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City Council Approves $3 Million In Settlements For Police Misconduct Lawsuits

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The City Council has approved $3 million in settlements to resolve a handful of lawsuits accusing Chicago Police officers of misconduct, including a case involving a high-speed police chase that led to a woman's death in 2018.

The $2 million settlement with the family of 55-year-old Julia Lynn Callaway stems from a lawsuit her husband, David Brown, filed against the city, claiming the chase that led to her death was reckless.

The settlement was approved without debate by a 35-10 vote on Wednesday, with no votes from Alds. Marty Quinn (13th), Ed Burke (14th), Raymond Lopez (15th), Silvana Tabares (23rd), Chris Taliaferro (29th), Ariel Reboyras (30th), Felix Cardona Jr. (31st), Anthony Napolitano (41st), Brendan Reilly (42nd), and James Gardiner (45th).

During a Finance Committee hearing on the settlements earlier this week, Chicago Chief Assistant Corporation Counsel Jeff Levine told aldermen that officers were pursuing Curtis Pugh in May of 2018, because they smelled marijuana from his car, and saw him shrug his shoulder in a manner suggesting he might be carrying a gun.

After fleeing from police, Pugh drove along the Dan Ryan Expressway during the evening rush, got off at 79th Street, and hit Callaway and another pedestrian as they were crossing the street at 79th and Lafayette.

Levine said police who were chasing Pugh reached speeds of up to 69 mph during their pursuit.

The lawsuit accused officers of recklessly launching a high-speed chase simply on the basis of smelling marijuana in Pugh's car and thinking he might be carrying a gun. No weapon was recovered from the car after Pugh was arrested.

Levine said Brown sought $5 million in damages in his lawsuit against the city.

During the Finance Committee discussion of the settlements, Lopez lamented that the city will be on the hook for $2 million in damages, while Pugh is not paying anything.

"It just pains me that we are constantly the biggest target, because we have the biggest checkbook," he said.

Levine said that Pugh is in prison, and has no meaningful assets to pay any damages.

Another settlement approved by the Finance Committee on Monday was a $250,000 payment to Michael Williamson, one of three siblings shot by Officer Wilfredo Ortiz at a New Year's Eve party in 2014.

Levine said Williamson and his brother and sister were awarded a total of $10.75 million in damages for their physical injuries in a previous lawsuit over the shooting, but Williamson later filed a second lawsuit for emotional damages, and a judge rejected the city's bid to dismiss that second lawsuit.

Williamson's lawsuit accused Ortiz of fabricating evidence against him and his siblings in an attempt to cover up the shooting. Williamson was acquitted aggravated assault and weapons charges after a judge threw out statements Ortiz had obtained in the case, and said Ortiz had changed his account of the shooting.

Another settlement for $175,000 will go to Lavelle Taylor, who accused Chicago Police Detective James O'Brien of framing him for a 1996 murder that was actually committed by his brother.

The lawsuit accused O'Brien of coercing a witness to accuse Taylor of giving his brother the murder weapon just before the shooting.

Aldermen also backed a $300,000 settlement with Anthony Johnson, who was convicted in connection with a 2003 murder, after detectives questioned him about driving the gunman to the shooting, without advising him of his right to an attorney and his right to remain silent.

All of the proposed settlements will head to the full City Council for consideration at its next meeting on Wednesday.

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