Police misconduct bleeds Chicago for $662M since 2004
CHICAGO — In this city’s troubled history of police misconduct, Eric Caine’s case may be unrivaled: It took more than 25 years and $10 million to resolve.
For decades, he maintained he didn’t brutally kill an elderly couple. The police, he said, beat him into a false confession. Locked up at age 20, he was freed at 46, bewildered by a world he no longer recognized. Caine ultimately was declared innocent, sued the city and settled for $10 million. But victory brought him little peace.
“They wouldn’t give anybody that large amount of money if they didn’t believe that person was wronged,” he says. “But I also look at it as a way for them to just want me to go away. … Nobody cares if I live or die.”
Caine is just one example of huge police settlements that have tarnished the city in recent years. Among them: a onetime death row inmate beaten by police: $6.1 million. And an unarmed man fatally shot by an officer: $4.1 million.
And last year, the family of Laquan McDonald, the black teenager shot 16 times by a white officer, received $5 million. His death, captured in a shocking video, led to a murder charge against the officer, the police chief’s firing and thunderous street protests with calls for Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s resignation.
Chicago has paid a staggering sum — about $662 million — on police misconduct since 2004, including judgments, settlements and outside legal fees, according to city records. The payouts, for everything from petty harassment to police torture, have brought more financial misery to a city drowning in billions of dollars of pension debt.
The Justice Department’s recent decision to investigate the Chicago police — fallout from the McDonald case — has helped focus new attention on this agonizing history of misconduct and the surprising lack of consequences.
Few accusations ever reach the punishment stage, according to the Invisible Institute, a nonprofit journalism organization, and the University of Chicago Law School’s Mandel Legal Aid Clinic. They found that from March 2011 to September, more than 28,500 citizen complaints of misconduct were filed against Chicago police officers but less than 2 percent resulted in discipline.
Both the police and the union representing rank-and-file officers say the numbers are misleading.
Dean Angelo, president of the union, says criminals routinely file frivolous complaints to harass and discourage police from pursuing them.
City officials also say many complaints are less serious — an improperly issued ticket, for instance. The police, in a statement to The Associated Press, said allegations of misconduct led to 45 firings and 28 suspensions from 2011 through 2015 in a department of about 12,000. Some cases remain open.