Chicago taxpayers will spend nearly $2.4 million to compensate the family of a 27-year-old black motorist who was shot to death by police after a 2011 traffic stop in Englewood — a case that prompted a federal judge to sanction a city attorney for withholding evidence.
The settlement with the family of Darius Pinex, not including attorneys’ fees expected to top $1 million, is on Monday’s agenda of the City Council’s Finance Committee.
It comes nearly one year after U.S. District Judge Edmond Chang reversed a jury’s decision that found Officers Gildardo Sierra and Raoul Mosqueda did not wrongfully kill Pinex and ordered a new trial.
Chang found that city attorneys engaged in misconduct when they failed to turn over a key recording of a police radio transmission to lawyers for the Pinex family.
Jordan Marsh, an attorney for the city, knew about the recording before the first trial, the judge ruled.
“The court has no choice but to conclude, based on the record evidence, that Marsh intentionally withheld this information from the court,” Chang wrote then.
Chang sanctioned Marsh for holding back evidence, prompting the city attorney’s resignation. It was another black mark for the city following the November 2015 release of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.
Soon after, Mayor Rahm Emanuel hired former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb to conduct an exhaustive review of the Federal Civil Rights Litigation Division of the city’s Law Department.
After a six-month investigation that cost taxpayers $1.6 million, Webb recommended more than 50 policy changes but found no “evidence establishing a culture, practice or approach” of “intentionally concealing evidence or engaging in intentional misconduct.”
The Pinex case was among six since 2012 in which courts have disciplined city officials for “failure to produce documents in discovery” or for not producing them quickly enough, Webb’s 74-page report said.
Gloria Pinex, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of her son’s estate, said she was stunned to learn of the Law Department’s conduct.
“I knew the police officers protected each other. But I didn’t know that the mayor’s lawyers would hide the truth,” she told the Chicago Sun-Times after the Webb report was released. “I thought it would be different in a courthouse, but it wasn’t. It’s the same conspiracy, the same code of silence.”
Pinex was shot on Jan. 7, 2011, after Mosqueda and Sierra stopped his car in the Englewood neighborhood.
Mosqueda said they curbed the Oldsmobile Aurora because the car matched the description of a car other officers tried to stop about three hours earlier in a different police district.
Mosqueda said he heard about the wanted vehicle in a police radio broadcast, and not directly from the officers involved in the earlier encounter with the car. He claimed the broadcast warned that the Aurora was involved in a shooting or a gun might have been in the car.
The officers said they fired at Pinex, the driver of the Aurora, because he tried to drive away and was endangering their lives. But lawyers for Pinex’s family said the officers fired an initial shot without any reason, prompting Pinex to flee.
Before the trial, lawyers for Pinex’s family asked the city for the broadcast, but the city said it couldn’t find one.
The Pinex lawyers concluded Mosqueda must have been lying that he heard the broadcast. That was the theory they planned to present at trial. But during the trial, the city revealed the recording did exist.
“The actual recording did not mention that the Aurora had a gun or that the car was wanted for a shooting, but it did describe an Aurora similar to the one Pinex was driving,” Chang wrote.
“The first trial was unfair and plaintiffs presentation was hurt beyond repair by the surprise,” Chang said in his opinion.
The retrial was scheduled to begin last summer. It was averted by an agreement to abide by a settlement recommended by a mediator just days after Chang rejected the city’s attempt to throw out the family’s constitutional claim of unlawful arrest.
Chang ruled then that a reasonable jury could conclude that Sierra and Mosqueda “lied and covered up” their reasons for stopping Pinex’s car on the night of the shooting.
The judge cited inconsistent statements about the emergency dispatch the officers allegedly heard describing Pinex’s Oldsmobile as wanted in an earlier shooting.