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Finance Committee signs off on $6.5M in police abuse settlements

The city Finance Committee approved on Monday a multimillion-dollar payment to the family of Philip Coleman after CPD mistreatment of him. | Facebook photo

Chicago aldermen on Monday authorized $6.5 million in settlements for two more egregious cases of police abuse but not before a three-hour debate conspicuously absent after the $5 million settlement triggered by the police shooting of Laquan McDonald.

The largest of the two settlements — $4.95 million — will go to the family of Philip Coleman. He’s the 38-year-old man who suffered from a mental breakdown, was shot 13 times with a Taser and was subsequently handcuffed and dragged from his cell by Chicago Police officers in a videotaped incident that a federal judge has ruled amounted to “brute force.”

When Coleman’s parents reportedly pleaded with the officers to take their son to a hospital because of the aggressive and bizarre behavior he was exhibiting, a sergeant told them, “We don’t do hospitals. We do jail,” Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton told aldermen.

The smaller settlement — for $1.5 million — will go to the family of Justin Cook. He’s a 29-year-old man stopped for a traffic violation in 2014 who died while in police custody. After being handcuffed, Cook suffered an asthma attack and asked the officers for the inhaler he had in his pants pocket.

Had the case gone to trial, Patton said six witnesses were prepared to testify that they heard Cook telling the officers he could not breathe yet being denied the medication he needed to stay alive.

One witness claimed to have seen one of the officers spray the inhaler into the air and saying, “You should have thought about that before you ran.” Another claimed to have heard an officer joke about Cook’s condition by saying, “Is this what you need? Well, you’re not going to get it.” Yet another witness claimed to have seen an officer spray the inhaler into the back of the squad car where a handcuffed Cook was seated.

All of the eyewitness testimony is bolstered by a 911 call from someone on the scene who claimed that a “young man can’t breathe” and that police “won’t help,” Patton said.

African-American aldermen were harshly criticized for signing off on a $5 million settlement to the family of McDonald — before a lawsuit had even been filed — without asking tough enough questions or seeing the incendiary shooting video.

On Monday, they and their white and Hispanic colleagues tried to make amends during a three-hour debate that preceded a Finance Committee vote on the two settlements.

Finance Chairman Edward Burke (14th) demanded to know why police protocols put in place after the 2006 death of Christina Eilman were not followed in both cases.

Three years ago, the City Council awarded a $22.5 million settlement to Eilman, the mentally ill California woman who was arrested at Midway Airport, then released in a high crime neighborhood, where she was sexually assaulted before falling or being pushed from a CHA high-rise.

“The police bureaucracy failed this young woman and the police bureaucracy failed this [Coleman] family,” Burke said.

Referring to the Eilman case, Burke said, “This should have been a clarion call. It should have been a wake-up call to the police department. Yet, here we are 10 years later with a [Coleman] case that’s eerily similar.”

After a conveyor belt of police abuse cases that have cost beleaguered Chicago taxpayers millions, Burke said the city “can’t wait for training” to be completed for top brass to follow an order to sign off on cases involving mental health issues.

Budget Committee Chairman Carrie Austin (34th) said if Chicago Police officers “had a heart” and had responded to the parents’ pleas to take Coleman to a mental hospital, he might be alive today.

“The Chicago Police Department had a deaf ear,” Austin said.

Austin noted that Philip Coleman was a “role model” for neighborhood youth in her Far South Side ward. She scolded Patton for saying that Philip Coleman was acting crazy when police responded to the home.

“Please don’t use that language, ‘acting crazy.’  You didn’t know him personally. I did,” Austin said.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), former chairman of the City Council’s Police Committee, said he’s “sick and tired of being sick and tired” that the Independent Police Review Authority has yet to discipline any of the officers involved in the Coleman and Cook cases.

“They were shooting an inhaler into the air while a man was dying, and we’re sitting around waiting for IPRA. They should be fired!” Beale said, his voice rising.

Ed Welch, chief of the Police Department’s Internal Affairs Bureau, left little doubt that disciplinary action is coming.

He said mental health treatment is supposed to be offered to detainees “at any time” and that the policy was violated in the Coleman case.

The same is true in the Cook case, in which Welch said the two officers who had just completed their probationary period violated a “clear policy” regarding administering medication to people in custody.

IPRA conducted a previous investigation and found none of the officers engaged in wrongdoing in their handling of Coleman. Newly-appointed IPRA Chief Sharon Fairley reopened the Coleman case shortly after Mayor Rahm Emanuel forced the resignation of IPRA chief Scott Ando in the continuing fall-out from the McDonald shooting video.