Justice, the Law, and Chicago

There’s a story that’s getting quite a bit of attention here in Chicago and I think it’s worth putting on the floor for discussion:

On the day that Chicago taxpayers got the bill for another $33 million in payouts for police misconduct lawsuits, Mayor Rahm Emanuel sought to reassure citizens that the city’s bleak history of lax police oversight came to an end when he was elected mayor.

But some aldermen and government transparency advocates questioned Thursday whether City Hall and the Chicago Police Department have done enough to identify and weed out the type of behavior that has made the city notorious for bad cop scandals.

As the settlements in two infamous cases moved through City Council votes this week, some aldermen made the connection between police accountability and the cost to taxpayers. Those frustrations reached a peak Thursday as the aldermen voted 49-0 to approve a $10.25 million settlement for a man wrongfully imprisoned for years and a $22.5 million settlement for a mentally ill woman who was left severely disabled after police released her in a high-crime area where she was attacked.

If my understanding is correct the first settlement is the case of a man who was tortured by the police into confessing to a crime he didn’t commit who served 26 years in jail before being exonerated. The second is the case of a mentally ill woman who was arrested at Midway Airport for making a disturbance and then released into the area of the Robert Taylor Homes, a notorious CHA housing project now closed and quite a distance from where she was apprehended. She was then raped at knifepoint by an unknown assailant and fell or was pushed from a seventh story window. She survived but sustained injuries that mean she will require round-the-clock nursing for the rest of her life.

I don’t think there’s any question that terrible injustices were done to both of these individuals. My questions are about the law and justice of the settlements.

To the best of my knowledge no police officer, city, or state official has ever been punished or even reprimanded in either of these cases. Some involved in on case or the other are still on the job. Richie Daley was State’s Attorney when the first case occurred and he’s just retired with a handsome pension.

What’s the law on this? It’s pretty clear that sovereign immunity has gone the way of the dodo. Shouldn’t the police violating official practice be an absolute defense for the city in both cases? Then there’s the justice issue. Do the settlements increase the total amount of justice? I don’t see how. They’re still injured. They haven’t been made whole. The guilty still go unpunished. More innocents, the people of the city of Chicago, are being punished. Spreading injustice around doesn’t produce more justice, it produces more injustice.

I agree with 21st Ward Alderman Howard Brookins, quoted in the article cited above: where does it end? When do we start punishing the people who are actually guilty?

9 comments… add one

  • Icepick

    But you know, the important things are to give the government more power and authority over its subjects, to diminish the power of the subjects to defend themselves, and most of all to make certain all the toadies working for the government get good salaries and obscene retirement packages for themselves.

    Those are the important things.

    When do we start punishing the people who are actually guilty?

    If you’re not even willing to vote out the ones holding elective office, what makes you think that punishment can ever really be meted out?

  • PD Shaw

    Steve Verdon will be shocked to read this; shocked I assure you.

    I think the first step to wisdom might be to find a complaint in some of these high profile cases to see what the plaintiff’s claims are. I do not think its a given that police misconduct results in municipal liability. It is my impression from cases like the one in New Orleans that the SCOTUS tossed out, that the lawsuit requires some bridge between the irresponsibility of the officer and the responsibility of the city in the form of oversight and training.

    Cities don’t have sovereign immunity from federal civil rights lawsuits.

  • PD Shaw

    My answer is to eliminate the union’s interference with the ability to fire cops. I’m not necessarily advocating de-unionizing cops, just eliminate the ability to use collective bargaining to negotiate an appropriate remedial response before an aribitrator. Hand-slapping for people who have the ability to point guns at private citizens.

  • Mayor Rahm Emanuel sought to reassure citizens that the city’s bleak history of lax police oversight came to an end when he was elected mayor.

    Bwhahahahaha…what a lying scum bag.

    What’s the law on this? It’s pretty clear that sovereign immunity has gone the way of the dodo. Shouldn’t the police violating official practice be an absolute defense for the city in both cases?

    Until you address the issue of qualified immunity and this part,

    To the best of my knowledge no police officer, city, or state official has ever been punished or even reprimanded in either of these cases. Some involved in on case or the other are still on the job. Richie Daley was State’s Attorney when the first case occurred and he’s just retired with a handsome pension.

    and absolute immunity for prosecutors, absolutely not. Cities should continue to be sued and taxpayers foot the bill. Yes, it is an extremely inefficient manner to bring oversight and curb misconduct by police and prosecutors, but it is the only mechanism in place.

    Then there’s the justice issue. Do the settlements increase the total amount of justice? I don’t see how. They’re still injured. They haven’t been made whole. The guilty still go unpunished.

    By this logic there should never be any wrongful death lawsuits or monetary payouts. After all no payout, big or small, will bring the person back to life, right?

    I agree with 21st Ward Alderman Howard Brookins, quoted in the article cited above: where does it end? When do we start punishing the people who are actually guilty?

    Jesus Dave. The obvious….punish the guilty cops and prosecutors. Maybe went that happens then you can talk about reducing civil lawsuits and their payouts. Until then, no.

  • BTW, Radley Balko’s on Rahm Emanuel

    So upon hearing that some of his city’s cops helped cover up the fact that one of their own beat a woman senseless, Emanuel’s first reaction is to cover his own ass (don’t blame me, it happened before I was mayor!), and his second to cover the city’s. No apology for the actions of the city’s public servants. No promise to investigate the culture of lying within the department.

    It’s worth noting that Emanuel chose Garry McCarthy as his new police chief last year. McCarthy came from Newark, which ranked 13th from the bottom in the country for police misconduct in 2010. McCarthy made it clear where his priorities would lie in Chicago when he declared shortly after his appointment that, “I’ll have cops’ backs.” It sounds like cops are doing a fine job of covering their own backs. It’s people like Karolina Obrycka who could use some help.

    By the way, this is all happening while Chicago PD remains under federal investigation for torturing suspects, a scandal that went all the way up to the office of Mayor Richard Daley, who knew about the torture, but did nothing to stop it. Looks like Emanuel will carry on the Daley tradition of turning a blind eye to police abuse.

    Under Rahm’s leadership, expect the blue code to endure in the Windy City, strong as ever.

    The guy is a complete piece of shit.

  • You don’t have to convince me that Rahm Emanuel is not a good guy. I’ve disliked him since he was Bill Clinton’s campaign finance director. I have never voted for him in any primary or general election and never will.

  • sam

    Things like this make me smile, in a unsmiling way, when I hear conservatives or libertarians going off on the big, bad feds. Your local gubmint, folks, is where you really encounter Leviathan, if only with a small ‘l’.

  • steve

    You beat me to it sam. That said, I wish there were some way that we really could go after those who caused the harm. After we figure out how to do this for police, could we figure out how to do it for bankers?

    Steve

  • Things like this make me smile, in a unsmiling way, when I hear conservatives or libertarians going off on the big, bad feds. Your local gubmint, folks, is where you really encounter Leviathan, if only with a small ‘l’.

    Right, but who do you hear complaining about this….oh, yeah me, Radley Balko, William L. Anderson, and the guys at places like Reason.

    What was that Michael was saying about liberals being so in touch with reality?

    Bwahahahaha…you liberals are soooo funny sometimes.

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