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Attorney: Big payout justified for families of men killed by drunk cop

Joseph Frugoli

Ex-Chicago cop Joseph Frugoli | Chicago Sun-Times file photo

Chicago taxpayers should pay millions to the families of two men killed by inebriated off-duty police detective Joseph Frugoli because the Chicago Police Department’s code of silence allowed a cop with a history of driving drunk to believe he could do so without consequence, an attorney said Tuesday.

“These two young men burned to death. There was dramatic testimony as to how they died. The testimony as to the code of silence and how this enabled Frugoli to act in a criminal manner was overwhelming. That’s why this was such a powerful case,” said Kevin Conway, an attorney for the family of Fausto Manzera.

Conway said he is bound by an agreement with the city not to disclose the amount until the settlement is authorized by the City Council, which is likely to happen in January. But when asked about the $20 million settlement figure disclosed by the Chicago Tribune, Conway said, “I will not deny anything that’s reported. I’m not gonna say anything that’s false.”

The settlement will be divided evenly between the families of Manzera and Andrew Cazares. The two men were sitting in their dark car—after a flat tire on the Dan Ryan Expy. shorted out the vehicle’s electricity—when it was hit by Frugoli in 2009.

The city waved the white flag just four days after surrendering a document that should have been turned over to plaintiffs’ attorneys before the trial and appeared to prove their claim that a “code of silence” — famously acknowledged by Mayor Rahm Emanuel — led Frugoli to believe he could continue to drive drunk.

Tuesday, Conway called the withheld document “a big deal” and a major factor in determining the $20 million settlement.

“Attorneys talked to the jurors afterwards and they were moved by the withholding of perhaps the most important document in the case,” Conway said.

“It showed that, very early on in his employment as a police officer, he committed a number of serious crimes and he was not held accountable.”

Those documents describe how Frugoli was suspended for five days in 1992 after he allegedly punched two people at the First Base Tavern in Bridgeport, grabbed one by the throat, threw them on a pool table and hit them with pool cues. He also allegedly threw glasses and broke two bar stools.

The off-duty cop later admitted he’d been drinking but “was not intoxicated.” A sergeant would testify that she’d reached the same conclusion. But Frugoli was never given a field sobriety test or Breathalyzer, records show. And he was allowed to drive away from the scene.

During closing arguments cut short by the settlement, plaintiffs’ attorneys argued that the bar fight put Frugoli on a “path of destruction” up to the fatal crash. Frugoli was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2012 for driving drunk and killing the men.

It was the eighth time under Emanuel’s nearly seven-year watch that a judge had sanctioned the city for withholding evidence in a police misconduct case.