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Chicago hints it may settle lawsuit by woman released by police in dangerous neighborhood

Published: Monday, Oct. 22, 2012 8:43 a.m. CST

(MCT) — CHICAGO — Lawyers for the City of Chicago have asked a federal judge to explore the possibility of settling a 6-year-old lawsuit brought by a California couple who claim their mentally ill daughter was gravely injured after police released her in a high-crime neighborhood.

It is the first public sign that the city is considering settling the lawsuit, which claims police ignored obvious warning signs about Christina Eilman’s bipolar condition and frantic calls from her parents after arresting her for erratic behavior at Midway Airport in 2006. They took Eilman, then 21, to a South Side holding cell miles from the airport and later released her into the unfamiliar neighborhood, where she was kidnapped and sexually assaulted, and then fell from a seventh-story window in a public housing high-rise.

The family is seeking as much as $100 million in damages for injuries to Eilman, who her doctors say is permanently disabled and will need around-the-clock care for the rest of her life. The 2006 lawsuit is set for a Jan. 14 trial after years of legal maneuvering that led Eilman’s lawyers to accuse the city of intentionally delaying the case.

U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall has also expressed frustration with the city over the slow pace of the case and has sympathized with claims that the delays were harming the medical treatment for Eilman, who was uninsured at the time of the incident and requires many therapies.

The city filed a motion last week seeking appointment of a federal magistrate judge to mediate settlement talks, and is expected to discuss it during a Monday status hearing before Kendall.

Eilman lawyer Jeffrey Singer filed a response expressing willingness to negotiate but not with the city’s chosen mediator, saying the city chose a magistrate judge whose calendar is booked through the end of the year. He wants Kendall to appoint a private mediator who can begin talks this fall.

Part of the delay was attributable to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which took 18 months before rejecting the city’s attempt to end the lawsuit. In a scathing opinion released April 26, the appellate court suggested that police showed little regard for the danger they were putting Eilman in, saying they “might as well have released her into the lions’ den at the Brookfield Zoo.”

While a reputed gang member was convicted of abducting and injuring Eilman, the family’s lawsuit says police officials negligently violated her rights by denying her the mental health treatment that she clearly needed, then putting her in harm’s way by releasing her in a dangerous neighborhood many miles from the relatively safe place where they had arrested her.

City lawyers have argued that the city has no responsibility for Eilman’s injuries and that she seemed lucid when a police sergeant interviewed her shortly after her arrest. However, several other officers have said in depositions that they saw signs of mental illness, and that at one point, a supervisor ordered the arresting officers to take her to a hospital, but they did not because no vehicle was available.

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