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After Laquan McDonald, aldermen question police settlements

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.

On Friday, they made amends before the City Council’s Finance Committee signed off on a pair of police misconduct settlements for a fraction of that amount.

The $205,000 settlement that generated the most heat–and a demand to see embarrassing cellphone video–goes to two motorists who claim they were unlawfully detained and illegally strip-searched for drugs in broad daylight after a 2013 traffic stop on the South Side.

First Assistant Corporation Counsel Jenny Notz said eight police officers traveling in a convoy in the Morgan Park District saw the driver of a maroon car sell, what they suspected were drugs to a pedestrian. The pedestrian was arrested after admitting that he had purchased heroin.

The car got away, but was later spotted and pulled over. The officers claimed they saw the driver “quickly hand something” to a woman in the front passenger seat. The plaintiffs denied the charge.

What happened next was captured by a neighbor on a cellphone video.

Notz said the driver, Robert Douglas, was handcuffed and escorted to a gangway where his wrist was shackled to the burglar bars of a home’s first-floor window. Douglas then pulled his own pants down to his ankles, allowing officers to perform a body cavity search.

When the officers saw they were being recorded, they moved to a nearby alley where the woman in the front seat, Caprice Halley, was strip-searched by a female officer summoned to the scene. There are conflicting accounts of the alley search, which was not captured on videotape.

The female officer claims she performed a protective pat down behind the open rear passenger door of her squad car, which resulted in the discovery of a plastic bag containing seventeen smaller bags of what the officer suspected was heroin.

“Ms. Halley, by contrast, asserts that the female officer instructed her to remove her pants, undergarments and feminine hygiene product and to squat in the alley. She claims she was crying while she complied with the female officer’s request,” Notz said Friday.

“Ms. Halley claims the female officer, while wearing rubber gloves, ran her hand around her body. Finally, Ms. Halley states that the female officer produced a bag of heroin and falsely claimed she found it on Ms. Halley.”

Halley and Douglas were arrested and charged with heroin possession. One month later, Douglas was murdered. He never gave any statements in connection with the case. A third man, Tevin Ford, was released without being charged.

Halley was subsequently acquitted following a bench trial by a judge who viewed the cell phone video and “apparently concluded that the officer’s version of events was not credible,” Notz said.

“If this case goes to trial, plaintiffs will argue that the video supports their claims that police unlawfully detained Mr. Ford and unlawfully detained and strip searched Mr. Douglas. In addition, they will argue that the video undercuts the female officer’s statements that she did not strip search Ms. Halley,” Notz said.

“The plaintiffs also will argue that officers relocated to the alley because they did not want their actions caught on video. Although the plaintiffs’ damages are largely emotional, there is a significant risk that the jury will be inflamed by the conduct depicted on the video.”

The $205,000 settlement was paltry by comparison to the parade of multi-million dollar settlements stemming from police misconduct cases. But that didn’t stop Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) from pressing Notz for a more detailed description of the video.

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) asked about the race of those involved. She was told that all three people in the car were black and that all seven police officers were white.

Ald. David Moore (17th) demanded to see the video and was promised he could before the full City Council signs off on the settlement Wednesday. Moore also demanded to know how many complaints registered there were against each of the seven officers. He was told there were five within five years against one of the officers and that a court injunction precludes the city from going back any further than that.Although none of the seven officers have been disciplined, the head of the Police Department’s Bureau of Internal Affairs also assured Moore that the case “not closed.”The second settlement–for $625,000–goes to Marlon Pendleton, who spent nearly seven years in prison for a 1992 rape he did not commit before DNA evidence exonerated him.

Pendleton was pardoned in 2008 by now-convicted Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Three years later, he was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to 17 years in prison stemming from the 2008 death of his then-girlfriend.

Although Pendleton remains in an Indiana state prison, Hairston questioned the $625,000 figure. She pointed to the $55 million settlement that a jury awarded this week to sportscaster Erin Andrews.

“Whether he was a good person, a bad person or otherwise, that was still seven years of his life that he was never able to get back,” Hairston said.

“Recently in the news, we’ve got a white woman who was peeked upon and they give her $55 million. And someone who was wrongfully convicted for seven years, we’re in the hundreds of thousands.”