Four questions from the $33 million settlements for Chicago police misconduct cases

Por en Noticias 01/15/13 2:14pm
Chicago corporation counsel Steve Patton gets ready to testify in front of the Chicago City Council Finance Committee Tuesday Jan. 15, 2013 on the cases of Christina Eilman and Alton Logan. The committee voted unanimously to settle the cases of Eilman and Logan and the recommendation will go to the full council on Thursday. (Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune)

The City Council Finance Committee Tuesday endorsed paying $33 million to settle cases of police misconduct against Christina Eilman and Alton Logan- a figure that Tribune reporter Hal Dardick noted what may be the single largest payment of its kind in city history.

The Eilman case involved events May 2006, when the then-21-year-old California woman was arrested at Midway Airport in the midst of a Robert Taylor Homes.

The other settlement approved today would authorize a $8.75 million payment to Alton Logan, who spent 26 years in prison for a murder he did not commit, Dardick said.   Logan had accussed former Area Two Commander Jon Burge of covering up evidence that would have proved his innocence.

The settlements will put these particular cases to rest.

But important questions remain about police misconduct in a city that has seen case after case in which police misconduct and assumptions of operating with impunity cost the taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.

Here are our top four:

I. How long can the Chicago Police Department go without addressing the culture of police misconduct in internal, rather than external ways?

At this point lawyers like Jon Loevy, Logan’s attorney, and Craig Futterman of the University of Chicago represent some of the major checks on police behavior.

The Independent Police Review Authority, created in 2007 in the aftermath of the  Special Operations Section, has made some strides in transparency, posting data and investigations on its web site.

But Futterman said in an interview with Hoy last year that the establishment of the IPRA has not led to more accountability for the police.

II. What was 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook thinking?

Tribune reporter David Heinzmann wrote that 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.”

There is no arguing that the crime against Eilman was heinous, and Easterbrook’s comparing Robert Taylor Homes resident to zoo animals is racially insensitive at the very least, and racist at worst.

III. When will Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel drop the posture that these are simply cases he inherited and acknowledge that there are major ongoing concerns about police behavior?

Dardick’s article included extensive commentary from Corporation Counsel top attorney Stephen Patton, who emphasized how long ago these events were in the city’s history:

“But I think it’s important to note, for all of us to recognize that these events occurred 25 or more years ago,” he added. “Mr. Burge was fired 19 years ago, in 1993. He now sits in a federal penitentiary in North Carolina. Every one of  these witnesses in this case is either terminated or retired years ago.

“It doesn’t make the outrage of what they did any less. It doesn’t make the plaintiff’s demands for justice any less deserving. But it does mean that even though these events occurred a long time ago.”

Patton’s statements are accurate, and the position that this all took place a long ago and the legal system has worked only serves as a soft form of denial of the ongoing concerns about police-community relations.

The Emanuel Administration’s efforts to erase the “code of silence” verdict in the Anthony Abbate trial only strengthens the perspective of those who say Emanuel is not facing squarely the problems that exist in this area.

IV. How much will  it cost the citizens of Chicago before they insist that this behavior stop?

Dardick pointed out that settlements involving Burge have already cost the city nearly $60 million in settlements and legal fees, with more cases as yet unresolved.

Friend and former colleague Angela Caputo showed last year that the continued and expensive misconduct of a small group of officers is not limited to Burge and has continued since his firing.

Beyond the financial cost, which is clearly substantial, there is the erosion of trust among those who are entrusted with protecting the citizenry.

When I was at The Chicago Reporter, we did a major investigation into fatal police shootings.  One of the key points that emerged is that the police need positive relations with the community to be effective in their jobs and to solve crime.

Behavior like those involved in the two cases runs completely counter to that kind of interaction.

In the end, the police and mayor are public servants and elected officials.

The citizens have the ability and power to insist on different and better behavior.

Whether they will do so remains to be seen.

We will watch with interest.