A Chicago City Council committee has preliminarily approved settlements in two police misconduct cases that would cost the city nearly $33 million, including $22.5 million for a California woman that apparently would be the largest payout to a single such plaintiff in the city’s history.
The full City Council is expected to sign off on the settlements.
The bigger of the two would go to the family of Christina Eilman, who will require care for the rest of her life for severe brain injuries suffered in a 2006 fall from a 7th-floor window at a Chicago housing project where she had just been raped.
The second settlement would pay $10.25 million to Alton Logan, one victim of the city’s notorious police torture scandal involving officers under former Lt. John Burge. Logan spent 26 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit, and his award would be the biggest handed out in any case to stem from the investigation into the Burge unit, which framed black murder suspects and tortured many into confessing.
The aldermen voted unanimously to approve the settlements after Alderman Edward Burke said he was “embarrassed and ashamed” that the city had put Eilman’s family through a such a long legal fight, and another alderman suggested the city should have paid far more to Logan, who spent more than a quarter-century behind bars before he was released in 2008.
The alderman asked few questions before voting on just the latest Chicago police misconduct cases in recent years. Among other crimes, officers have been convicted of robbing suspected drug dealers of hundreds of thousands of dollars and beating a man who was handcuffed to a wheelchair. In November, a federal jury awarded $850,000 to a female bartender who was beaten by a drunken off-duty police officer, concluding police adhere to a code of silence in protecting rogue officers.
In often graphic detail, city corporation counsel Steve Patton outlined police actions or inaction that justified the size of the settlements.
Eilman, he said, was trying to fly back to California in May 2006 after visiting Chicago but wasn’t allowed to board her flight at Midway International Airport because she was acting strangely and violently. Police took her to the airport’s train stop, but she began disrobing, danced suggestively and verbally attacked people around her, including a blind man.
Police took her to a bus stop, but the behavior continued, so they arrested her. She continued acting strangely while in custody, babbling and even smearing menstrual blood on the holding cell’s walls. Her parents repeatedly phoned police from California to tell them not to release the 21-year-old college student because she was bipolar and clearly having a breakdown. Still, Eilman was released to fend for herself near the last standing high-rise of the Robert Taylor Homes, a notorious South Side public housing complex that since has been demolished.
Patton said Eilman ended up in a vacant apartment on the high-rise’s seventh floor, where a man raped her at knifepoint.
“She was thrown or jumped out of a seventh-story window,” Patton said. Authorities still don’t know exactly what happened because the fall caused massive brain injuries, leaving her with the mental capacity of a child, according to court documents.
Eilman’s case was to go to federal trial next week. Patton suggested a jury could have awarded her family far more money than the settlement amount.
Burke, who chairs the finance committee, said he was embarrassed by the officers’ behavior and ashamed he and other members didn’t order the city to settle with the family sooner. Cleary angry, he read from a federal appellate court opinion allowing Eilman’s lawsuit to proceed last year.
Police didn’t so much as walk her to a train station, warn her about the dangers of the neighborhood or “even return Eilman’s cellphone, which she might have used to summon aid,” he read. “They might as well have released her into the lions’ den at the Brookfield Zoo.”
Logan’s lawsuit is one of several stemming from one of the darkest chapters of the Chicago Police Department’s history.
Logan was arrested in 1982 in the slaying of an off-duty Cook County corrections officer, who was shot to death at a McDonald’s while working as a security guard.
Logan and another man were convicted, even though there was no physical evidence linking Logan to the crime. Logan was freed in 2008, months after two attorneys representing the other man came forward with a confession from their client that attorneys did not reveal until he died because they were bound to honor the attorney-client privilege.
According to Patton, there were many problems with the investigation, including there being no evidence Logan even knew his co-defendant. While there was no evidence Logan was tortured by Burge’s detectives, another man gave authorities information implicating Logan after being tortured. Furthermore, Patton said Burge has admitted he believed Logan was innocent. Burge has been convicted of lying under oath by testifying in another case that he never witnessed or participated in the torture of suspects.
Alderman Ray Suarez suggested the city was getting off easy with a settlement that, after attorneys’ fees, will pay Logan less than $8.75 million.
“He spent 26 years in jail (and) I think $8 million is really not enough,” Suarez said.
But Logan himself said the money will “bring a measure of happiness because it will allow me to live in a comfortable manner.” Besides, he said at a news conference at his attorney’s office Tuesday afternoon, his eyes welling with tears, “Nothing, no amount of money will ever make up for the time I lost…. I lost everything.”