The Chicagoland city of Waukegan, IL, approved a $9.5 million settlement to end a lawsuit filed by wrongly imprisoned resident Angel Gonzalez.
Gonzalez, freed from prison in 2015, spent 20 years behind bars after being convicted for the rape of a local woman. DNA evidence exonerated Gonzalez, whose case prompted city officials to require enhanced training for Waukegan police officers.
“I think for Angel, obviously, being safe financially is important to him, but it was also important to prevent what happened to him from happening to anyone else,” said Gonzalez’s attorney, Anna Benvenutti Hoffmann. “That’s certainly important to him.”
Hoffmann, writes the Chicago Tribune, doesn’t think her client’s case is unique. Gonzalez’s wrongful conviction wasn’t “the first time something like this has happened in Waukegan,” she said, “but he’s grateful that the people in charge are willing and committed to trying to improve.”
The brunt of the award will be paid by the city, which settled with two insurance companies last summer. Both businesses carried policies for Waukegan in the mid-1990s, when Gonzalez was convicted of kidnapping and rape.
The two companies will pay $900,000 between then, leaving Waukegan responsible for the remainder. The Tribune says the $8.6 million bill will be footed by taxpayers and paid out as an annuity rather than a lump sum.
“Obviously, we would have loved to have taken $9.5 million and put it in other things, but for a man who has been vindicated … now he has been somewhat—somewhat—taken care of because of what has happened to him and rightly so by the city,” said Mayor Sam Cunningham.
Gonzalez’s lawsuit alleged that Waukegan repeatedly violated his civil rights. Officers used an “unduly suggestive and unreliable” method to identify him as a suspect, bringing the victim to where he’d been pulled over roadside. That, notes the Tribune, despite the jail being “mere steps” away.
And at the time of Gonzalez’s arrest in 1994, the man, born and brought up in Mexico, didn’t speak even conversational English. He says he wasn’t informed of his Miranda rights in Spanish and was asked to sign a waiver of the same, even though it was written in English.
Moreover, says Gonzalez, he asked for an attorney several times but was never provided with one.
Initially asking for $20 million, the settlement sum was reduced to $9.5—an outcome described by Mayor Cunningham as a “win-win” for the plaintiffs and taxpayers alike.
Cunningham’s administration refused to issue an apology to Gonzalez, saying the case is being treated as a liability claim.