CHICAGO - A $44.7 million judgment against the city of Chicago resulting from a shooting by an off-duty police officer of his friend, leaving the victim paralyzed, was tossed out Tuesday by the 7th U.S. Court of Appeals.
The appeals court ruled the city can’t be held liable for the shooting by Officer Patrick Kelly that left the officer’s friend paralyzed. A jury in 2017 found the city repeatedly failed to identify Kelly as a problem before he shot Michael LaPorta in the head after a night of drinking.
Chief Judge Diane Sykes wrote because none of LaPorta’s federal rights were violated, the verdict against Chicago cannot stand.
"LaPorta’s case is tragic," Sykes wrote in dismissing the jury’s verdict. "His injuries are among the gravest imaginable. His life will never be the same."
Kelly did not face criminal charges in connection with the shooting. Cook County prosecutors reviewed the case and determined a jury was unlikely to find the longtime patrolman guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Chicago’s Law Department said in a written statement the decision followed principles set by the U.S. Supreme Court.
"Action that police officers take in their own home, after a night of drinking, and in other circumstances where they make not even a pretense of enforcing the law, is private conduct," Chicago’s lawyers said in the statement.
Plaintiff’s attorney Antonio Romanucci said the ruling denies justice to LaPorta and also sets a precedent for the city when it comes to accountability for police officers.
"We vigorously commit to continuing this fight for Mr. LaPorta in the weeks and months to come," Romanucci said in an emailed statement.
Kelly was stripped of his police powers after he refused to answer questions on the witness stand during the trial of LaPorta’s lawsuit. He remained employed by the Chicago Police Department despite the jury’s verdict and received his $87,000-a-year salary until he took disability leave in 2019.