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City to pay out $3.75 million to family of man killed by police

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

City attorneys have reached a deal to pay $3.75 million to the family of a man who was shot dead by police after crashing his car in 2013.

The seven-figure payout is the largest of three settlements — all in cases of alleged misconduct by Chicago Police officers — set for approval by the City Council’s Finance Committee on Tuesday. If approved, the total of $4.72 million would add to the tab or approximately $500 million that the city has paid for judgments and settlements of police misconduct cases in the last 10 years.

Esau Castellanos-Bernal’s three teenage children are set to collect $3.75 million in damages for the death of their father and for an alleged cover-up by CPD officers.

Castellano-Bernal’s death remains under investigation by both the city’s embattled police review agency, the Independent Police Review Authority, as well as the FBI. Castellanos-Bernal, a Mexican immigrant and father of three, was shot and killed by CPD officers Shawn Lawryn and Juan Martinez, who claimed the pizza deliveryman opened fire on them after crashing his car in the Albany Park neighborhood. The two officers began following Castellanos-Bernal after noticing him speeding, and said they had to dodge bullets — and were hit by gunfire — when Castellanos-Bernal shot at them after crashing near the intersection of Wilson Avenue and Pulaski Road.

In a federal civil rights case, lawyers for Castellanos-Bernal’s three children pointed out that no gun was found on Castellanos-Bernal, and the officers’ claims there actually were hit by bullets were suspicious, given that their protective vests were undamaged and they had no gunshot wounds.

Castellanos family lawyers accused the two officers of using excessive force, and sued the city, and claimed CPD detectives who investigated the shooting whitewashed the case — and that rigged investigations of police shootings were de facto city policy.

Similar claims of a “code of silence” are a standard feature of most police misconduct lawsuits against the city, but legal experts say plaintiffs’ lawyers have gotten a boost thanks to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s repeated statements in speeches in the wake of protests of over the shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in 2014 and the alleged coverup that followed. Emanuel in December was the first city official to publicly acknowledge the long-denied “code” among CPD officers and police brass. Reformers have said officially recognizing the fact that officers close ranks to protect peers accused of misconduct is a necessary step for the department to make sweeping changes — changes that should, they say, ultimately result in less misconduct and fewer lawsuits.

City lawyers also have agreed to a $550,000 settlement with firefighter Robert Cook, who claimed officers in the CPD’s scandal-plagued Special Operations Section beat him in his home, in front of his girlfriend and her children in 2002. The officers threatened to plant drugs on Cook if he told anyone about the abuse. Cook alleged when he went to the officers’ supervisor, Ken Abels, Abels accused him of making a bogus complaint and that Cook would lose his job as a firefighter if he pressed his case further.

Among the officers who stormed Cook’s home was Jerome Finnigan, who was charged in 2007 for plotting to kill another SOS officer whom Finnigan believed was cooperating with an investigation of the unit. Cook’s lawyers have said Cook filed his lawsuit — four years after his painful encounter with police — only because he feared Finnigan and other SOS officers would make good on their threats.

The city also seeks to pay $425,000 to Gentila Mitchell, whose teenage daughter and son were injured in 2011 by a car fleeing from CPD squad cars. One of the teens was struck by the car being chased. The car crashed into a light pole, which fell and struck the other child.