Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration has reached an undisclosed settlement with the family of a 38-year-old who suffered a mental breakdown in 2012 and was dragged from his cell by Chicago Police officers after being shocked repeatedly with a stun gun.
Court records show a settlement agreement was reached with the family of Philip Coleman on Feb. 19. Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton is scheduled to present the settlement to the City Council’s Finance Committee on April 11, the court docket shows.
That will give Sharon Fairley, newly appointed executive director of the Independent Police Review Authority, time to wrap up her reopened investigation of the Coleman case and, potentially, announce disciplinary action against the two officers before the settlement is announced. IPRA investigates claims of police misconduct, and this incident remains under review, Fairley said, adding: “I would like it to be done in a couple of weeks.”
Sally Daly, a spokeswoman for Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, said she could not comment on the case until the IPRA probe is completed.
In mid-December, a federal judge found two Chicago Police officers liable for using excessive force on Coleman after they were publicly condemned by Emanuel.
U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly found Officer Keith Kirkland “chose to use brute force when it was no longer necessary” when he dragged Coleman by his handcuffs out of the cell. The judge also wrote that Sgt. Tommy Walker was liable for failing to stop Kirkland, and “no reasonable jury could find otherwise.”
“Officer Kirkland unquestionably used excessive force in pulling Mr. Coleman’s hands over his head and dragging him from the cell,” Kennelly wrote.
Kennelly made his ruling as part of the Coleman family’s lawsuit against the officers. The judge left damages to be determined by a jury, a step that has now been averted by the undisclosed settlement.
Emanuel has been under fire for months for keeping the Laquan McDonald shooting video under wraps for more than a year and releasing it — on the same day white Police Officer Jason Van Dyke was charged with the first-degree murder of the black teenager — only after a judge ordered the city to do so.
The Coleman video was voluntarily released by the city in early December.
It shows six officers in a cell with Coleman. One appears to use a stun gun on him, and another officer identified in court records as Kirkland pulls his motionless body out of the cell by his arms.
Coleman was being held in the cell for allegedly attacking his 69-year-old mother a day earlier. He was facing a felony charge of aggravated battery for allegedly hitting officers and spitting on them after they responded to the home.
He allegedly struggled with officers who were trying to remove him from the cell for a court appearance on Dec. 13, 2012. One officer said Coleman told him “Don’t touch me, devil!” according to a police report.
A sergeant ordered an officer to fire a Taser at Coleman so officers could put him in restraints and remove him from the cell, according to the report. He was shocked with three bursts of electricity, the report said.
After he was removed from the lockup, he was taken to Roseland Community Hospital, where he allegedly struggled with police. Once again, an officer used a stun gun to subdue him. He died hours later.
Although Coleman’s father has argued that the police officers’ actions contributed to his son’s death, IPRA conducted a previous investigation and found none of the officers engaged in wrongdoing in their handling of Coleman.
Fairley reopened the Coleman case shortly after Emanuel forced the resignation of IPRA chief Scott Ando in the continuing fall-out from the Laquan McDonald shooting video.
At the time, Fairley said she was determined to find out whether the officers had acted within Police Department guidelines and whether policy changes were needed to avoid a similar incident.
Percy Coleman refused to disclose the settlement amount pending City Council approval of it. Ed Fox, an attorney representing the Coleman family, was equally tight-lipped. So was the city’s Law Department.
Three years ago, the City Council authorized a $22.5 million settlement to Christina Eilman, a mentally ill California woman who was arrested at Midway Airport in 2006, then released in a high crime neighborhood, where she was sexually assaulted before falling or being pushed from a CHA high-rise.
In January, Emanuel stepped up crisis intervention training for Chicago Police officers and 911 operators to improve the city’s response to emergencies involving people suffering from mental illness.
The Philip Coleman case, the police shootings of Laquan McDonald in October 2014 and Quintonio LeGrier and Bettie Jones in December 2015 were only the most recent examples of incidents where deadly consequences might have been avoided if police officers and 911 operators had been better trained, according to Alexa James, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Chicago.
African-American aldermen were harshly criticized for signing off on a $5 million settlement to the family of Laquan McDonald—before a lawsuit had even been filed — without asking tough enough questions or seeing the incendiary shooting video. They are expected to ask plenty of questions about the Coleman settlement.
Contributing: Mark Brown