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Woman posed no threat to officer who ran over her with police SUV: lawsuit

Martina Standley suffered a traumatic brain injury and is fighting for her life at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

A Chicago police officer recklessly turned his police car into a weapon in the South Shore neighborhood when the officer ran over an unarmed woman, causing her to suffer a traumatic brain injury, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday.

Martina Standley, 32, had “attempted to communicate” with officers inside a police SUV when the officer behind the wheel accelerated from a parked position and turned into her, causing Standley’s head to strike the ground, the lawsuit stated.

“One witness described the noise of the skull slamming into the ground as being as loud as a gunshot,” family attorney Andrew M. Stroth said Tuesday at a news conference held outside the University of Chicago Medical Center, where Standley was fighting for her life.

Stroth filed suit in Cook County Circuit Court against the police department and the unnamed officer who drove the vehicle.

The encounter happened about 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 13, in the 2000 block of East 71st Street.

After the impact, Standley remained motionless, bleeding from the head, with her leg pinned under the SUV, according to the suit.

The unnamed officer at wheel “committed willful and wanton conduct exhibiting an actual or deliberate intent to harm, or through a course of action which showed an utter indifference to or conscious disregard for the safety of another,” according to the suit.

The officer also violated a police order that provides guidelines for how officers are to respond to people who need mental health treatment, the suit states.

Standley is bipolar, Stroth said.

“These CPD officers used the power of the badge, a blatant disregard to our community and the power and force of a 4,700 pound sport utility vehicle to strike and injure unarmed, 5-foot-4 Martina Standley,” Stroth said.

A police spokesman wasn’t immediately available for comment Tuesday. A spokesman for the city’s law department did not immediately return a request for comment.

After the incident, a police spokesperson said it was unclear what Standley and the officers were speaking about, but the woman was not considered a suspect in a criminal matter.

As the squad car pulled away, Standley’s right leg became stuck under the passenger side tire of the vehicle, police said.

Stroth said he has video that will soon be made public showing the encounter. Still images from the video were included in the lawsuit.

“There was nothing that Martina did to provoke the response,” Standley’s cousin Joslyn Ewing said.

“There’s nothing they can say to justify the act that took place. ... (There was) no compassion, no consoling her while she was on the ground. ... You see them constantly stepping over her as if she was already dead,” Ewing said.

Flanked by family members and supporters, Joslyn Ewing, whose cousin Martina Standley was struck by a Chicago police SUV, speaks to reporters outside the University of Chicago Medical Center on Nov. 19, 2019.
Flanked by family members and supporters, Joslyn Ewing, whose cousin Martina Standley was struck by a Chicago police SUV, speaks to reporters Tuesday outside the University of Chicago Medical Center.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

It’s not clear what was said in the moments before impact — an encounter that lasted about 10 seconds — but nothing justifies what happened, family members said.

“She’s well known. She’s not a threat in any way. And that’s just it, they know her. The beat cops know her,” Ewing said.

“He used a vehicle, a vehicle, several tons of force, for what? They were talking.”

Stroth framed the officer’s conduct as another example of a police department that hasn’t come into compliance with a consent decree meant to ensure officers respect the rights of the people they’re charged with policing.

“Martina’s case is about the continued failure of the city of Chicago and a culture and history of excessive and unreasonable force used in our communities,” he said.