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Divided City Council Agrees To Pay $11.9 Million To Settle 4 Police Misconduct Cases

Fifteen aldermen voted no — a significant chunk of the City Council, which usually casts unanimous or near-unanimous votes.

Aldermen attend a City Council meeting on Feb. 19, 2020.
Colin Boyle/ Block Club Chicago
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CITY HALL — The City Council agreed on Wednesday to settle four police misconduct cases by paying a total of $11.9 million, despite opposition from aldermen who refused to support the payments.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has vowed to reduce the amount of money the city spends to resolve lawsuits brought by Chicagoans who claim their Constitutional rights were violated by Chicago Police officers.

The city’s 2020 budget set aside $153 million for legal settlements. In 2018, the city spent approximately $113 million to settle police misconduct cases.

Lightfoot charged Chief Risk Officer Tamika Puckett with reducing the amount the city spends on lawsuit settlements, while interim Police Supt. Charlie Beck has moved to restructure the Police Department to comply with the federal court decree designed to ensure promised reforms are implemented and officers respect Chicagoans’ civil rights.

But until those changes take root, a majority of aldermen agreed Wednesday they had no other option but to dip into the city’s pocketbook to settle the cases before a jury could order a larger award.

The most controversial settlement will pay (Or2019-512) $1.2 million to the family of 24-year-old Heriberto Godinez, who died in police custody in July 2015. Fifteen aldermen voted no — a significant chunk of the City Council, which usually casts unanimous or near-unanimous votes.

The dissenting votes in the Etheridge case were cast by Alds. Marty Quinn (13th); Ed Burke (14th); Raymond Lopez (15th); Matt O’Shea (19th); Silvana Tabares (23rd); Chris Taliaferro (29th); Ariel Reboyras (30th); Nicholas Sposato (38th); Samantha Nugent (39th); Anthony Napolitano (40th); Brendan Reilly (42nd); Jim Gardiner (45th) and Debra Silverstein (50th).

Officers arrested Godinez on suspicion of burglary before he died. The Cook County Medical Examiner’s office concluded that he died of cocaine and alcohol poisoning, with physical stress from his being restrained listed as “a significant contributing factor.”

No charges were filed against any of the officers who restrained Godinez.

Lopez urged his colleagues to reject the settlement, which he delayed for two months using a parliamentary maneuver. Lopez said rejecting the settlement would send a message that the city was no longer an easy mark for criminals.

In December, Lopez called the settlement “hush money” paid to the family of a criminal who “terrorized” Brighton Park.

However, Finance Committee Chairman Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) said the city had no choice to settle the case because video showed an officer with his foot on Godinez’s chest just before the man died in an ambulance.

“We can’t deny that,” Waguespack said.

However, Sposato, a former firefighter, said the city was not responsible for Godinez’s death since he resisted arrest and had taken drugs.

“We have to take a stand,” Sposato said. “Let’s roll the dice.”

Black Caucus Chairman Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) said that would be the wrong decision,  but he added that no aldermen relished cutting this check.

“If you want to roll the dice, you put your money on the table,” Ervin said.

In addition, the City Council voted 36-14 to pay (Or2020-48) $10 million to settle a lawsuit brought by a man who was paralyzed after police shot him  during a foot chase.

Tarance Etheredge was shot in December 2012 while running through a Grand Crossing neighborhood. His federal lawsuit alleges that police did not identify themselves when they pulled up in an unmarked car next to him while he was on his way to work, and they asked him to approach the vehicle.

Etheredge ran, but he stopped when a squad car pulled into the alley, and an officer shot him in the back, paralyzing him from the waist down, according to the suit.

The aldermen who voted against that settlement were Alds. Anthony Beale (9th); Patrick Daley Thompson (11th); Quinn; Burke; Lopez; O’Shea; Tabares; Reboyras; Felix Cardona (31st); Sposato; Nugent; Napolitano and Gardiner.

In a separate case, aldermen voted 34-15 to pay $270,000 (Or2020-50) to settle a federal lawsuit brought by Cruz and Aurora Rodriguez.

The suit alleged that police illegally entered their Humboldt Park home during a party in June 2014 and arrested Cruz Rodriguez after subjecting him to excessive force.

Police said they were responding to a call of an assault in progress at the party and arrested Cruz Rodriguez on charges that he assaulted an officer and resisted arrest. An officer struck Rodriguez twice with an open hand, according to the arrest report.

Cruz Rodriguez, who was treated at a nearby hospital after his arrest, had bruises on his face and body when he was booked into jail. He later filed a complaint with the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.

The aldermen who voted against that settlement were: Alds. Pat Dowell (3rd); Beale; Quinn; Burke; Lopez; O’Shea; Tabares; Ervin; Taliaferro; Reboyras; Cardona; Sposato; Napolitano; Reilly and Gardiner.

An agreement (Or2020-49) to pay $400,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by Refugio Ruiz-Cortez drew no opposition.

Ruiz-Cortez’s lawsuit alleged that he spent four years in prison on drug charges based on testimony from disgraced Chicago Police Officer Glenn Lewellen, who was convicted of participating in a drug conspiracy with an informant.

Aldermen also approved Lightfoot’s proposed changes to the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund, which is designed to leverage the Downtown and in the West Loop development boom into help for struggling small businesses on the South and West sides.

The changes (O2020-103) would allow the city to reimburse 50 percent of any project’s construction expenses. The current rules cap that amount at 30 percent for grants of $250,000 or less, even though a project can be reimbursed for 50 percent of the cost of rehabilitating an existing building under the current rules.

RELATED: After Emanuel’s ‘smoke and mirrors,’ Lightfoot claims Neighborhood Opportunity Fund as her own

The proposal would also give businesses that receive grants access to a pool of technical advisers to help them to bring together capital and manage contractors.

Lightfoot has already moved to allow grants from the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund to be used to cover 100 percent of a project’s total cost — if both the owner and their employees are residents of the South or West sides. Otherwise, the grant is capped at 65 percent of total costs.

In addition, applicants can ask for as much as $25,000 before the project breaks ground to pay for appraisals, environmental surveys and architectural services. Under Emanuel, funding was limited to projects that were under construction.

Lightfoot has also changed the rules to allow more projects to qualify for grants up to $250,000 in order to reduce the need for bridge loans during construction. The new rules also permit the funds to be held in escrow for large projects, in an effort to help entrepreneurs qualify for other loans.

Aldermen also unanimously approved a measure (O2020-9435) that expands the city’s ethics ordinance, which currently bans city officials and employees who manage city contracts from having a “financial interest” in companies that have city contracts. The revised law now prohibits officials and employees from accepting “any income, compensation or thing of value from any person which is or is seeking to become a contractor,” including companies working as sub-contractors.

Aldermen approved the other items outlined in The Daily Line’s preview, including a crackdown on fake ride-hailing drivers and a measure to allow restaurants to sell alcohol starting at 9 a.m. Sundays, an hour earlier.