Finance Committee signs off on two more settlements stemming from allegations of police wrongdoing

Darrin Johnson claims Officer Ronald Ayala “failed to yield to a pedestrian, failed to keep a proper look out and was driving too fast” when he ran over Johnson, fracturing both his knees. He’s in line for a $400,000 settlement.

SHARE Finance Committee signs off on two more settlements stemming from allegations of police wrongdoing
Police say a 34-year-old man attacked a Chicago police officer July 13, 2022, near Grant Park.

Two settlements related to alleged wrongdoing by Chicago police officers were approved Monday by a City Council committee.

Sun-Times file

The City Council’s Finance Committee on Monday authorized a $400,000 settlement to a man whose knees were fractured when he was run over by a speeding, unmarked SUV driven by a Chicago police officer.

The latest in a string of settlements tied to allegations of police wrongdoing goes to 46-year-old Darrin Johnson, who claims Officer Ronald Ayala was negligent in that he “failed to yield to a pedestrian, failed to keep a proper look out and was driving too fast.”

The accident that broke Johnson’s legs and changed his life forever occurred around 11:15 p.m. on April 17, 2017 at 76th and Carpenter streets.

Johnson and his cousin were walking east on 76th after watching a football game at the cousin’s house.

Deputy Corporation Counsel Mimi Ruether said Ayala and his partner testified they were westbound on 76th when they saw a dark Chevy Tahoe come out of the alley just beyond Carpenter without its headlights on, slam on its brakes, then turn left in front of them.

Officer Ayala claims he made a U-turn close to the mouth of the alley to follow the Tahoe and started to accelerate as he approached the intersection, which is where the accident occurred.

“Ayala testified that he did not turn on his lights and sirens because he thought that would alert the Tahoe they were behind him and wanting to stop it,” Ruether told the Finance Committee.

Ruether said official records undermine Ayala’s version of events.

“Neither the Illinois traffic crash report nor the report signed by Ayala mentions the Tahoe or a suspicious SUV,” Ruether said.

The unmarked police car was not equipped with a camera. Neither Ayala nor his partner wore body cameras.

Ayala and his partner testified Johnson and his cousin ran across the street diagonally, and that Ayala “slammed on the brakes and tried to maneuver away” but Johnson “stopped” and the officer was “not able to avoid him,” Ruether said.

Ayayla struck Johnson “with the front bumper of the SUV” and Johnson’s chest “went over the hood and he rolled off the SUV and onto the street,” she said.

“Given that Officer Ayala had just turned around and was approaching a crosswalk, plaintiff will argue that Officer Ayala either failed to keep a proper lookout or was going too fast or both. And plaintiff will rely on the fact that neither the crash report nor the other report mentioned the SUV or suspicious Tahoe as affecting the officer’s credibility,” Ruether said.

Though a jury could decide Johnson was partly at fault, which would reduce any award, “the jury is likely to compensate Mr. Johnson for his medical bills, pain and suffering and disability with an award in excess of the recommended amount.”

Also on Monday, the Finance Committee authorized a $200,000 settlement to Esael Morales, who claims he was framed by an intoxicated Chicago police officer and further victimized by a police cover-up aided and abetted by a police “code of silence.”

The settlement stems from a bizarre Oct. 13, 2020 incident in the 5200 block of South Monitor Street.

Morales and his girlfriend were sitting in a car around 10 p.m. when Officer Joseph Cabrera, who was off duty and out of uniform, pulled up behind them and asked if they needed help.

The couple refused, circled the block and returned to find Cabrera behind them again.

When Cabrera got out of his car and started yelling at the couple to leave, Morales got out and confronted Cabrera. 

According to Deputy Corporation Counsel Victoria Benson, that’s when Cabrera grabbed Morales, placed him in a “chokehold” and punched him in the head before pulling his Glock pistol and firing it once in Morales’ direction, missing Morales, who ran to his girlfriend’s home and called 911.

In recordings released by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, Cabrera can be heard telling a 911 dispatcher, “He knocked me to the ground. He was attacking me and I fired a round.

“He f------ attacked me and I spent a round.”

But a witness walking a dog at the time disputed Cabrera’s account, prosecutors said.

Because of Cabrera’s “false statement,” Morales was “treated as an offender” and placed in custody, only to be released without charges, Benson said.

After the shooting, Cabrera complained of chest pains and was taken to a hospital, where his blood-alcohol content measured 0.104 — more than the legal 0.08 limit.

An eight-year Chicago Police Department veteran, Cabrera was charged with attempted first-degree murder, aggregated discharge of a firearm, false reporting and obstruction. He was stripped of police powers when arrested in January 2021, and resigned from CPD on May 6, 2021.

“The plaintiff will argue that any difference in treatment is evidence supporting his claim because it goes to whether or not the officers blindly accepted Cabrera’s version of events,” Benson said.

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