(MCT) — CHICAGO — Chicago’s City Council Finance Committee on Tuesday endorsed spending $32.7 million to settle two police misconduct cases, including what may be the single largest payment of its kind in city history.
The larger settlement, now set for a Thursday vote of the full council, is for $22.5 million to the family of Christina Eilman. She was left severely and permanently disabled nearly seven years ago after plummeting from a seventh-floor window of a vacant apartment at a public housing complex.
Police had released Eilman, who was 21 at the time of the incident, into an unfamiliar high-crime neighborhood at sundown in May 2006 even though she was in the throes of a bipolar episode. She plummeted from the window after being abducted and sexually assaulted at knifepoint.
U.S. Appeals Court Judge Frank Easterbrook later rejected the city’s efforts to blame the incident on the gang member who assaulted Eilman, concluding that officers “might as well have released her into the lion’s den at the Brookfield Zoo.”
That triggered a response Tuesday from African-American aldermen that highlighted the racial tension surrounding the incident, which involved Eilman, an affluent white woman who was attacked by an African-American man in a poor neighborhood.
Alderman Pat Dowell said she thought the case “is definitely egregious” but took issue with the judge’s language. “I think that comparing a community to animals is inappropriate,” she said. “There could have been another way to say that. … I take exception with the language used by the court in describing the community in which it happened.”
Alderman Leslie Hairston agreed. “I just think that kind of commentary is extremely racially insensitive,” she said.
Eilman initially was arrested at Midway Airport after displaying bizarre and erratic behavior and being denied admittance on a flight home to California. Eilman’s parents had called police and told them she suffered from bipolar depression.
Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton, the city’s top attorney, told aldermen the city could have been found at fault at trial for “for failure to provide medical care and also for worsening her situation.”
Eilman suffered a traumatic brain injury, a broken pelvis and several other injuries. She can walk with a walker, has rods inserted in her back and suffers from an exacerbated bipolar depression that has led to 12 hospitalizations in the past two years, Patton said.
Patton said the case was settled last week when Eilman’s parents flew in from California to take part in talks. He also told aldermen that the police department now has “designated crisis intervention teams” to help with the handling of mentally ill detainees.
“It was the most emotional settlement day that I’ve ever spent, and I’ve settled far-larger cases involving lots of things,” Patton said. “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.”
Alderman Edward Burke, chairman of the committee, said he was “both embarrassed and shamed” by the case — embarrassed “to think that a poor girl like this would have been so callously treated by members of the Chicago Police Department” and ashamed that the council did not push for a quicker settlement. “It’s gone on much too long,” Burke said.
Patton, however, had explained that the settlement could have been far higher if it were settled earlier. The Eilmans initially demanded $100 million, he said. “It represents a fraction of the damages that could be awarded at trial if this case were not settled,” he said.
The settlement includes about $1.5 million for her legal fees.
The city also has spent more than $2 million to handle the case on behalf of the city, Patton said. Insurance will cover about $7.5 million of the $22.5 million, with taxpayers picking up the rest, he said.
The other settlement approved Tuesday would authorize a $8.75 million payment to Alton Logan, who spent 26 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. With fees for Logan’s attorneys factored in, the tab would hit $10.25 million.
Logan had accused a team of detectives led by former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge of covering up evidence that would have exonerated him.
Patton said it was just one of eight police misconduct cases involving Burge inherited by Mayor Rahm Emanuel from the administration of former Mayor Richard M. Daley. So far, the city has resolved five of those cases. Four are pending because one more was filed after Emanuel took office.
Since his release in 2008, Logan has received a certificate of innocence — the result of attorneys for convicted cop killer Andrew Wilson revealing their client had admitted to the murder in 1982. Attorney-client privilege forced them to keep that admission secret until his death, they said.
Burge is now serving a 4 1/2-year federal prison sentence for lying about the torture of suspects, although Logan did not allege torture in his case. Instead, Logan said Burge knew all along that Wilson had committed the murder. Evidence at the time included Wilson’s possession of the murder weapon, Patton said.
Had the Logan case gone to trial, testimony from people who were allegedly tortured by Burge or his team could have testified, Patton said.
“There was really a lot of evidence that it was Wilson who committed this crime and not Logan,” Patton said. “That included the murder weapon. It included Wilson’s own confessions.”
“It’s a lot of money. I wish it were less, but I am absolutely convinced that we did the right thing and are doing the right thing by the city and taxpayers in settling this case and not taking it trial,” Patton added.
So far, the city has paid out nearly $60 million in settlements and legal fees in cases involving Burge.