With 12,000 officers on the Chicago Police force, problematic behavior among some individuals is to be expected. What is more surprising is that a very small fraction - 124 officers - account of a third of all misconduct lawsuits settlements since 2009. The police misconduct lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm shed light on this problem, which the city has known of and failed to address for decades.
The Chicago Tribune recently published an investigation into settlements paid to victims of police misconduct. In the last seven years, Chicago has settled more than 1,100 cases, the majority of which for relatively minor incidents, like false arrests, harassment, or injuries inflicted during a traffic stop.
Shockingly, 82% of CPD officers were not named in any of these settlements, and the 124 officers that were identified in one-third of misconduct lawsuits cost the city - meaning its taxpayers – $34 million. These officers are rarely disciplined.
These lawsuits and consequent settlements escape large-scale media attention and public knowledge because they settled for an average of $100,000 or less, and therefore did not require City Council approval. Larger settlements, those over $1 million, account for just 5% of cases and attract the attention to national news, the U.S. Justice Department, and public outcry.
Many officers claim that their use of excessive force is due to the high-crime neighborhoods they are assigned to. Yet most of the 124 officers with repeatedly problematic conduct are assigned to patrol relatively low-crime neighborhoods.
No wonder Chicagoans have lost nearly all confidence in CPD. Mayor Emanuel's office, Interim Supt. Escalante, and the CPD spokesman all state that they have not done enough to weed out bad officers, that this issue has been pervasive for decades, with very little done to address the pattern of abuse.
Garfield Ridge Gangsters
According to the Tribune, most officers named in three or more lawsuits work together on assignments or otherwise partner with other officers who are repeatedly sued. For example, a small circle of officers working the Chicago Lawn district have racked up 16 lawsuits since 2009. That group of five officers has cost the city $1.5 million in the last seven years alone.
Officers Sean Campbell, Steven Sautkus, Rudolph Garza, Christopher Barajas, and Lance Handzel all live in the western stretch of the Chicago Lawn district. Off-duty, these men see each other often, hanging out in their Garfield Ridge neighborhood.
Neighborhood residents who have been victimized by these men believe this pack-mentality emboldens the officers to harass, belittle, and violate their rights. The 16 lawsuits filed against these men stem from petty circumstances, like traffic stops and minor, misdemeanor charges like resisting arrest or possession of cannabis.
In one lawsuit filed by a father and son of the neighborhood, the plaintiffs state Officer Barajas pulled them over in the alley next to their house with his gun drawn. The man told Barajas he was helping his brother-in-law rehab his new home, but Barajas did not recognize his name. Barajas took the man out of his car and berated him for 30 minutes, saying "I know this neighborhood. I own this block." A supervisor eventually arrived and let the man and his son go. They were eventually paid $30,000 in an excessive force lawsuit.
Other lawsuits claim these officers used racial slurs, choked or hit neighborhood residents, and made false arrests. One Arab-American woman states that when Garza and Campbell pulled her over for a traffic violation, they groped her and called her a terrorist. Another biracial teenager who moved onto Handzel's block claims he made racial slurs at him, saying he did not belong in the neighborhood.
Yet another lawsuit claims Garza broke a woman's nose while she was handcuffed in the back seat of a squad car. The 21-year-old woman was intoxicated at a party with Garza and Campbell when they got into an argument. When the police came, officers asked Garza if he wanted a "free shot" at her. Garza then got into the backseat and punched her three times. She had to undergo reconstructive surgery, and ultimately agreed to a $134,000 settlement with the city.
None of these complaints against these five officers resulted in discipline. There are countless stories like this, many far worse. To read more on the Tribune's investigation, visit their website here.
Our police misconduct attorneys have been working with victims and families for 30 years, winning millions for our clients. If you have any questions about our police brutality practice, contact us now for a free, confidential consultation.