$5M settlement to family of teen killed by Chicago police clears City Council panel

The settlement advanced Monday would go to Alice Martin, mother of 17-year-old Michael Elam Jr., fatally shot in his back after he ran away following a 2019 traffic stop.

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Alice Martin speaks during a news conference about the excessive force and wrongful death federal lawsuit she filed after her 17-year-old son, Michael Elam Jr. (pictured, right), was shot to death by a Chicago Police officer in February, Thursday afternoon, June 20, 2019.

Alice Martin talks about the excessive force and wrongful death federal lawsuit she filed after her 17-year-old son, Michael Elam Jr. (pictured, right), was shot by a Chicago police officer in 2019.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

Chicago taxpayers will spend $5 million to compensate the family of a slain 17-year-old who was shot in his back by a Chicago Police officer while running from a crash after a failed West Side traffic stop.

The settlement advanced Monday by the City Council’s Finance Committee goes to Alice Martin, independent administrator for the estate of her 17-year-old son, Michael Elam Jr.

On Feb. 16, 2019, Michael Elam Jr. and his girlfriend were in the back seat of a car while headed to a restaurant with two other friends. Ogden District tactical officers in an unmarked police vehicle said they tried to pull over the vehicle in North Lawndale for speeding and headlight violations.

But instead of heeding a warning to stop about 8:30 p.m., the vehicle carrying Elam and his friends sped up, lost control and crashed into a fence near 21st Place and Keeler Avenue after a 10-block pursuit, police said. All four occupants ran off, police said.

After a brief foot chase, Chicago Police Officer Adolfo Bolanos opened fire, striking Elam three times — in the “lower mid-back, the lower left back and on the rear side of the head,” according to police.

Deputy Corporation Counsel Victoria Benson told the Finance Committee Monday that Bolanos, a passenger in the police vehicle,” has testified that he “saw Mr. Elam exit the crash vehicle with a gun in his hand.”

“Officer Bolanos testified that he believed that Mr. Elam was pointing a gun at him and was going to shoot him, and thus, fired his gun at Mr. Elam,” Benson said.

“According to Officer Bolanos, Mr. Elam continued to run after he fired at him. And he testified that Mr. Elam ran from the passenger side of the vehicle and around the front of the crash car before he collapsed on the driver’s side of that vehicle. Plaintiff disputes Officer Bolanos’ version of those events.”

A wrongful death lawsuit filed by Elam’s family claims tactical Officer Guillermo Gama Jr., who was driving the unmarked police vehicle, saw Elam “lying on the street” while chasing the driver of the crashed car and proceeded to search the bleeding shooting victim for a weapon, removing items from Elam’s pockets, Benson said.

Footage from Gama’s bodyworn camera appears to verify that claim.

“The complaint also alleges that Officer Gama was in communications with dispatch during the search, but failed to request an ambulance for Mr. Elam. Based on body-worn camera footage, nearly four minutes passed before it was reported to dispatch that someone had been shot and that medical attention was needed,” Benson said.

“The allegation is that Officer Bolanos shot Mr. Elam without legal justification to do so. That Officer Gama failed to intervene from that excessive use of force. That both officers failed to provide medical attention to Mr. Elam in an appropriate manner.”

After sitting through closed-door briefings on the Elam settlement, Ald. Nick Sposato (38th) said it’s clear to him that, “The screw-up was we didn’t call for an ambulance. Had we called for an ambulance right away, we wouldn’t be in this spot.”

But Sposato said he remained “confused” about whether Elam “did or didn’t have a gun.”

“Is it, ‘he said, she said’? Or he definitely did have a gun when the police officer shot him, and our total issue here for the $5 million settlement is ’cause we didn’t call for an ambulance?” Sposato asked.

“I’m stuck on the gun. Whose gun it was. Did he have a gun? Was it somebody else’s gun? Did he point it? Did he drop it? Did the officer see him drop it?”

Benson said it was, in fact, a “he said, she said.”

She said that “guns were recovered from near where” Bolanos said Elam exited the vehicle. But the accuracy of the shooting officer’s claim is in dispute.

“Therefore, it is disputed as to whether or not the individual had a firearm at the time Officer Bolanos shot him,” Benson said.

Sposato was still not satisfied. He demanded to know whether police “just happened to find guns laying on the street at this incident” or whether the guns belonged to Elam and/or his friends.

“I don’t think anyone is making allegations in this case that the guns were just randomly found on the street. In fact, one of the guns that was recovered was found within the vehicle in which Mr. Elam was a passenger. The question is whether or not Mr. Elam had a gun at the time that Officer Bolanos fired at him,” Benson said.

When Sposato said that Elam “could have had a gun and dropped it,” Benson said, “That’s certainly possible.”

The Finance Committee also authorized a $385,000 settlement for a woman injured in a 2018 crash with a police vehicle that ran a red light and initially failed to activate its siren in rainy conditions.

A $457,500 settlement was approved for a man whose fingertip was severed while slamming the door on police officers after he refused to answer questions about a fight in his apartment building.

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