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Finance Committee poised to approve $6.65 million in police settlements

Two of the awards are tied to police shootings. The other two stem from the “code of silence” then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel acknowledged after the court-ordered release of the Laquan McDonald shooting video in 2015.

The city will pay $3.8 million to a former officer who won a lawsuit alleging she’d been harassed by another officer and reassigned to patrol after she complained.
The city will pay $3.8 million to a former officer who won a lawsuit alleging she’d been harassed by another officer and reassigned to patrol after she complained.
Sun-Times file photo

Chicago taxpayers will spend $6.65 million to settle four lawsuits stemming from allegations of police abuse — two involving police shootings, the other two alleging a police code of silence.

All four settlements are on Thursday’s agenda for the City Council’s Finance Committee.

The largest stems from the code of silence famously acknowledged by then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the furor following the court-ordered release in November 2015 of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.

After 13 years in the Chicago Police Department’s Office of News Affairs, Laura Kubiak was summarily punished — transferred to a midnight shift patrolling what she called an “unsafe neighborhood” — for reporting that a fellow officer had “verbally and physically threatened” her at work.

Kubiak’s attorney, Megan O’Malley, said the case could have been settled seven years ago “at no cost to the taxpayers,” simply by putting Kubiak back on the job at News Affairs.

Instead, the city’s Law Department chose to take the case to trial, leading to last year’s jury decision to award Kubiak $1.4 million in damages for emotional distress and $400,000 in lost wages.

Since then, the settlement has more than doubled — to $3.8 million — because of attorney’s fees and pre-judgment interest, O’Malley said.

The alleged verbal and physical harassment that triggered the settlement occurred in 2012.

That’s when Kubiak reported fellow officer Veejay Zala had repeatedly denounced her as “nothing” but a “stupid b----,” pronounced himself “the real police” and raised his hand as if threatening to hit her.

“It was an officer coming at her down the hallway … in the middle of police headquarters. … He got up in her face, screamed at her, pointed his finger in her face and then pulled his hand back as if to hit her. Another officer stood between them and defused the situation,” O’Malley said.

Although Zala’s record included 31 internal affairs complaints and a federal lawsuit accusing him of battery and excessive force, the department “chose to retaliate” against Kubiak and a witness who also reported the incident to Internal Affairs by “dumping them back to patrol,” O’Malley said.

“Any time that the Police Department chooses to be complicit in silencing officers and sending a message to the other officers that you shouldn’t report misconduct or else you will be the one who is punished, that is the code of silence,” O’Malley said.

“If the city of Chicago is sincere about police reform, they need to ensure that, going forward, they support the officers who report misconduct to Internal Affairs and that they are not complicit in punishing officers who become whistleblowers” or in “concealing misconduct of officers.”

The second-highest settlement — $2.25 million — goes to the mother of Paul O’Neal Jr., an unarmed 18-year-old shot in the back and killed by Chicago police in 2016.

Earlier this year, the Chicago Police Board voted unanimously to fire two officers for shooting at a stolen Jaguar driven by O’Neal that was speeding away from a South Side traffic stop shortly before the fatal shooting.

Frame grab from a body cam provided by the Independent Police Review Authority, showing police officers firing into a stolen car driven by Paul O’Neal on July 28, 2016.
In this frame grab from a body cam provided by the Independent Police Review Authority, police officers fire into a stolen car driven by Paul O’Neal on July 28, 2016.
Chicago Police Department/IPRA

The Independent Police Review Authority, now called the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, recommended terminating officers Michael Coughlin Jr. and Jose Torres on grounds the partners endangered the lives of civilians and fellow officers when they shot at the moving car on a residential street.

The officers opened fire after O’Neal slammed the stolen Jaguar into two police SUVs and sped off down the street, body-mounted camera video showed.

After the Jaguar crashed near 73rd Street and Merrill Avenue, O’Neal led officers on a foot chase into a backyard, where a third officer, Jose Diaz, opened fire. O’Neal died of a gunshot wound to the back, according to an autopsy.

IPRA ruled Diaz was justified in the shooting because he thought O’Neal had a gun and fired at police.

In other cases:

• A $350,000 settlement goes to the family of Stephanie Buress, who accused Chicago police officers of breaking into her apartment at gunpoint during her toddler’s birthday party when they raided the wrong home in February 2019.

During the police-raid-gone-wrong, family members accused police of waving guns at terrified children, shouting profane insults and smashing the 4-year-old’s birthday cake. Family members said they demanded to see the search warrant but were denied.

• The smallest settlement — $250,000 — goes to the family of 27-year-old Martice Milliner, shot to death by a Chicago police officer on July 9, 2015, in the 7500 block of South Langley.

At the time, CPD maintained the officer opened fire after Milliner pointed a gun at him. Milliner’s sister countered in a federal lawsuit that her brother was at a birthday celebration and the officer shot him “without cause or provocation.” Her lawsuit accused an unknown number of other officers of “conspiring with one another to prepare false, misleading and incomplete official reports” to justify the shooting.