Officer committed suicide amid worries over wrongful-death lawsuit

SHARE Officer committed suicide amid worries over wrongful-death lawsuit

On Nov. 2, 2010, Chicago Police Officer Robert Campbell was dangling from a moving car when he fatally shot a young driver as he was speeding out of a Kentucky Fried Chicken parking lot and away from a police on the South Side.

Thedriver’sfamily filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Campbell and the city last year in federal court. Then in June, Campbell submitted to a contentious deposition about the events that led to the death of 21-year-old Joshua Madison, a father of two sons.

About two weeks later, the tragedy multiplied: Officer Campbell committed suicide.

Chicago Police Officer Robert Campbell

Chicago Police Officer Robert Campbell

Newly obtained police reports show the lawsuit — and the deposition — were weighing on the 33-year-old gang enforcement officer before he hangedhimself in his Southwest Side apartment in July.

“It is unfortunate that the stress of the lawsuit may have contributed to Officer Campbell’s death,” said Kathleen Zellner, the lawyer who filed the lawsuit. “We were unable to settle the case with the city attorneys prior to his deposition.”

“Officer Campbell’s death was a tragedy, and we extend our deepest sympathies to his family and friends,” saidJohn Holden, a spokesman for the city’s Law Department.

Zellner and attorneys for the city were scheduled to discuss a possible settlement this week, but it’s unclear from court records what happened.

According to police reports the Chicago Sun-Times obtained through the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, oneof Campbell’s fellow officers told detectives investigating his deaththat he was “worried about a deposition” he gave in June.

In the deposition, Campbell saidthe shooting was a “wake-up call” for his excessive drinking.

Campbell said his alcohol abuse caused him to become irritable and provoke physical altercations and “he acted in a way that he did not like,” according to a court filing by Zellner. Campbellsaid he sought treatment for his drinking shortly after the shooting,the filing said.

In the lawsuit, Campbell isaccused of firing recklessly into the passenger window of a Nissan Maxima driven by Madison.

Anotherofficer had been conducting surveillance for drug dealing in the parking lot of the KFC restaurant at 59th and Western. The officersaw two people approach the Nissan but didn’t see any packets of drugs being handed over. Still, the officer instructed Campbell and another officer to park their unmarked car in front of the Nissan to blockMadison and his girlfriend from leaving, the lawsuit said.

Campbell allegedly drew his gun and pointed the weapon at Madison, who tried to drive away because he feared for his life.

Campbell leaned into the passenger window, and Madison accelerated toward the exit with the officer hanging ontothe car. Campbell fired about a dozen shots at Madison while his girlfriend watched in the passenger seat, the lawsuit said.

No drugs or weapons were found, andpolice didn’t have any evidence that Madison committed a crime, the lawsuit said. Madison wasn’t trying to run over Campbell or scrape him against another vehicle,according to the lawsuit.

But the city denied in a court filing that Campbell’s use of deadly force wasimproper.

On July 8, about two weeks after Campbell gave his deposition, police officers and paramedics conducted a well-being check at his apartment because he failed to show up at work.

They found him in a bedroom, hanging from a belt. Officers searched for notes he might have left for his family, but the police reports don’t mention that any were found.

John Violanti, a professor at the University at Buffalo/The State University of New York, said officers like Campbell are at higher risk of suicide than the public.

“Police officers don’t want to go out and kill somebody,” said Violanti, a former New York State trooper. “Officers who do that usually get in a lot of turmoil.”

Officers involved in shootings can suffer the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, including flashbacks, he said.

“And there are some officers who don’t want to deal with it and kill themselves,” Violanti said.

The suicide rate for officers is about 16 per 100,000 people, compared with about 11 per 100,000 for the public, according to a study Violanti conducted. He said departments must do everything they can to support officers involved in fatal shooting incidents.

In his deposition, Campbell said he went through mandatory counseling following the shooting.

Chicago Police officials said privacy issues bar them from talking about services provided to Campbell. But every officer involved in a shooting must participate in a class “with a strong emotional component as well as firearms training,” according to the department.

If a problem is identified, the officer is referred to an employee assistance program for more counseling.

Starting this year, a new traumatic incident stress management program was created “to further minimize the aftereffects of a traumatic incident, which can include police-involved shootings,” according to a department statement, which added: “We have also recently included alcohol testing in our random drug testing for department members.”

One officer who was involved in a shooting told the Sun-Times he was satisfied with the services he received.

“I got what I needed,”said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to talk to the media.

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