BELMONT CRAGIN — A City Council committee approved more than $4 million worth of settlements related to police misconduct lawsuits Thursday, including attacks that left a woman blind in one eye and where two men accused an off-duty officer of shooting at their car “unprovoked.”
In a split vote, the council’s Committee on Finance approved a $1.67 million settlement to Mia Wright, who was attacked by officers May 31, 2020, outside Brickyard Mall, 2600 N. Narragansett Ave.
The committee unanimously approved a $1.2 million settlement for Jomner Orozco Carreto and Carlos Ramírez, who sued the city after off-duty officer Kevin Bunge shot at them in December 2020.
The committee also unanimously signed off on a $1.4 million settlement to the mother of 13-month-old Dillon Harris who was in a stroller when he was struck and killed by a car fleeing from police in 2015 in Woodlawn. Antoine Watkins, then 21, was accused of being the driver and was fleeing a shooting, police have said.
A lawsuit brought by the toddler’s mother claims the pursuit reached speeds of more than 60 miles per hour and officers were told to stop the chase because there were too many pedestrians in the area, but it continued for another 20 minutes.
The full City Council will vote to finalize the agreements at its regular meeting next week.
Wright had gone to Brickyard Mall to shop for a birthday celebration the same day peaceful protests over George Floyd’s murder gave way to looting and property destruction around the city in 2020.
Wright saw the mall was closed and started to head home when at least 10 officers swarmed her car, screaming profanities and beating their batons on the windows.
Several bystanders filmed the encounter, which showed officers busting the windows of the car and dragging Wright out by her hair. Officers also pulled a male family friend from the car. Wright said she struggled to breathe and feared for her life while an officer forced her to the ground and knelt on the back of her neck.
Nenye Uche, Wright’s attorney, has said the attack has left Wright blind in one eye.
At Thursday’s hearing, Ald. Nick Sposato (38th) raised doubts about whether Wright and the other people police attacked had been identified by a security guard looting a Champs Sports in the mall with hammers.
In response, Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) asked for a delay to the vote to review the case further.
“There’s too many outstanding questions,” Hopkins said.
“I’m a little confused as to why you now believe there’s evidence the individual in the vehicle was involved in the looting,” city attorney Caroline Fronczak said. “The first time that I heard any allegation that there was a security guard that identified these individuals [as looting] was today from Ald. Sposato.”
Sposato then questioned why Wright went to Brickyard when she lives in North Lawndale, arguing she could have shopped closer to her home on such a “crazy day.”
“I’m just saying this is an odd set of circumstances, if somebody needs diapers and stuff,” Sposato said.
Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) rebuked Sposato for his comments.
“You are targeted because of the color of your skin … We have seen it every month when we do these briefings, when we do these hearings and when we do these settlements. So it is not unusual,” Hairston said. “We have a problem with racial profiling and we have a problem with mistreating law-abiding citizens.”
The settlement passed 17-7. Besides Sposato and Hopkins, Alds. Marty Quinn (13th), Ray Lopez (15th), Silvana Tabares (23), Ariel Reboyras (30th) and Anthony Napolitano (41st) voted no.
Wright was initially charged with disorderly conduct, but prosecutors dropped those charges in September 2020. Three officers involved were stripped of their police powers while the Civilian Office of Police Accountability investigated.
Wright sued the city and the officers in December 2020. Wright and the city reached a settlement in December, and the lawsuit was dismissed.
The identities of the officers involved have not been made public. Court documents show attorneys for Wright and the city have tried to identify up to 15 officers as part of the litigation, but their names are not listed.
By this July, city’s lawyers had identified nine of the police officers, but six were still “unknown,” Corporation Counsel Celia Meza said. The Law Department is still reviewing the file and preparing the charges, said Law Department spokesman Kristen Cabanban.
Uche told Block Club that he hopes the officer’s identities are disclosed. A lack of transparency around the officers’ identities and whether they’ll face any discipline hurts the police department’s ability to build trust with minority communities, he said.
“Because at the end of the day, if this is not addressed structurally in terms of real police reform and disciplinary measures for officers who are bad actors these events will only get worse,” Uche said.
COPA closed its investigation in September and sent it to police Supt. David Brown for review, agency spokesperson Jennifer Rottner said. COPA recommended discipline for eight officers that range from separations and reprimands, Fronczak said Thursday.
The shooting that led to Carreto and Ramírez’s lawsuit occurred about 10:30 p.m. Dec. 11, 2020, in the 3300 block of West Irving Park Road
Bunge had parked his white Jeep along the road when Carreto and Ramírez pulled up behind him to check their GPS for directions, according to their attorney. Bunge got out of his Jeep and shot at them “unprovoked,” according to their lawsuit.
Carreto, who was driving, quickly put his car in reverse and sped backward down Irving Park when Bunge shot at him, according to the lawsuit. He was hit in his hand, and shattered glass hit both men in their faces, according to their lawsuit.
Brad Thomson, an attorney for Orozco and Ramírez, was not immediately available for comment.
Brown stripped Bunge of his police powers shortly after the shooting. In March, he was also charged with aggravated battery with a firearm and aggravated discharge of a firearm.
At the time Bunge shot at Carreto and Ramírez, he was an eight-year veteran of the department who taught use of force at the police academy.
A search of the city’s employment database showed Bunge no longer worked for the city.
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