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Council OKs $3.4 million in payouts to settle police abuse cases

A plan for an elected civilian board to oversee the Chicago Police Department was rejected on Monday. | File photo

Chicago taxpayers have already coughed up more than $500 million to settle police abuse cases over the last decade.

On Wednesday, the City Council added $3.4 million to that amount.

Without debate, aldermen agreed to settle three more cases stemming from police actions, two of them controversial shootings. Two members voted against the payouts: Ald. Nick Sposato (38th) and Anthony Napolitano (41st).

The largest of the three payouts — for $2 million — will go to Saremm Saenz, who was walking with her 3-year-old son, Moises Motato, on the Northwest Side when they were hit by a Chicago Police car making a turn.

The accident occurred at 9:30 p.m. on Sept. 5, 2012, at Belmont and Long. The officer was simply making a left turn. There were no lights and sirens. The police car was not responding to an emergency call.

The mother was not seriously injured. The toddler suffered a lacerated liver and two holes in the bowel, internal injuries that prompted the child to be hospitalized for 26 days.

The second-largest settlement, $925,000, will go to the family of 15-year-old Dakota Bright.

The Robeson High School freshman was shot to death in 2012, while on his way home to his grandmother’s house, by police officers who claimed to have seen Bright with a gun in the 6700 block of South Indiana.

A Police Department statement issued at the time claimed that the officers approached the teen, but Bright ran away, prompting a foot chase. During the pursuit, the officers shot Bright. A handgun was recovered at the scene, police said.

Family members who marched in protest in the days that followed the shooting have disputed the police version of events.

They have claimed that the teenager was shot in the back of the head, indicating that he was running away from police. They have insisted that Dakota Bright was not holding a gun when he was killed.

“We’re not doing this for no f—— money. … We want justice … justice for Dakota,” Panzy Edwards, the slain teenager’s mother, said during a protest held days after the shooting.

At the time, Edwards said her son was a teenager who “made mistakes in his life, but nothing to deserve this.” She insisted that her son was not involved in gangs or drugs.

“He wasn’t the monster they’re making him out to be. … No matter what he did or how he did it, they shouldn’t have killed him,” Edwards said at the time.

“They want to make him look like a bad person. … They’re not going to dog my son and make him look bad,” she said then.

The third settlement, for $450,000, will go to the family of Levail Smith, who was shot and critically wounded by Chicago Police on July 4, 2014, during a foot chase in Rogers Park.

Last year, Smith’s family filed a federal lawsuit against the city disputing the “suicide by cop” account of the shooting that a police union spokesman described at the time of the shooting.

In the suit, Smith acknowledged that he had a beer in his hand while standing with friends outside a laundromat near Greenview and Howard about 11:30 a.m.

Smith also admitted that, when two police officers approached him for having alcohol in the public way, he ran away, darting through an apartment complex and a stranger’s unit before leading officers into a backyard gangway area of the building in the 1500 block of West Birchwood.

But that’s where his narrative of the shooting diverges from the official police statement released after the shooting, which claimed he yelled: “I have a gun, you’ll have to shoot me.”

Smith, then 45, says he was “terrified of being shot” and that he “began to scream and shout in a desperate attempt to draw the attention of nearby residents as to what was happening to him.” The suit claimed he is a decorated veteran of the U.S. Marines from Operation Desert Storm and suffers from severe post-traumatic stress disorder.

Police claimed at least two officers shot him “in fear for the safety of their lives” after he reached into his waistband, apparently for a weapon. They later found he was unarmed.

Smith says he never reached into his waistband and that officers could clearly see he had no weapon before they shot him in the chest, abdomen, arms and legs. He was taken in critical condition to Saint Francis Hospital in Evanston, but he survived.

At the time of the shooting, then-Fraternal Order of Police spokesman Pat Camden called it a “suicide by cop” attempt and claimed the wounded man thanked officers as he was carted into an ambulance.

The suit alleged that police lied “to conceal their unjustified shooting.”