Chicago taxpayers will spend $2.2 million to compensate the family of a 23-year-old man shot to death by Chicago Police officers in 2005, under a settlement demanded months ago by Hispanic aldermen.
Ald. George Cardenas (12th), chairman of the City Council’s Hispanic Vaucus, has portrayed the shooting death of Emmanuel Lopez as every bit as egregious as the execution of Laquan McDonald.
Like McDonald, Lopez was shot 16 times by Chicago Police. And one of the officers who arrived on the scene that night was Jason Van Dyke, who has been charged with first-degree murder after unloading 16 rounds into McDonald while the black teenager was walking away from police.
Cardenas has argued that Van Dyke “was one of the first officers to arrive on the scene” the night Lopez was killed.
And in a subsequent deposition, Van Dyke admitted to falsifying reports, the alderman has said.
When the Hispanic Caucus pressed for a settlement in the unrelenting furor over the Laquan McDonald shooting video, the city’s law department indicated it would continue to fight the lawsuit.
“This incident took place 10 years ago, prior to the existence of the Independent Police Review Authority. It was determined to be justified by all investigating bodies, including the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, which conducted its own independent criminal investigation,” the department maintained on the day the Hispanic Caucus held its news conference.
“The State’s Attorney decided not to prosecute based on the facts, and held a press conference to announce their decision. The City will continue to defend the civil suit brought in connection with this incident as we believe the evidence refutes the plaintiff’s claims. Attempts to overstate Officer Van Dyke’s role are unfortunate as he was not present during the incident nor was he assigned to investigate the incident.”
Now, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration has reversed itself by agreeing to a $2.2 million settlement with the Lopez family. It’s on the agenda at Monday’s meeting of the City Council’s Finance Committee.
Aldermen are also expected to consider Monday a $1 million payment to settle a lawsuit involving the Chicago Police shooting of 27-year-old Ryan Rogers.
A Chicago cop shot Rogers in March 2013 in south suburban Hazel Crest as police were conducting surveillance of him. At the time, police said Rogers allegedly slammed his SUV into one of their cars while making a getaway, and an officer feared for his life.
Cardenas has questioned why the Emanuel administration waited until one week after the election to authorize a $5 million settlement to the McDonald family, even before the family had filed a lawsuit, but was determined to take the Lopez case to a trial that had been scheduled to begin in February.
“If this comes out to be a huge financial hit to the city, we are public. We told you so. It should not happen. This is not the way to go. If we did it for other cases, why not this one? . . . This cries out for answers,” Cardenas has said.
“Given all of the facts — given everything that’s taking place right now, isn’t it a high risk to taxpayers to be going to trial in this case? I mean — I looked at the evidence. We need some answers on that.”
Lopez was working as a night janitor to earn money to send to his family in Mexico when he was gunned down by Chicago Police in a case that, according to Cardenas, does not include a dashcam video.
His family filed a $10 million wrongful-death suit against the city that claims Lopez was executed by officers after a car wreck and chase. Police fired 42 shots, striking Lopez 16 times, according to the lawsuit.
A police department review determined the shooting in the Brighton Park neighborhood was justified. Lopez allegedly hit one of the officers with his car and trapped a second under the vehicle, investigators said.
In 2007, Lopez family attorney Terry Ekl said forensic evidence evaluated by the Illinois State Police crime lab indicated the police officers’ account of the shooting was a “total fabrication.”
One year later, the Cook County state’s attorney’s office decided not to file official misconduct charges against any of the officers as the three-year statute of limitations ran out.
The state’s attorney’s office described a two-plus-year investigation involving as many as 10 Cook County prosecutors, along with investigators from the Independent Police Review Authority.
At the time, a statement issued by the state’s attorney’s office read: “Though there were allegations that this was not a justified shooting by Chicago Police, outside experts and other evidence examined by our office contradicted these charges.”
Earlier this year, Ald. Danny Solis (25th), one of the mayor’s staunchest City Council supporters, pressed the newly-appointed administrator of the Independent Police Review Authority on the outcome of the Emmanuel Lopez investigation.
Solis was frustrated when Sharon Fairley came up empty.
“It you can’t answer these questions, this [hearing] is a waste of time,” Solis told Fairley.
A deputy corporation counsel subsequently acknowledged that IPRA “did not exist” in 2005, when Lopez was shot. At the time, police shootings were investigated by the Chicago Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards.
Still, Ald. Susan Sadlowski-Garza (10th) demanded to know why Van Dyke’s role in the Emmanuel Lopez case was not taken into account when IPRA investigators questioned the officer after the Laquan McDonald shooting.
Garza further questioned why IPRA investigators questioned Van Dyke before watching the incendiary dashcam video of the McDonald shooting and failed to reinterview Van Dyke after finally watching the video that has since been played around the world.
Referring to Van Dyke’s past history, Garza said, “He shot somebody 16 times. He had 18 citizen complaints. If we keep shoving this stuff under the rug, this will never change.”
Solis wasn’t the only alderman who was not satisfied with Fairley’s answers about the Emmanuel Lopez case.
“If we go on with this, we’re going to be here for weeks,” said Ald. Edward Burke (14th).
Contacted Friday, Cardenas called the $2.2 million settlement long overdue.
“This young man was undocumented. He has no voice. He had a couple off drinks over the limit. He shouldn’t have been driving. He ran into an off-duty police officer and, an hour later, he ends up dead with 16 bullets in him, 15 in his back,” Cardenas said.
“The police report said the officer fired because he feared for his life. But, I never saw anybody walking backwards trying to hurt somebody. If he was anyone else — if this person had been any other color — the community would have been outraged about what happened to this man. But, he was a nobody. There was no reason for him to end up being dead.”
As for Van Dyke’s role in the incident, Cardenas said, “The report was not accurate. It appears that he covered up for his friends the same way they covered up for him” in the Laquan McDonald case.