The life-altering bullet entered Michael D. LaPorta’s head nearly eight years ago.
But ever since, it’s been unclear who pulled the trigger: LaPorta or Patrick Kelly, a Chicago police officer with a troubled history.
Now, a federal jury has finally answered that question, finding Thursday that Kelly shot LaPorta on Jan. 12, 2010, while off-duty in his home after a night of drinking.
Then, the jury held the city of Chicago responsible for the shooting with a crushing $44.7 million verdict — believed to be the highest for a police misconduct case in Chicago.
The shooting left LaPorta permanently disabled. He listened to the verdict from his wheelchair and hugged lawyer Antonio Romanucci in the courtroom, fist-bumping with the rest of his legal team after learning the news.
“I got justice,” he later said.
Two of the jurors said the verdict was meant to send a message.
“You cannot get away with this if you’re a police officer in the city of Chicago,” juror Andrea Diven of North Aurora said.
Kelly’s lawyer declined to comment Thursday evening. A Chicago Police Department spokesman said Kelly was stripped of his police powers this month and is under investigation based on the court proceedings for making a false oral or written report.
The jury hearing the civil case concluded Kelly pulled the trigger based on a lower standard of evidence than would be required in a criminal prosecution.Still, the department has said it is taking a second look at the LaPorta shooting.
Kelly invoked his constitutional right not to incriminate himself 31 times when he took the stand last week. He did so moments before LaPorta testified from his wheelchair, denying that he shot himself and insisting about Kelly, “I know he shot me.”
“We are disappointed in the jury’s verdict, and, as we argued in this case, taxpayers should not be responsible for an off-duty officer’s purely private actions,” Bill McCaffrey, a spokesman for the city’s law department, said. “Accordingly, we have strong legal arguments for the appellate court, and will be filing a notice for appeal.”
Kelly earlier settled with LaPorta’s family for $300,000, records show. The jury Thursday held the city responsible by finding it failed not only to discipline Kelly, but also to maintain an adequate early warning system that could help identify problem officers.
However, when given the opportunity, the jury refused to say whether a so-called “code of silence” existed at the Chicago Police Department that protected Kelly. Jurors did not answer that question on the verdict form, despite hearing conclusions by the Police Accountability Task Force and the Department of Justice that such a code exists. It even heard Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 2015 acknowledgement of the code.
Before leaving the courthouse, Diven said the jury debated the “code of silence” for two days. She said nine jurors agreed the code existed, but there was one holdout.
Diven also saw Kelly’s decision to invoke the Fifth Amendment as a “game-changer.” But Michelle Fifer of Plainfield, the foreman of the jury, said it wasn’t a significant factor. Rather, out of two days of deliberations, she said it took 20 minutes to agree Kelly pulled the trigger.
This isn’t the first time Kelly cost the city money. Earlier this year, Chicago settled for $500,000 a separate lawsuit filed by a woman who said she suffered a miscarriage after Kelly used a Taser on her three times in August 2013.
In fact, ahead of LaPorta’s shooting, 19 complaints had been registered against Kelly in six years, according to the LaPorta family’s lawsuit. At least eight more allegedly followed, including claims of excessive force, racial bias, domestic violence and battery.
But LaPorta and Kelly had been close friends up until the time of the early-morning shooting. The men had earlier been drinking at multiple bars with Kelly’s co-workers.
What happened later inside Kelly’s home has never been entirely clear, but testimony suggests the two got into an argument over Kelly’s dog.
Kelly called 911 after the shooting, calmly telling a dispatcher, “I have a friend that committed suicide … He’s dead right now.” But soon, his tone changed, and he abruptly blurted out the words, “he’s still breathing!”
When paramedics arrived, Kelly was “extremely upset,” “agitated” and “not calm-able,” witnesses said. He yelled obscenities at a sergeant and was ultimately arrested for simple assault. A judge later found him not guilty.
Kelly has previously said he saw LaPorta holding the gun to his left temple with his left hand. Kelly said he heard the gun click and then tried to grab it with his right hand. The gun went off with Kelly’s hand about six inches away, he said.
But LaPorta testified that he learned to shoot a gun when he was 7.
And when he shot, he always used his right hand.