 2011. Farmer fled after police responded to a domestic violence call, and Officer Gildardo Sierra followed on foot, allegedly ordering Farmer to stop.

Farmer stopped running and turned toward the officer and pulled an object out of his pocket, court documents show. Sierra fired several times, believing the cell phone in Farmer’s hand was a weapon.

Sierra denied what was later shown in surveillance footage: that the officer approached Farmer, lying on the ground in the fetal position, and fired more shots.

In addition to the settlements, several more recent lawsuits are pending in state and federal court challenging the justification for on-duty fatal shootings by police:

  • Cedrick Chatman, 17, was shot to death by Officer Kevin Fry in January 2013. Chatman was fleeing from the officer across a busy South Shore intersection. Fry and his partner were chasing Chatman, who was believed to  have beaten and robbed a man in a car. The City last week released a video of the incident. Fry has said he believed Chatman was holding a gun. The object Chatman was holding was a cell phone box.
  • Darius Pinex was shot to death by police officers in 2011 after they pulled over his car. The city won a jury verdict last April, at which the officers testified that they had been responding to a police radio report that a car matching the description had just been involved in a shooting. But a federal judge ordered a new trial this month, after discovering a city attorney had withheld a document that contradicted the police version that  they were responding to a report of a suspect who was armed.
  • Bettie Jones, 55, and Quintonio LeGrier, 17, were both shot to death in December 2015 by police responding to reports of a man wielding a baseball bat. The father of LeGrier, a college student who was suffering mental issues, called police for help controlling his son; Jones, who lived in a downstairs apartment from LeGrier, was shot in what city officials have called an accident. Families of both filed separate lawsuits this month.
  • Christian Green, 17, was shot to death by Officer Robert Gonzales on July 4, 2013. Fraternal Order of Police spokesman Pat Camden told the Chicago Tribune at the time that Green fled from police, dropped a gun from his waistband, then pointed the gun at officers who responded with gunfire. The civil complaint alleges that Green was shot in the back and that witnesses contend he had no weapon.