Finance Committee rejects settlement tied to allegations of police wrongdoing

Lenora Bonds’ son Terrence Harris was shot to death by three CPD officers in 2013 after Bonds called 911 to report her son was threatening her with two knives. A sergeant — who had received crisis intervention training — arrived, and was stabbed in the face, a lawyer for the city said.

SHARE Finance Committee rejects settlement tied to allegations of police wrongdoing
A Chicago police badge hangs in front of the City of Chicago Public Safety Headquarters

Chicago Public Safety Headquarters.

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City Council members were harshly criticized for signing off on a $5 million settlement to the family of Laquan McDonald — before a lawsuit had even been filed — without asking tough enough questions or seeing the incendiary shooting video.

The Finance Committee and the City Council voted for the settlement in April 2015. And Council members have spent the last six years questioning every police misconduct settlement that comes before them during closed-door briefings and public meetings.

On Monday, the close scrutiny came to a head.

For the first time in recent memory, the Law Department’s proposal to settle a police misconduct case was rejected by the Finance Committee on a 13-13 vote. Ties are recorded as “no vote.”

The $125,000 settlement would have gone to Lenora Bonds, whose son Terrence Harris, 40, was shot to death by three Chicago Police Department officers in 2013.

Bonds had called 911 to report her son was threatening her with two kitchen knives.

Among the first officers to respond to the scene — a sergeant who had crisis intervention training (CIT) — was stabbed in the face, according to deputy corporation counsel Victoria Benson.

Three more officers — none had CIT training — arrived in response to the stabbing. By then, Harris was in the basement, holding two knives. He refused commands to drop the weapons, and had turned on the gas, apparently trying to blow up the house, Benson said.

When Harris “suddenly lunged in the direction of two of the officers,” all three fired. Harris was struck by 29 of their 32 shots.

An expired statute of limitations prevented the mother from alleging excessive force. Her lawsuit — with an original demand of $3 million — was based on an allegation that the shooting could have been prevented if the CPD had more extensive training in crisis Intervention at the time.

“Part of the issue we’ll see here is that, when the shooting occurred and when those three officers entered the home, the plaintiff who had called 911 had exited. So the question will be, was it necessary for them to have done so at that time, given that the individual who had called for police had exited the home?” Benson said.

Ald. George Cardenas (12th) didn’t buy the argument.

“Let me get this straight. She called for help. The police arrived. They did the best they could. And now she’s suing?” an incredulous Cardenas said.

“Couldn’t we potentially be sued by not responding in the first place — even though we’re not properly CIT trained?”

Benson replied: “She’s suing, arguing that the city’s CIT program at the time was insufficient and inadequate such that, had it been better, perhaps the shooting would not have taken place. ... This is a house where Chicago police had, in fact, been [to] twice before this event had occurred. Whether or not CIT-trained officers should be dispatched” must be considered.

Ald. Silvana Tabares (23rd) sided with Cardenas.

“There was a CIT officer. He was stabbed in the face. This is a justified, but unfortunate situation. Settling sets a bad message to police officers when they have to make these split-second decisions,” Tabares said of the shooting. The Independent Police Review Authority ruled it as justified.

Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) voted for the settlement, despite agreeing with many arguments made by colleagues spearheading the no vote. That vote means the case will go to trial.

“When officers are threatened, they are allowed to shoot until the threat is gone. And on the other hand, an upset mother whose son is completely out of control and wants to be protected, I suppose, doesn’t expect her son to end up dead and, maybe, didn’t expect her son to stab a police officer,” Smith said.

“Those are where people start on both sides of this. But as fiduciaries of the city, frankly, it’s a very cold reality to say that our job is protect the financial resources of the city and, at the same time, try to do everything we can to make sure that tragic events like this don’t happen. That’s why I support the settlement.”

The largest of four settlements on the Finance Committee agenda — for $14 million — was approved unanimously, without a word of debate.

It will be divided evenly between Corey Batchelor and Kevin Bailey, who as teenagers confessed to a murder they did not commit after being interrogated for hours and severely beaten by detectives trained by disgraced Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge.

The committee also voted 15-13 to OK a $425,000 settlement to Dejaun Harris, who was shot and wounded by police in 2016 after running from a vehicle stopped for having stolen license plates.

The second time was the charm — barely — for that settlement, held in committee last fall after alderpersons questioned the defendant’s credibility.

Still, Cardenas branded Harris a “bad dude” who “should not be getting anything.”

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