Chicago will pay victims of police brutality $5.25M in settlements. This city council decision came down on Wednesday as the chief attorney for the nation’s third largest city stated that the move would save the city money in future litigation. If last year’s numbers carry over to this year, it’s the best decision the council could have made. The city paid out $54M in verdicts and settlements dealing with suits against the police in 2014.
The two settlements pertain to the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald and 21-year-old David Koschman who died after being punched by an officer in 2004. McDonald’s family will receive $5M and Koschman’s mother, Nanci, will receive $250k.
Both are police misconduct cases: McDonald, a black teen, was shot 16 times by a police officer and the investigation into Koschman’s death was mishandled to the point that Nanci Koschman filed a federal suit claiming that the police conspired to protect the officer who punched her son and that evidence was fabricated to accomplish this protection.
There is an ongoing U.S. DOJ and state-level investigation into McDonald’s death. Richard J. Vanecko, the officer who punched Koschman, pleaded guilty to manslaughter last year after a long investigation by a special prosecutor and the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper. Of note is the fact that the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office didn’t seek charges against Vanecko at the time of the incident. Vanecko is the nephew of Richard M. Daley (mayor of Chicago at the time of the incident) and grandson of late Mayor Richard J. Daley.
Police departments around the country have come under very close, and sometimes uncomfortable, scrutiny lately as complaints of excessive force, brutality and other forms of misconduct surface at an alarming rate. Perhaps Chicago is really trying to clean up its act. Mayor Rahm Emanuel introduced a reparations ordinance that would require the Chicago pay $5.5M, as well as other reparations, to dozens of 1970s and 1980s victims who suffered police torture. The council has yet to vote on this proposal.
Certainly, the settlements could be seen a merely a money-saving effort for the city. Hopefully, that’s not the only reason the council approved them. Police brutality is a hot-button issue in the U.S. and isn’t likely to disappear from the radar anytime soon. As my esteemed colleague, Jeremy Lesh, recently wrote:
“Incidents in Ferguson, New York, Cleveland, Tulsa, and North Charleston, in that order, have given pause to the thought that these are rare, isolated incidents. The emergence of smartphones as personal recording devices has helped provide footage of what would appear to be a problem possibly hidden from view for quite some time in a national context.”