Chicago panel recommends $6.4M for 2 police custody deaths

A City Council panel recommended Monday that Chicago pay $6.45 million to families of two men who died in police custody — one after he was dragged from a jail cell and shot with a stun gun and the other who had a fatal asthma attack after officers allegedly refused to let him use his inhaler.

In a hearing, the council's finance committee voted to settle the two lawsuits after a recitation of the facts by the city's top attorney that included allegations that officers ignored the pleas of the parents of one of the men and taunted the other man shortly before he died.

Members of the council, who have watched the city pay out more than $660 million in police misconduct cases since 2004, angrily wondered why these cases were popping up again and again while in many cases officers involved remain on the job.

"This is a travesty," Alderman Anthony Beale said.

But they also quickly agreed to recommend the settlements to the full council, which will likely approve them, heeding the warning of the city attorney, who said if the cases went to trial the city risked being ordered by a jury to pay the families far more than $6.45 million.

In one case, the council agreed to recommend that the city settle a lawsuit for $4.95 million brought by the family of Philip Coleman. He was taken into custody in 2012 after he allegedly attacked his mother. When officers arrived, Coleman's parents begged officers to take their adult son to a hospital for psychiatric treatment rather than a jail.

But Corporation Counsel Steve Patton said they were rebuffed, with the officer in charge telling the parents, "We don't do hospitals, we do jail."

Officers shot him with a stun gun and handcuffed him before they dragged him by his hands from his holding cell — an incident that was captured on video. The city released the video just days after it was forced to release the video of a white police officer shooting a black teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times, killing him. Patton said the medical examiner determined Coleman died at the hospital from a reaction to an anti-psychotic drug given to him by a doctor.

In the lawsuit, Coleman's family contend that Coleman would still be alive if he was taken to a hospital to begin with and Patton told the committee that an expert hired by Coleman's family was prepared to testify at trial that the treatment of Coleman by officers contributed to his death.

Alderman Carrie Austin expressed disgust with the behavior of the officers.

"Maybe that young man would be alive today if they had a heart," she said.

City Council members also were angry after hearing Patton describe the last moments of Justin Cook. Arrested after a chase in which a gun was recovered, Patton said officers refused Cook's pleas to be allowed to use his inhaler. One witness, he said, even disputed the officer's contention that he sprayed the contents of the inhaler into Cook's mouth, saying that the officer instead "sprayed it in the air" and said he should have thought of his asthma before he tried to run away. Another witness, he said, told of how an officer held the inhaler in front of Cook and asked, "Is this what you want?"

Patton said a supervisor later arrived at the scene and, seeing Cook's inability to breathe, ordered his handcuffs removed so that Cook could use his inhaler. But he said Cook died.

Council members agreed with Patton's recommendation to settle Cook's family's lawsuit for $1.5 million.