CHICAGO - Chicago taxpayers will spend $15 million to compensate the family of a 37-year-old mother of six killed in June 2020 after a harrowing, high-speed chase down expressways and city streets that supervisors had ordered officers to terminate.
Over the years, Chicago has shelled out tens of millions of dollars to innocent pedestrians, motorists and passengers killed or injured during police pursuits — even as the Chicago Police Department’s vehicular chase policy has been overhauled repeatedly.
On Monday, the City Council’s Finance Committee will be asked to add another $15 million to that legal mountain.
The settlement goes to the family of Guadalupe Francisco-Martinez. The mother of six was headed home from her first day on a new job when she was killed in a crash with a marked Chicago Police SUV at the intersection of Irving Park Road and Ashland Ave.
In a lawsuit filed against the city last year, the woman’s family accused Chicago Police Officer Juan Blanco of entering the intersection at a high rate of speed, well over the posted limit, and disregarding the red traffic light that required him to proceed with the utmost caution.
Francisco-Martinez had the green light and had already driven her 2005 Ford Explorer into the intersection when the deadly collision occurred.
More importantly, the lawsuit quotes from a series of police radio dispatches that had ordered Blanco and his fellow officers to terminate the high-speed chase long before the deadly crash occurred shortly before 10 p.m. on June 3, 2020.
Hours earlier, the Illinois State Police had initiated the chase on the Far South Side after spotting a stolen Jeep Grand Cherokee that allegedly had been used in a drive-by shooting two days earlier.
With a police helicopter and television news choppers following from above, the stolen Jeep headed toward O’Hare International Airport, then back down the Kennedy Expressway, exiting and re-entering at speeds that topped 100 mph on the Kennedy and 90 mph on side streets, the lawsuit states.
The chase dragged on for two hours and continued even after the Jeep crashed at Keystone and Irving Park Road, where the driver fled on foot and the passenger carjacked a silver Nissan SUV at a gas station and drove east on Irving Park Road.
The lawsuit accuses Blanco of having "pursued the silver Nissan SUV eastbound along Irving Park Road in a marked police vehicle" joined by "numerous other police vehicles."
"A male member of the Chicago Police Department radioed, `Terminate the chase. Let PH1 monitor the vehicle’s location,’" the lawsuit quotes a police radio transmission as stating.
"Subsequent to [that] radio transmission, a female police dispatcher made the following broadcast: `Alright. Getting a terminate. Terminate the chase.’ Subsequent to that transmission, a male member of the Police Department made the following transmission: `Northbound on Menard. We are terminating at Montrose and Menard.’"
Tom Power, an attorney representing the dead woman’s family, could not be reached for comment on the settlement.
His lawsuit accused Blanco and his fellow officers of recklessly continuing the chase "for an excessive distance at extremely high rates of speed….without express authorization to do so by a superior" when they "knew or should have known that the action would likely lead to an injury."
The $15 million settlement is one of the highest in recent memory after someone was killed or injured during police pursuits. The two most costly ones stemmed from incidents that happened on the same weekend in June 1999.
LaTanya Haggerty, 26 and Robert Russ, 22, were shot to death by officers after separate police pursuits, touching off a summer filled with protests about alleged police brutality. Both were unarmed.
Haggerty was a passenger in a car driven by a friend that police stopped at 89th and Cottage Grove, then chased through the South Side, even after a supervisor ordered them to stop. The driver fled the first police stop, fearing an arrest for drugs in his car.
Haggerty, a computer analyst, was shot after the second stop by an officer who said she thought she saw a shiny, silvery object she mistook for a gun in Haggerty’s hand. Then-Mayor Richard M. Daley’s administration agreed to pay $18 million — triple the amount it had ever paid — to settle a wrongful death case with the family of Haggerty.
Early the next morning, Chicago police officers chased Russ, a former Northwestern University football player ten days short of graduation, for three miles down Lake Shore Drive and the Dan Ryan Expressway after Russ refused their order to pull over for driving erratically.
Officer Von Watts IV smashed the tinted rear driver’s side window of Russ’ car before his gun accidentally discharged when Russ grabbed it, according to an internal investigation. A jury subsequently ordered the city to pay $9.6 million to Russ’ son.
Last year, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that two-thirds of the 270 police chases in 2019 — a total of 180 — ended in crashes and eight people died, according to a "pursuit litigation analysis" prepared for Mayor Lori Lightfoot and marked "confidential."
Supervisors ordered chases to be terminated in 112 of those pursuits, yet half of them still ended in crashes, the report found. One caused the death of a bystander.
Details of the report were included in a trove of hacked City Hall emails belonging to several of Lightfoot’s closest advisers. They showed Lightfoot, a former Chicago Police Board president, keeping a close watch on police pursuits and, in at least one instance, asking if the city was liable to get sued.