Costly history of Chicago’s police pursuits

Taxpayers have paid millions to innocent pedestrians, motorists and passengers killed or injured after police chases have gone bad.

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Chicago Police at the scene of a June 2017 crash in which an off-duty CPD officer and 27-year-old woman were killed.

Chicago Police at the scene of a June 2017 crash in which an off-duty CPD officer and 27-year-old woman were killed. The off-duty officer had been pursued by other cops because his car matched the description of a vehicle used in an earlier carjacking.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

The proposed $4.9 million settlement with the family of a 27-year-old Chicago woman who died after a high-speed police chase is only the latest in a string of such cases.

Over the years, Chicago taxpayers have paid millions to innocent pedestrians, motorists and passengers killed or injured after police pursuits gone bad.

The two most costly of those incidents happened on the same weekend in June 1999.

Unarmed African-American civilians LaTanya Haggerty, 26, and Robert Russ, 22, were shot to death by officers after separate police pursuits, touching off a summer filled with protests about alleged police brutality.

Haggerty was a passenger in a car driven by a friend that police stopped at 89th and Cottage Grove, then chased through the South Side, even after a supervisor ordered them to stop. The driver fled the first police stop fearing an arrest for drugs in his car.

Then-Mayor Richard M. Daley’s administration agreed to pay $18 million – triple the amount it had ever paid to settle a wrongful death case — to the family of Haggerty, a computer analyst shot after the second stop by an officer who said she thought she saw a shiny, silvery object she mistook for a gun in Haggerty’s hand.

Early the next morning, police officers chased Russ–a former Northwestern University football player 10 days short of graduation—for three miles down Lake Shore Drive and the Dan Ryan Expy., after Russ refused their order to pull over for driving erratically.

Officer Von Watts IV smashed the tinted rear driver’s side window of Russ’ car before his gun accidentally discharged after Russ grabbed it, according to an internal investigation.

Watts was suspended for 15 days, in part, for attempting to box in Russ’ car and failing to maintain a safe distance behind the primary car involved in the chase. Watts was driving the secondary car. Another officer was suspended for one day for joining the pursuit without authorization.

A jury subsequently ordered the city to pay $9.6 million to Russ’ son.

At the time, Chicago’s pursuit policy gave officers discretion to launch a pursuit, but mandated them to stop if a supervisor called it off or if they lost sight of the fleeing car. The policy had been revamped in 1997 to bar officers from forcing a fleeing vehicle into parked cars, ramming it or using roadblocks.

In 2003, the pursuit policy was overhauled again after another chase with fatal consequences.

A 25-year-old software developer was killed by a suspect’s fleeing car as she stood near her Presidential Towers apartment in the West Loop. A sergeant had disregarded an order to stop from another sergeant supervising the chase.

The new policy prohibited officers from starting a chase for a minor traffic infraction like a broken headlight and barred unmarked police cars from chasing drivers at all for traffic violations.

If police do chase a car for a theft or hazardous traffic violation, the new policy mandated them to stop whenever the driver runs more than one stop sign or traffic light. Officers were free to chase felons who run red lights, but they must decide whether the need to catch the suspect outweighs the danger of the chase, using a balancing test that considers speed, volume of traffic, road conditions and other factors.

One year later, a young woman suffered permanent brain damage when she was the passenger in a car broadsided at Addison and Kedzie by a stolen GMC van that ran a red light while being chased by Chicago Police.

Officers involved in the chase had violated the revised pursuit policy by failing to alert their supervisors and failing to break off the chase once the pursued vehicle started disobeying traffic control signals. The victim was awarded a $3 million settlement.

In 2012, Chicago taxpayers were on the hook again — this time for $1.36 million — to compensate a man who suffered severe leg injuries in 2009 after his car was hit head-on by a vehicle being chased by officers who had been ordered to stop the pursuit.

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