Divided City Council approves $1 million settlement in police shooting case

“The sin of the police officer was he turned the body camera off a little too soon. ... We should not be paying this family a million dollars,” said Ald. Nick Sposato. But Ald. Chris Taliaferro disagreed: “Either we trust our lawyers or we don’t.”

SHARE Divided City Council approves $1 million settlement in police shooting case
Chicago City Council on Wednesday, June 21, 2023.

The Chicago City Council meeting on Wednesday. A divided Council approved a payout to the mother of a man who had been shot and killed by police in 2019.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

After a spirited debate, a divided City Council agreed Wednesday to spend $1 million to compensate the family of an armed, 26-year-old man shot and killed by police in 2019.

Five months ago, an avalanche of opposition from the police union’s staunchest City Council allies had forced then-Finance Committee Chair Scott Waguespack (32nd) to yank the settlement to the mother of Sharell Brown off the agenda to avoid an almost certain defeat.

At that time, Nick Sposato (38th) had vowed to do “everything in my power to stop” the settlement to avoid sending a dangerous message to Chicago Police officers that, “You cannot shoot an offender until he pulls the trigger first.” And Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) had called the shooting “completely defensible,” claiming the officer “had no choice but to fire at this armed felon.”

On Wednesday, the City Council approved the settlement by a vote of 35 to 15.

As he had last week in committee, Hopkins dropped his earlier opposition on grounds that the fact that the officer’s body-worn camera was “disabled with intent” exposed the city to an even bigger payout if the case went to trial.

Sposato countered that Brown had a “bulge in the side of his pants” that “may have been a gun.” He matched the description of an armed robber and ran from police.

“The sin of the police officer was he turned the body camera off a little too soon. ... We should not be paying this family a million dollars,” Sposato said.

Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) criticized what he views as the city’s knee-jerk propensity to settle lawsuits alleging police misconduct.

“We can’t keep rewarding criminality. We cannot continuously reward those who are causing so much of the violence and the pain we see in our communities,” Lopez said.

But Budget Committee Chair Jason Ervin (28th) argued it was easy for alderpersons suggest going to trial when taxpayers’ money is at stake.

“If you want to put your money on the table, then roll the dice. But when it’s the taxpayers’ money, either we trust our lawyers or we don’t.”

During closed-door briefings in January, alderpersons were furious to learn about the city’s proposed six-figure settlement in the wrongful death lawsuit even though the Civilian Office of Police Accountability did not sustain the family’s allegation that the shooting was “excessive and inappropriate deadly force.”

COPA made that finding after concluding Brown was armed and posed a threat to CPD Officers Robert Rhodes and Joseph Lisciandrello, who stopped him the afternoon of May 11, 2019 because Brown “matched the description of an armed robber.”

In a 2021 summary report on the incident, COPA recommended a 180-day suspension for Lisciandrello, who fired the shots that killed Brown, only because of the shooting officer’s “failure to completely record the incident” on his body-worn camera. The officer ended up with a five-day suspension.

“COPA cannot determine whether [Brown] reasonably appeared to present an imminent risk of great bodily harm to Officer Lisciandrello and whether deadly force was reasonably necessary to eliminate the threat. Therefore, there is insufficient evidence to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Officer Lisciandrello violated department policy,” the report states.

At the time, city attorneys justified the $1 million settlement, calling it “fiscally prudent” to avoid a trial that would have required the city to “bring in 15 or 20 people for depositions.”

The Council also OK’d three other settlements.

The largest payout — $7.25 million — goes to Arthur Brown, a now-72-year-old man who spent 30 years in prison for an arson fire he did not set after being choked into confessing to the double murder in 1988.

A $400,000 settlement goes to a woman who suffered neck and shoulder injuries that aggravated an earlier condition after the car she was riding in was rear-ended by a Ford F-150 truck driven by a now-retired city employee.

And a $550,000 pay-out goes to a man who fell on his face and suffered a seizure after he was chased and tased by a Chicago police officer who was subsequently stripped of his police powers.

The officer, who resigned in January, claimed the Taser “discharged accidentally” according to Deputy Corporation Counsel Victoria Benson. The officer faces “multiple criminal charges” that are “still pending,” Benson said.

Given the complaints from alderpersons about police-related settlements, Mayor Brandon Johnson was asked after the Council meeting about fixing the approval process.

He first recalled Chicago’s “very long history” of police brutality, saying “we still have a ways to go in order to ensure that Blackness is not criminalized and/or brutalized.”

He also noted that he signed off on settlements while serving on the Cook County Board, and “what I heard today is that there is an opportunity for us to embrace a process that provides more information in order for all stakeholders to make more informed decisions.”

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, the Council confirmed Mayor Brandon Johnson’s appointment of Budget Director Annette Guzman and welcomed his newly-appointed Corporation Counsel Mary Richardson-Lowry with round of applause.

Birthplace of house music gets landmark status

Also Wednesday, the Council voted unanimously to bestow city landmark status on a 113-year-old West Loop building that once housed a dance club that became the birthplace of house music.

The three-level nightclub at 206 S. Jefferson St. known as “The Warehouse” started as a membership-only venue popular with gay Black men. But it fast became what Preservation Chicago has called a “dance floor of freedom” for a more diverse crowd.

From 1977 through the mid-’80s, the resident DJ at the Warehouse was Frankie Knuckles, a record producer and remix artist hailed as the “Godfather of House Music.”

When the measure passed out of committee on Tuesday, Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) and Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) spoke about the club’s importance. But there was silence Wednesday when the mayor asked if anyone had anything to add before the vote.

“So,” the mayor responded, “no ‘House-heads’ wish to speak?”

TIF extension sought; proposal would crack down on idling drivers

Mayor Johnson proposed extending the life of the Fullerton/Milwaukee tax increment-financing district by three years to support the long-stalled rehabilitation of Chicago’s landmark Congress Theater, 2135 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Extending the TIF to Dec. 31, 2027 would also help bankroll reconstruction of Milwaukee Avenue from Belmont to Logan Boulevard and the reconfiguration of the Logan Square traffic circle at intersection of Milwaukee, Kedzie and Logan.

Also Wednesday, Ald. Timmy Knudsen (43rd) introduced an ordinance prohibiting all internal combustion-powered vehicles from idling for more than 3 minutes.

“This ordinance is about protecting our planet. Cars are the biggest pollutant and contributor to global warming in Illinois and the City of Chicago. Anti-idling ordinances will reduce emissions,” Knudsen was quoted as saying in a press release.

“This ordinance is also about pedestrian, bike, and traffic safety. Idling vehicles cause congestion, and block bike lanes, increasing the risk of accidents. Anti-idling ordinances save lives. Finally, this ordinance is about protecting our kids. One of the main sites of idling vehicles is outside our schools during pickup and drop-off, exposing kids directly to harmful emissions. This ordinance will protect our kids’ health.”

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