Our Pledge To You

News

City to pay $1.3 million to family of man killed during cop chase

Chicago taxpayers will pay $1.375 million to the family of a man killed on his 32nd birthday by an unlicensed teenage driver with marijuana in his system who was being chased by an unmarked police car for running a stop sign, in violation of department policy.

The settlement to the family of Eugene Ratliff is one of three sizeable payouts with a total value of $2.66 million on the agenda for approval at Friday’s City Council Finance Committee.

An aspiring sketch artist who graduated from Dunbar High School, Ratliff was out with friends celebrating his birthday in September 2013 when he was hit while crossing a street in Avalon Park.

The police were chasing the driver, identified as 17-year-old Dorian Williams of Hazel Crest, at speeds as high as 64 miles an hour for running a stop sign, according to the family.

Prior to the crash that killed Ratliff and injured two of his friends, Williams had run six stop signs and sideswiped another car, prosecutors said.

The chase ended with Williams crashing into the porch of a home at 83rd and Blackstone, escaping through a broken window and fleeing before being found hiding in a backyard about a block away, according to the police.

Williams was charged with reckless homicide, aggravated DUI and leaving the scene of an accident after testing positive for marijuana. Police also found marijuana in the 2013 Volkswagen Jetta that Williams was driving, prosecutors said. His court case is pending, and he’s being held in Cook County Jail on $500,000 bail.

Ratliff was in the wrong place at the wrong time while running an errand before a birthday celebration with friends.

A 31-year-old woman who was with Ratliff on that night suffered a fractured pelvis and a broken hip. A 21-year-old man was treated at a hospital for minor injuries and released.

The settlement stems from the decision by police tactical officers to initiate the high-speed chase after witnessing Williams run one stop sign, then continuing the pursuit as the teen ran five more stop signs in a residential neighborhood.

A lawsuit filed by the administrator of Ratliff’s estate claimed that the chase precipitated Ratliff’s death.

“These police officers were in an unmarked car. They are strictly prohibited from engaging in any pursuit of any traffic violator while driving an unmarked car,” a source familiar with the case said.

“They caused the death by chasing this 17-year-old guy over a mile at speeds of 64 miles an hour. They turned off their emergency lights during the chase. They’re in an unmarked car. No lights. Speeds of 64 miles an hour in a 30-mile zone, and they’re running after this fleeing car through intersections where there are pedestrians in this residential area without any warning. Without a blue-and-white [marked squad car]. Without emergency lights. So this car goes through an intersection at 83rd and Blackstone, hits another car going westbound on 83rd Street, then careens into the sidewalk where Eugene Ratliff was standing.”

Law Department spokesman Bill McCaffrey and James Montgomery Jr., an attorney representing the Ratliff family, refused to comment.

At the time of the crash, then-police spokesman Adam Collins said the tactical officers activated their emergency lights and tried to stop Williams’ car after witnessing the teen run a stop sign  at 83rd and Drexel.

Collins, who now serves as Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s communications director, said at the time that there was never an active pursuit and that the officers turned off their emergency lights after Williams refused to stop, instead taking off at speeds up to 20 miles an hour over the 30-mile-an-hour limit.

Another settlement by the city — for $350,000 — will go to Alprentiss Nash, who spent 17 years in prison before being released from prison in August 2012 after murder charges against him were dropped.

The third settlement — for $937,000 — will resolve a class-action lawsuit filed by Chicago Police Officer Robert Bartlett.

The suit claims that the city violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by excluding “all overtime pay” from retroactive pay hikes tied to the five-year police contract that expires on June 30, 2017.

“Plaintiff Robert Bartlett and the putative class worked in excess of 171 hours in at least one, 28-day pay period and were not paid their full overtime compensation,” the lawsuit states.