CHICAGO (AP) - A Chicago City Council committee on Monday recommended paying a total of $20 million to families of two men who were killed when a drunken off-duty police detective slammed into their car nine years ago.
The committee backed the settlement after hearing that jurors would likely order the city to pay far more if they ever were presented evidence that the department's alleged code of silence "emboldened" Joseph Frugoli to climb behind the wheel of his SUV. Aldermen seemed to grow angrier by the minute as they learned about the Frugoli's history, including how officers didn't administer sobriety tests after two car accidents and even gave him a ride home after one of them.
"We wonder why the public loses trust in their police department," said Alderman Tom Tunney, who, like other aldermen, has seen the council approve numerous settlement of cases involving police misconduct. In all, such cases have cost the city at least $700 million in little more than a decade.
The full council is expected to sign off on the settlement when it meets on Wednesday.
Some aldermen wondered why the city should have to pay millions of dollars to settle a lawsuit for a disgraced officer who wasn't on duty at the time of the crash. Frugoli was convicted of aggravated driving under the influence and fleeing the scene of the accident was sentenced in 2012 to eight years in prison.
But Jane Elinor Notz, a lawyer for the city, explained that the courts have ruled against the city on that issue in the past and that they didn't want jurors to hear how Frugoli's history may have "emboldened him" to drive drunk on the night of the 2009 crash that killed Fausto Manzera and Andrew Cazares, when the detective's blood alcohol content was more than four times the legal limit.
Nor did alderman want to risk a much larger award from jurors who would certainly listen to a voicemail one of the victims left as he and his friend sat trapped in their car as the fire that killed them was just starting. When the civil trial in the case ended abruptly in December with an announcement that the two sides had reached a settlement, Notz told the committee that hearing the voicemail had left some jurors weeping.
That trial brought by the families of Manzera, 21, and Cazares, 23, ended shortly after the city's attorneys admitted that they'd failed to disclose that Frugoli had been involved in a barroom brawl years before the 2009 crash and only received a five-day suspension. That admission seriously damaged the attorneys' denial that there was a police code of silence, particularly since the judge said she would tell jurors that they could infer that the city intentionally withheld that information.