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City Council approves $32 million in Chicago police settlements

Thursday, January 17, 2013

In a single day, the Chicago City Council voted to spend the entire amount budgeted for the entire year to settle lawsuits.

The City Council approved paying $22.5 million to a woman who was raped and fell from a seventh story window after she was released from police custody even though she was clearly mentally ill. The aldermen voted unanimously in favor of what could be the city's largest payout to an individual in a police misconduct case.

The City Council also agreed to pay $10.25 million to a man who spent 26 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit.

Not a single member of the Chicago City Council rose to oppose these settlements. They both involve misconduct by members of the Chicago Police Department. At issue is not whether the victims deserve the money, it's how the city plans to pay for it.

Alton Logan spent 26 years locked up for a crime he did not commit. Christina Eilman now suffers severe brain damage after police ignored pleas for help from her out-of-town family and turned the mentally ill woman lose in one of Chicago's most crime-ridden neighborhoods. She was raped and either fell or was pushed out of a seventh floor window.

Thursday, aldermen approved settlements of $10.25 million for Logan and $22.5 million for Eilman. The grand total is more than the $27 million the city budgeted for all lawsuits -- slip and falls to police misconduct -- for this entire year.

"Even though it blows the budget, I'm glad that it didn't go to trial, because my thought is, How much could it have been?" said 34th Ward Alderman Carrie Austin.

The city, as it has done in the past, will cover the shortfalls with money from bond sales. That means using borrowed money to pay for its mistakes.

City Council Budget Chairwoman Carrie Austin says the costs will continue to mount.

"With having so many Burge cases at our throats, it makes it very difficult to even predict a regular number," Austin said.

"While it is financially costly, it has cost us more than just that," said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. "I want to get these things behind us."

A new report out of UIC outlines the cost of crime corruption and cover-ups in the Chicago Police Department. Since 1998, cases relating to police misconduct under Burge alone have cost the city $63 million. In the last decade, the city spent $82.5 million defending officers against misconduct charges.

Former Alderman Dick Simpson, and current UIC political science professor, is the study's author.

"These hundreds of millions of dollars over the years have been a strain on the city's ability to effectively handle its finances," said Simpson.

The city has an insurance policy that is a backstop against some of these settlements, but the budget for the entire year is nonetheless exhausted.

And it's only mid-January.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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