Just before it was supposed to be considered by a jury, the city of Chicago moved to settle a major police misconduct case in which it failed to produce a critical disciplinary report involving the officer until the middle of the trial – years after such documents were first requested.
The families of two men sued the city and ex-Chicago cop Joseph Frugoli, who was driving drunk when he was involved in a fiery crash in 2009 on the Dan Ryan Expressway, killing Fausto Manzera, 21, and Andrew Cazares, 23.
The families contended that Frugoli thought he could drink and drive with impunity since he was protected by the “code of silence” within the police department.
“He drank and he drove, all the while knowing he’d be shielded by the CPD if he were pulled over,” Tim Cavanagh, an attorney for the Cazares family, said during his closing argument, before city lawyers interjected to ask U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall for a sidebar.
Minutes later, the settlement was announced.
Family attorneys declined to release the settlement terms pending its approval by City Council.
“In all cases, we consider many factors, including the likelihood of an adverse judgment, when choosing to recommend a settlement to the City Council,” city Law Department spokesman Bill McCaffrey said. “This lawsuit is no different, and we will recommend that it is in the best interests of the taxpayers that the case be settled.”
In his closing, Cavanagh continually hammered the city for withholding the “smoking gun” documents in the case — evidence that only came to light four days ago.
Those documents describe how Frugoli was suspended for five days in 1992 after he allegedly punched two people at the First Base Tavern in Bridgeport, grabbed one by the throat, threw them on a pool table and hit them with pool cues. He also allegedly threw glasses and broke two bar stools.
The off-duty cop later admitted he’d been drinking but “was not intoxicated.” A sergeant would testify that she’d reached the same conclusion. But Frugoli was never given a field sobriety test or Breathalyzer, records show. And he was allowed to drive away from the scene.
“We never got those critical documents before trial,” Cavanagh told jurors. “It’s obvious. These documents prove our case.”
The bar fight put Frugoli on a “path of destruction” up to the fatal crash. Frugoli was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2012 for driving drunk and killing the men.
His testimony last week triggered the discovery of the new evidence when the imprisoned ex-cop testified about being disciplined after the bar fight. He got away with a five-day suspension.
“I think the code of silence is so deep, so entrenched, that Joe Frugoli tried to help the city out in this case, and thought it would be helpful to say that he had been suspended in the past,” Cavanagh told reporters after the settlement was reached.
That testimony instead opened a “big can of worms” for the city, Cavanagh said, leading to the documents that attorneys for the families had asked for years ago.
“They proved what we had been saying for the last eight years: There’s a code of silence with alcohol-related incidents in the city of Chicago, and city cops gave Joe Frugoli a couple of passes, and that led to this horrible crash on April 10, 2009,” Cavanagh said.
Kevin Conway, an attorney for the Manzera family, said afterward that there had been no discussion of a settlement until the past two days, after the new documents came to light.
“The Manzera and Cazares families have suffered a tremendous amount,” Conway said. Family members huddled together in the lobby of the Dirksen Federal Building declined to speak with reporters.
The city has repeatedly found itself in hot water for failing to turn over evidence in police misconduct cases. Cavanagh said he didn’t think city lawyers intentionally withheld the 116 pages of Frugoli’s disciplinary reports.
“It’s something that the judge, quite frankly, she’ll still have jurisdiction to look at and see why were these critical documents not turned over during the case. It prejudiced our ability to get all the facts in front of the jury,” he said.
The attorneys declined to say if any sanctions against the city were included in the terms of the settlement.
Asked if the code of silence exists, Cavanagh said there “can’t be any doubt about it.”
“This family has been victimized by it, and it’s time for the city to take responsibility and get rid of it,” he said.
Frugoli is scheduled for release from prison in April 2019.