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Alderman 'Pissed Off' After Finance Committee Backs $1.2M Settlement To Family Of 'Coke-Fueled' Man Who Died In Police Custody

by Todd Feurer, CBS Chicago web producer

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Despite claims they were essentially approving a "hush money" payment to the family of a "coke-fueled" gang-banger, the City Council Finance Committee on Wednesday signed off on a $1.2 million settlement in the death of Heriberto Godinez, who died during an arrest for burglary four years ago.

"I'll be honest, I'm pissed off that the City Council is moving forward with this settlement. I think it very much sends a bad message to our neighborhoods that families and communities that have been terrorized by gangs that taxpayers have to be on the hook for when the gang-bangers sue the city of Chicago," said Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th), one of four aldermen who voted against the settlement.

The family of 26-year-old Heriberto Godinez accused officers of misconduct and excessive force during the arrest on the night of July 20, 2015.

Dashcam video made headlines at the time of the incident. It showed Godinez thrashing about as he was handcuffed, and also showed a Chicago Police officer place his foot on Godinez's neck while arresting him and then shifting his weight. First Assistant Corporation Counsel Renai Rodney told aldermen earlier this week that video also showed another officer standing on Godinez's chest for about 90 seconds.

The Cook County Medical Examiner's office said an autopsy determined Godinez died from cocaine and alcohol poisoning. A second autopsy requested by Cook County prosecutors also blamed Godinez's death on a cocaine overdose, but a third autopsy commissioned by his family blamed his death on asphyxia, pointing to abrasions on his neck, and damage to his carotid arteries.

Lopez said approving a $1.2 million settlement with the family of a purported gang member who was overdosing on cocaine and fighting with police sends the wrong message to neighborhoods that struggle with gang violence every day.

"What we have just did in the hopes of saving money is told them that when these neighborhood terrors continue to terrorize their communities, and are caught, and if anything happens, we're willing to pay them hush money to go away. That is unacceptable. We have told these neighborhoods that you are on your own," Lopez said.

Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th) said he struggled with his decision to vote yes on the settlement, because he believes the officers who were arresting Godinez acted properly. But he said he had a financial duty to the taxpayers to make sure the city wasn't left on the hook for even more money had the case gone to trial.

"The cost of trying it, for us, would outweigh the cost of the settlement offer, and so that's what I've struggled with," Thompson said. "Knowing some of the officers and their character, and knowing how they conducted themselves, it's difficult oftentimes here with litigation, as a lawyer, knowing that you could win a loser and lose a winner."

Lopez said the city should be willing to risk an even larger payout at trial in order to send a message that they will stand up to criminals.

"The city and the mayor's trying to make an argument that we're cutting our losses; that we're going to save money by settling. I think that's wrong, too. You have to fight. You have to be willing to stand up and risk it in defense of our neighborhoods, regardless of what the outcome is, because our people want to be defended. They want to know that we are with them in this fight against gang members, whether it's on the street or in the courtroom," he said.

The Finance Committee's 13-4 vote to approve the settlement sends the matter to the full City Council for a vote next week.

Besides Lopez, the other aldermen on the Finance Committee who voted against the settlement were Marty Quinn (13th), Matt O'Shea (19th), and Brendan Reilly (42nd).

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