The family of a man who was fatally struck by an unmarked Chicago police SUV earlier this month filed a wrongful death lawsuit Monday alleging the officers were chasing a suspect through the West Pullman neighborhood when the driver lost control and caused the crash.
About 10:30 p.m. July 8, 33-year-old Mario Winters was riding in the 11800 block of South Halsted Street when he was struck and killed by the southbound police vehicle, officials reported. The lawsuit, which lists both the city and the unnamed officers as defendants, seeks over $50,000 in damages.
Police have said the vehicle’s emergency equipment was turned on before the crash. However, the attorneys representing Winters’ family claimed the SUV was traveling at “out-of-control and high rate of speeds” and the officers had only activated its lights and not the sirens.
“This case is about one thing: It’s about the willful and wanton actions — reckless actions — of Chicago police officers driving in our communities,” attorney Andrew Stroth told reporters Thursday as he stood beside Winters’ 6-year-old son and other members of the family.
“It really hurts me that this continues to happen on the South Side and the West Side of Chicago,” Stroth said. “Would officers drive at excessive speeds in Lincoln Park? Would officers drive at excessive speeds in Old Town or Gold Coast?”
Stroth, who is representing the family alongside attorney Antonio Romanucci, called on Mayor Lori Lightfoot to conduct a “full investigation” into the crash and hold the officers involved accountable.
Winters was described by family members as an attentive and involved father to his five children.
“He would do anything for his children,” said Victoria Powell, who has a 1-year-old daughter with Winters and filed the suit. “No matter what it was, he never said ‘no.’”
“I just want to know what happened, and why did it happen,” said Powell, tears flowing down her face. “I just need somebody to answer those questions because he deserves answers. We deserve answers.”
Though Stroth said he believes the officers were pursuing another vehicle, it’s unclear whether the officers were involved in an active chase or responding to a call for service. Police didn’t respond to questions about the circumstances of the crash.
The officers weren’t immediately placed on administrative desk duty, though a department spokeswoman previously said that could change pending an internal investigation. All three were hospitalized after the collision.
While Stroth claimed the officers failed to follow general orders put in place to protect the “sanctity of human life,” Romanucci noted the tactical vehicle involved in the crash wasn’t required to have a dashboard camera rolling under those same rules.
“If they’re exempt from dashcam videos, they should be exempt from participating in police pursuits and chases,” Romanucci said before invoking recent officer-involved fatalities outside of Chicago.
“We saw the truth all across the country because of video recording,” said Romanucci. “Will we know the truth as to what happened to Mario?”