Chicago Tribune reporter David Heinzmann on news that Mayor Rahm Emanuel seeks to settle two notorious cases of alleged police misconduct. (Posted Jan. 14th, 2013)
Nearly seven years after Christina Eilman wandered out of a South Side police station and into a catastrophe, her tragic entanglement with the Chicago Police Department began to come to an end Monday — with a proposed $22.5 million legal settlement that may be the largest the city ever offered to a single victim of police misconduct.
Though the settlement is a staggering sum on its own, Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration has placed a second eight-figure police settlement on Tuesday's City Council Finance Committee agenda. A $10.2 million settlement is proposed for one of the victims of notorious former police Cmdr. Jon Burge, bringing to nearly $33 million the amount aldermen could vote to pay victims of police misconduct in a single day.
The latest Burge settlement would be for Alton Logan, who spent 26 years in prison for a murder he did not commit and who alleged in a federal lawsuit that Burge's team of detectives covered up evidence that would have exonerated him — a departure from previous cases that documented torture used by Burge's team to extract false confessions. The Logan case would bring the tab on Burge cases to nearly $60 million when legal fees are counted. Burge is serving 41/2 years in federal prison for lying about the torture and abuse of suspects.
The settlement in the Eilman case would avert a trial detailing the events of May 2006, when the then-21-year-old California woman was arrested at Midway Airport in the midst of a bipolar breakdown. She was held overnight and then released at sundown the next day without assistance several miles away in one of the city's highest-crime neighborhoods.
Alone and bewildered by her surroundings, the former UCLA student was abducted and sexually assaulted before plummeting from a seventh-floor window. She survived but suffered a severe and permanent brain injury, a shattered pelvis, and numerous other broken bones and injuries.
Her lawyer and family declined to comment Monday. The case, which has dragged in the courts for six years, was set to begin trial next week. Pretrial litigation had produced scathing rebukes from federal judges of the city's behavior toward Eilman — both on the street and in court.
The city's argument that it was not responsible for her injuries because she was assaulted by a gang member was blasted in a ruling from the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this year. a ruling from the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this year. Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook described the Police Department's release of Eilman, who is white, into a high-crime, predominantly African-American neighborhood by saying officers "might as well have released her into the lion's den at the Brookfield Zoo."
While Emanuel's Law Department endured some criticism for delays in the Eilman case since the mayor took office in 2011, he has noted repeatedly that the police misconduct highlighted in these and many other cases are legacies from the Richard M. Daley administration that he — and taxpayers — are stuck with.
The mayor's office referred calls to the city Law Department, but a spokesman there declined to comment.
If approved, the Eilman settlement would surpass the $18 million settlement paid to the family of LaTanya Haggerty, who was mistakenly shot and killed by police in 1999. It is frequently referred to as the city's biggest single-victim settlement.
Ald. Howard Brookins Jr., 21st, said city officials have not taken a hard enough line against police misconduct for years, and now taxpayers are footing the bill.
"We've known this was going to bust our budget, and here we are," Brookins said. "The administration (under Daley) should have made police conduct and behavior a higher priority. They didn't, and now we're seeing these costly settlements over and over, to pay for officers mistreating people."
The Logan case was set to go to trial last month, but on the first day of jury selection, city lawyers decided to settle the case. Logan's attorney Jon Loevy said the settlement includes about $1.5 million in legal fees.
Logan sat in prison for 26 years until a stunning 2008 revelation after another man, convicted murderer Andrew Wilson, died. Wilson had told his attorneys in 1982 that he committed the murder in which Logan was accused, but the lawyers said the attorney-client privilege kept them from going public with the admission until after Wilson's death.
Although relieved the city settled the case instead of battling on, Loevy said his client would gladly give up the $8.7 million to have nearly three decades of his life back.
"I don't know who would take that much money to lose their 20s, 30s and 40s," Loevy said. "From his perspective, no amount of money can make him whole and he'd rather have his life back."
While Logan lost the middle chunk of his life, Eilman dwells in a childlike mental state and feels as though she has lost the rest of her life, her family has told the Tribune.
Hobbled by a brain injury that has permanently impaired her cognitive function, she lives with her parents in suburban Sacramento. She requires constant medical treatment and therapy. Doctors have said she will not get better.
Eilman came to Chicago on May 5, 2006, at a time when her bipolar condition was worsening. When she tried to catch a return flight from Midway to California a couple of days later, she was ranting and screaming and appeared to be out of her mind.
Police officers eventually arrested her and took her to the Chicago Lawn district near Midway. Court records and depositions in the case show that officers were alarmed by Eilman's behavior.
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