Mimesis Law
21 July 2019

Chicago: Pay More Money, Fix No Problems

Mar. 21, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — The economic impact of Chicago’s police misconduct has been revealed. Over twelve years, the city has paid out over six hundred million dollars in settlement fees to victims of Chicago police misconduct.  The problem is that money doesn’t buy happiness, or bring accountability, and no one associated with the legal system sees this as a problem.

[Chicago] has paid a staggering sum — about $662 million — on police misconduct since 2004, including judgments, settlements and outside legal fees, according to city records. The payouts, for everything from petty harassment to police torture, have brought more financial misery to a city already drowning in billions of dollars of pension debt.

Why pay out that much money to the families and victims of the Windy City’s numerous cases of police misconduct?  Why not simply call for the termination of those who committed these offenses so the well-meaning Chicago citizen doesn’t have to foot the bill?  Alderman Howard Brookins, Jr., has one explanation.  Paying out money means you’re seen as pro-cop and anti-crime.

Alderman Howard Brookins Jr., who’s required to approve settlements exceeding $100,000 as part of his city council duties, offers one explanation. “If you were seen going after police, you were seen as being for crime,” he says. “It’s a whole culture of not wanting to step on their toes. … Nothing happened to the police officers even after they got a big judgment against them so it appeared to be like Monopoly money.

That “monopoly money” doesn’t satisfy those who lost family members to Chicago’s adherence to the First Rule of Policing.  To those who lost a loved one to errant bullets from a cop gun, or suffered the adverse consequences, the seven figure “settlements” amount to empty promises and “hush money.”

Martinez Sutton says the $4.5 million settlement his family received in the death of his 22-year-old sister, Rekia Boyd, “seems almost like hush money.”

For four years, Sutton has been agitating for the dismissal of Detective Dante Servin, who was off-duty when he shot Boyd in the head…

“It’s a slap in the face to me,” Sutton says. “You can give me money but you still can’t get rid of this officer? It’s not hate against the police department. It’s hold accountable whoever commits the crimes. “

Accountability is what the public wants, not money. That’s become apparent with the ousting of Anita Alvarez from the Cook County District Attorney’s office, at least in the Chicagoland area.  Still, the people who suffer from the misdeeds those holding a badge, gun, and a license to kill don’t see how money in their bank accounts will make up for the loss of a life.  Just ask Eric Caine, who profited to the tune of $10 million and still doesn’t see any closure for the misdeeds Chicago’s police threw his way.

For decades, [Caine] maintained he didn’t brutally kill an elderly couple. The police, he said, beat him into a false confession. Locked up at age 20, he was freed at 46, bewildered by a world he no longer recognized. Caine ultimately was declared innocent, sued the city and settled for $10 million. But victory brought little peace to his troubled mind.

“They wouldn’t give anybody that large amount of money if they didn’t believe that person was wronged,” he says. “But I also look at it as a way for them to just want me to go away. … Nobody cares if I live or die. I’m a shell of a human being.”

But the system isn’t designed for the equitable approach that would give people like Caine the peace of mind that tells him he’s a human being. It’s designed to make sure the police, with rights possessed far beyond the civilian, don’t reach that accountability process.  It’s designed to bring the aggrieved money, and those who work with persons affected by Chicago police misconduct can’t seem to see the forest for the trees.

Lawyer Jon Loevy noticed the same unsettling pattern while winning more than a dozen seven-figure misconduct verdicts over the last decade. Jurors, he says, concluded “police did reprehensible things” — including framing people, shooting them without justification and planting evidence — but he knows of no case where those officers were punished…

Torreya Hamilton represented a biracial 14-year-old who’d recently moved into a predominantly white neighborhood. A group of officers who lived nearby harassed him, she says, handcuffing him without reason, conducting surveillance on him and his house…

Hamilton sued, claiming illegal detention, and proposed settling for $75,000, including legal fees….By the time the case was over, several lawyers were involved on the teen’s behalf. The settlement was almost $530,000, most going to the lawyers. (Emphasis added)

It’s not that lawyers shouldn’t be paid for the work they do. The lesson from Chicago is the system that holds police accountable is viewed from the public’s eye as one that allows the litigator to profit, the police officer to keep their job, and the average joe tossed against a wall over a suspected dime bag of pot absent real change.

We’ve all been complicit in this, as much as we’d like to think otherwise.  We’re focused on giving those wronged money, when what they want is accountability.  Nothing less than a complete paradigm shift in the criminal justice world will accomplish that, and for the time being Chicago doesn’t seem ready to go there.

Meanwhile, people like Eric Caine and Martinez Sutton suffer from our broken system’s public perception. We won’t address equity, and that failure doesn’t address the basic flaws criminal justice reform requires.

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