(MCT) — CHICAGO — The Chicago City Council on Thursday signed off on nearly $33 million in legal settlements for two notorious cases of police misconduct, shining an expensive light on how the city deals with wrongdoing in the Chicago Police Department.
In what may be the largest single settlement of its kind in city history, the aldermen approved a $22.5 million payment to settle the lawsuit brought by the family of Christina Eilman. She was a 21-year-old former California college student in the throes of a bipolar episode in May 2006 when police arrested her at Midway Airport and released her a day later in a crime-plagued South Side neighborhood, despite her parents’ long-distance attempts to get police to help them reach her.
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.
“We are very pleased with this settlement as it will provide the support and resources she will need for the rest of her life,” Eilman’s parents, Kathleen and Richard Paine, said in a statement. “But we won’t forget those police officers who seemed to go out of their way to expose our daughter to becoming assaulted and to come so close to death
“To those few officers who attempted to help her, we offer our thanks. Still, we will not forget those in command nor those who had the chance to offer assistance and consciously chose not to.”
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. He alleged that former Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge and his so-called midnight crew of detectives hid evidence of Logan’s innocence.
Logan contends Burge, who is serving a 4 1/2-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 settlement in the Burge case brings the city’s total in Burge-related cases to nearly $60 million — with four cases still pending.
“I feel that the families that are going through this, even though it may have been before our time, they are dealing with tragedy,” Alderman Emma Mitts said, referring to the many young men who were wrongfully prosecuted because of the actions of Burge and his crew. “No amount of money can pay for what they are going through.”
“The system shouldn’t have allowed this to happen,” she said, pointing out the high financial cost to the city. So far, the city has paid out nearly $60 million in settlements and legal fees connected to the Burge cases, with four still pending.
“Think of what we could do with that money in our neighborhoods,” Mitts said.
Alderman Walter Burnett, chairman of the council’s Black Caucus, noted that Burge is still receiving his government pension, after an effort to rescind those payments failed two years ago.
“I don’t really know if any amount of money can compensate someone for 26 years spent in the penitentiary wrongfully,” said Alderman Edward Burke, chairman of the Finance Committee.
Burke also tried to portray the Burge era as an anomaly. “We can’t blame the department for what was essentially a rogue operation,” he said, even though critics have accused former Mayor Richard Daley, who was Cook County’s top prosecutor at the time, of not doing enough to address the situation.
As to the Eilman case, Burke noted that the incident occurred on May 6, 2006. “The 6 ½ year odyssey which began on the fateful morning is reaching closure today,” Burke said, noting the “sad, tragic, gruesome circumstances” resulted in the settlement.
“Christina did not deserve what was happening to her. She was suffering from a mental breakdown when she came to the attention of Chicago police officers ... who had an obligation, along with the detention aides, to keep her safe,” said Burke, a former police officer. “How this could happen in Chicago is simply a question I can’t answer.”
He noted Eilman’s parents called police nine times while she was in police custody, alerting them to their daughter’s condition.
“And then they turned her loose ... and they didn’t even give her her phone back,” he said. “This is not a proud moment in the history of the Chicago Police Department.”
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.
Meanwhile, a report released Thursday by the political science department at the University of Illinois at Chicago concluded that City Hall and the police Superintendent Garry McCarthy need to do more to fight wrongdoing within the department.
“Internal and external sources of authority, including police superintendents and mayors have up to now failed to provide adequate anti-corruption oversight and leadership,” states the report, titled “Crime, Corruption and Cover-ups in the Chicago Police Department.”
According to the report, at least 300 police officers have been convicted of major crimes since 1960. More than 100 of those convictions have occurred since 2000, it states. A “blue code of silence,” as identified by a jury in a recent case of former Officer Anthony Abbate’s off-duty beating of a bartender, exacerbates the problem, the report states.
The department’s Internal Affairs Division, discipline panel and top brass, along with the mayor and state’s attorney, “have all failed to aggressively and effectively reign in police corruption,” the report states. It recommends expanding the powers of the Police Board, which metes out cop disciple, and reappointing its members to include a broader array of interests, including former prosecutors and judges.
“The problem of police corruption in Chicago is not simply that there are occasional flawed police officers or bad apples,” said John Hagedorn, a professor of criminology, law and justice and one of the report’s authors. “The real problems is that an embarrassingly large number of police officers violate citizens’ rights, engage in corruption and commit crimes while avoiding discipline or escaping prosecution for many years.”
The police department has repeatedly refused to release the records of closed internal affairs cases, which would provide the public with information of how the city handles allegations of police abuse and neglect.
Jeffrey Singer, the attorney for Eilman and her parents, said after the City Council vote that he isn’t convinced the Chicago Police Department is taking enough steps to prevent something like this from happening again.
“I have optimism, but I don’t have confidence,” he said. “Until the police department makes a commitment for crisis intervention team training of all personnel in the department to become better aware of mental illness, what they should do when they have exposure to people suffering from mental illness, there’s a very good chance there will be another Christine Eilman.”
Eilman’s parents “are hopeful as well that real change can occur in Chicago, so no other family has to go through what they have gone through,” Singer said.