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$1.2M settlement to family of 14-year-old shot in the back by Chicago police in 2014

Pedro Rios Jr. was one of five people shot by police over the July 4, 2014, weekend, struck in the back by an officer who said Rios pointed a gun at the officer.

Katherine Diaz holds a photo of her nephew, Pedro Rios Jr. at the National Day to STOP MURDER by POLICE at Daley Plazal Tuesday Apr. 14, 2015. | Kevin Tanaka/For Sun-Times Media
Katherine Diaz holds a photo of her nephew, Pedro Rios Jr. at the National Day to STOP MURDER by POLICE at Daley Plazal Tuesday Apr. 14, 2015. | Kevin Tanaka/For Sun-Times Media
Kevin Tanaka, Sun-Times Media Sun-Times Media

Chicago taxpayers will spend $1.2 million to compensate the family of a 14-year old boy who was shot in the back and killed by a police officer during a holiday weekend that included five police shootings, two of them fatal.

The settlement to the family of Pedro Rios Jr. is the largest of three known settlements on the agenda for Monday’s meeting of the Chicago City Council’s Finance Committee. The dollar amount for the fourth — to social worker Anjanette Young — is not known.

A graduate of Stephen Gale Elementary School with plans to attend Chicago Math and Science Academy, Rios was crossing Cicero Avenue at Berenice in Portage Park at around 9 p.m. on July 4th, 2014, when it looked to Chicago police officers passing the crosswalk in a marked squad car “like he was holding something under his shirt,” according to Mark Brown, an attorney for the Rios family.

Police partners Nicholas Redelsperger and Eric Bellomy tried to stop Rios because “they thought it looked suspicious,” Brown said. But when they turned the squad car around and ordered Rios to stop, the teenager ran into a nearby alley, where Redelsperger shot him.

Even after being shot, Rios made a second attempt to run away, only to be struck by the marked police vehicle driven by Bellomy, according to the family’s lawsuit.

Redelsperger, who ran after the teenager, has maintained he fired after Rios pointed the gun at the officer multiple times.

But the officer’s version of events was disputed by the Rios family. The case, according to Brown, was “seven weeks from trial” when the $1.2 million settlement was reached.

“It is our position that, while he did have a gun in his possession, he never pulled it from his waistband, and, as he was running away, the officer shot him in the back, knocking him to the ground,” Brown said. “And, as he rolled on the ground, shot him again around the hip area, which ended up in his lung.”

Brown said the teenager had never been in trouble before and had left home about a week before the shooting. Asked if Rios was a gang member or affiliated with a gang, the attorney said, “Not to our knowledge.”

The attorney said he has no idea why Rios was carrying a gun on that fateful night, but it “shouldn’t have been a death sentence.”

“If you are in possession of a gun and it’s in your waist belt and you’re running away from the police, the police don’t have a right to shoot you in the back unless you threaten them with the gun,” he said.

“If they see it in your hand and you turn toward them and don’t follow instructions to put it down or you raise it up toward them, then there is a reason to use deadly force. But there’s also surveillance video in this case from a nearby building that’s under ... a protective order that shows him running away as fast as he can. We believe it shows that the gun was in his waistband.”

The Independent Police Review Authority, which preceded the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, investigated the shooting and ruled it justified.

“It is possible if not likely” that Rios “turned to see whether and how closely the officer was in pursuit and, in so doing, gave the officer the impression that he was threatening use of the gun,” IPRA’s final report states.

“Whether [Rios] merely turned to see if the officer was in pursuit or turned and pointed the gun,” the shooting officer “had no time to explore other tactical options, and it was reasonable under the circumstances for him to use deadly force to defend himself.”

A separate $625,000 settlement also on the Finance agenda goes to Lawrence Scott, who says he was standing in front of his Englewood home in April 2014 when a plainclothes officer drove up, got out of an unmarked police vehicle, chased him behind his neighbor’s house and knocked him unconscious with a rifle.

Scott, who acknowledged having thrown a bag of marijuana while running away from police, says in his lawsuit that he was bleeding profusely but that officers who arrested him waited three hours before taking him to a hospital for treatment for what turned out to be a concussion and traumatic brain injury.

A $330,000 settlement goes to Frederick Bell, who says he was physically assaulted by four officers after a September 2014 traffic stop in the 7900 block of South Ingleside Avenue.