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Monday, 11 February 2013 10:28

Chicago Police Department Brutality Costs Taxpayers Millions in Settlements

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT     cpd75  Taxpayers Foot the Bill for Police Abuse

In December, I wrote an article for Truthout, "Federal Jury Finds City of Chicago Responsible for 'Code of Silence' in Chicago Police Department (CPD)."

"The jury for the first time in anyone's memory specifically found there is a policy of employing a code of silence," Locke Bowman, Professor of Law and Director of the Roderick MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University School of Law told Truthout. "It's terribly important."

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel agreed to the $850,000 jury award to the plaintiff, a petite female bartender who had been pummeled and kicked by a drunken off-duty cop, but – in an unusual move – asked Federal Judge Amy St. Eve to vacate the finding of the existence of a "blue curtain" in the CPD.  

The city lost its effort to make the finding of a "code of silence" disappear from the court record, in large part because Judge St. Eve had earlier found compelling evidence that the jury had acted with due prudence:

St. Eve also noted testimony from Steven Whitman, a statistician hired as an expert by Obrycka’s attorneys. Whitman found the rate of complaints of police brutality sustained by the police department was far lower in Chicago than in other cities.

Whitman found Chicago sustained as few as 0.5 percent of complaints in 2004, compared to a national average of 8 percent, according to a 2006 report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. In the Grand-Central District, where the incident took place, not one of the 147 excessive force complaints filed between January 2005 and February 2007 was upheld.

Emanuel tried to draw a line between past police department abuse and current behavior, even though there is little data to show any significant improvement in breaking through the "code of silence."

On February 9, The Chicago Tribune reported:

In the latest hit to Chicago taxpayers for police misconduct, the city is expected to pay $4.1 million to the family of an unarmed man who was fatally shot by a patrol officer.

The proposed settlement on Monday's City Council Finance Committee agenda would end a legal battle over a controversial police shooting that was caught on video in 2011 and raised questions about the officer's fitness for duty. Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration is also seeking approval for a $145,000 payout to a man who alleged he was handcuffed and held captive by police when he was 13.

The execution-style shooting was caught on videotape.  

In January, The Tribune ran an article revealing that Chicago had also agreed "to pay $33 million to settle 2 cases of police misconduct."

Emanuel argues that most of the CPD misconduct was under his predecessor, Mayor Richard M. Daley.  But according to law professor Bowman, little has changed: "I have yet to see a case where one Chicago Police Officer testifies that another Chicago Police Officer did something wrong, unless compelled by a grand jury or other legal means to do so. I continue to believe today that the 'code of silence' is alive and well inside the Chicago Police Department."

The Chicago Police Department's history of "blue curtain" abuse extends back decades.  The most notorious case – which took years to result in conviction – involved Commander Jon Burge, who was belatedly convicted of torturing perhaps more than 200 arrested individuals, most of them black.  It was only in 2011 that he was found guilty for abuse that goes years back into the last century.  The city paid out nearly $20 million dollars to a plaintiff in one Burge settlement alone.  (More settlements are in the offing.) Moreover, Burge's brutally forced confessions were a contributing factor to then Illinois Governor George Ryan declaring a moratorium in 2000 on executions in the state.

In April of 2012, Truthout ran an article, "Unarmed Black Woman Shot and Killed by Chicago Police Officer Less Than a Month After Trayvon Martin Shooting." It was about the "collateral damage" gun death of 22-year-old Rekia Boyd, shot by a Chicago Police Officer who was upset about loud music in the city park across from his house.

A January 9 Chicago ABC News report indicates that the CPD is not providing any answers about the "investigation" of Boyd's death.

More than eight months later, ABC reports:

What has perplexed and angered Rekia Boyd's family is that they have not heard an official version of what happened, nor has there been an apology or a decision on discipline.

"I was looking at the paper yesterday and the talk about how the streets have a code of silence. What about the code of silence inside the police department?" said Sutton [Boyd's brother]. "You expect people on the street to speak, but you're not speaking when you take unlawful actions against us?"

Meanwhile, it appears it will be business as usual as the taxpayers pay for the "blue curtain" and lack of rigorous accountability in the CPD. As the ABC online article concludes: "An attorney for Rekia Boyd's family and a spokesman for the city's law department confirm that settlement discussions are underway in the Boyd lawsuit against the city."

(Photo: AlyKat)