Shooting victim Dakotah Earley sues Chicago Police Department over chase policy

Earley would not have been shot, robbed had police not called off pursuit of gunman an hour before, lawsuit alleges.

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Joy Dobbs and her son Dakotah Earley (left) listen to their attorneys speak about the incident during a press conference by Disparti Law Group announcing a lawsuit against the city on behalf of Dakotah Earley, Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023.

Dakotah Earley and his mother, Joy Dobbs, listen Thursday as their attorneys talk about a federal lawsuit filed against the city of Chicago and the Chicago Police Department.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Chicago police might have stopped a dayslong “violent rampage” by a crew of armed robbers that included the shooting of Dakotah Earley if officers weren’t hampered by the department’s pursuit policy, according to a federal lawsuit filed by the 24-year-old culinary student.

An hour before Earley was shot three times during an armed robbery in Lincoln Park in May, police had called off the pursuit of a stolen BMW linked to Troy Brownlee, who was eventually charged in Earley’s shooting, attorney Cass Casper said at a news conference Thursday announcing a federal lawsuit against the city, Chicago Police Department and officers involved in the aborted chase. The suit claims the city policy violated Earley’s 14th Amendment right to due process and created a danger to the public by limiting officers’ prerogative to chase criminal suspects.

Earley, who sat in a wheelchair beside his mother, was shot twice in his back and once in his head after he struggled with his attacker, suffering injuries that led doctors to perform more than 15 surgeries, including the amputation of his left leg.

“If the police had continued their pursuit of Mr. Brownlee and his stolen BMW, it would have prevented this entire chain of events and the disaster that befell Mr. Earley just an hour later,” Casper said.

“Those rank-and-file officers, they were afraid of the administration coming after them with discipline, with blame, degradation in the news if they continued their pursuit. ... They were worried about the possibility of criminal liability. ... They were worried about being sued if they continued their pursuit in violation of department policy.”

The city’s Law Department and the CPD declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing the pending litigation.

Earley described himself as “mostly optimistic most of the time” despite months of hospitalization and physical therapy and the prospect of another surgery planned for next month.

“I’m feeling kind of fine right now,” Earley said, drumming his fingers on the end of his amputated leg. “You know, you become an amputee, and you think, you know, stuff was a lot easier before. … It could have happened to anybody, that’s the crazy thing about it.”

Police identified the 19-year-old Brownlee as a suspect soon after the shooting and said they learned he was part of a crew involved in multiple armed robberies. In the days after Earley’s shooting, Brownlee eluded police, including fleeing Stroger Hospital after he was shot in front of the Cloud Gate sculpture in Millennium Park. He was arrested in Oak Park on charges related to Earley’s shooting and four other armed robberies.

The lawsuit states that in the days before Earley was attacked, Brownlee and his accomplices stole a BMW in Lake View.

Prosecutors allege Brownlee and his crew committed five armed robberies in rapid succession in the hours before Earley was shot. About 10 p.m. on May 5, Brownlee allegedly pointed a gun at a woman who was walking with her headphones on in Lake View, taking her bag and phone, then crossed the street and robbed another woman.

Thirty minutes later, Brownlee allegedly robbed a man of his wallet and cellphone. The next day, he allegedly robbed a DePaul student of his cellphone and wallet. Five minutes after that robbery, prosecutors said Brownlee walked up to Earley near the corner of West Webster and North Wayne streets, demanded Earley’s cellphone, and shot Earley three times when he resisted.

Many municipalities in recent years have adopted restrictions on when police officers can engage in vehicle chases and foot pursuits, citing danger to bystanders. The CPD’s policy was revised in 2021 “in haste” after an officer shot 13-year-old Adam Toledo after a brief foot chase in Little Village, Casper said.

“This ‘nonpursuit’ policy is what puts police officers in the unenviable position of not being able to do their job,” Casper said.

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