Our Pledge To You

News

After $44.7M verdict, city still in denial over bad cops, lawyer says

Michael LaPorta

Michael LaPorta, center, and his attorney, Tony Romanucci, right, talk to reporters the day after a jury awarded a $44.7 million verdict to compensate LaPorta because a Chicago cop shot him in the head. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

A day after the city vowed to appeal a record-breaking verdict in the case of an off-duty Chicago police officer who shot his buddy in the head, the victim’s attorney said City Hall remains in denial — a situation that can lead only to millions of dollars more in costs to taxpayers.

“They want to stick their head in the sand until it happens again. And then it’s going to happen again,” said attorney Tony Romanucci, standing beside his client, Michael D. LaPorta, who remains in a wheelchair following the Jan. 12, 2010, shooting.

On Thursday, a federal jury in a civil case found that Chicago Police Officer Patrick Kelly pulled the trigger, shooting his buddy, LaPorta, in the head, after a night of drinking at Kelly’s home. The jury awarded LaPorta $44.7 million — believed to be the highest amount for a police misconduct case in the city’s history. The shooting left LaPorta permanently disabled, and only able to navigate in an electric wheelchair. Kelly has said, including when he called 911 after the shooting, that LaPorta was trying to commit suicide — something LaPorta and his family have long denied.

The jury held the city responsible by finding it failed not only to discipline Kelly but also failed to maintain an adequate early warning system that could help identify problem officers. Ahead of LaPorta’s trial, 19 complaints had been registered against Kelly in a six-year span, according to the LaPorta family’s lawsuit. When Kelly took the stand last week, he invoked his constitutional right not to incriminate himself 31 times.

“The last seven years of our lives have been a daily nightmare, worrying over the health and the safety of my son,” said LaPorta’s mother, Patti LaPorta. “What is most tragic, though, is that we know our son’s life [would] have been different if the city of Chicago and the police department had done their job to get Officer Patrick Kelly off our streets long before the night of Jan. 12, 201o.”

Chicago Police Officer Patrick Kelly (left) enters the Dirksen Federal Courthouse earlier this month. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

On Thursday, a city spokesman said there remain “strong legal arguments” to be considered by an appellate court.

“That’s fine. They can appeal all they want,” Romanucci said Friday. “It would have been nice for them to offer an apology or some condolence or maybe just a little bit of regret to what happened to this man and how he’s going to have to live for the rest of his life.”

LaPorta told reporters the verdict took him by surprise.

“I was thinking I wouldn’t get anything,” he said in a slow whisper. “It was so fulfilling and it was a lot of money.”

His mother stood a few feet away, her eyes downcast and on the verge of tears.

Her son was asked about the money and how it might help his mother, who earlier had said it would give her peace of mind as she considers the future.

“She’s my mom. She’s been there for me since the beginning. I’ve been pampered, and now she’s getting pampered too,” he said.