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Finance Committee To Consider Nearly $3.5 Million In Settlements Tied To Police Misconduct Lawsuits

by Todd Feurer, CBS Chicago web producer

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Proposed settlements in four more lawsuits accusing police officers of misconduct will put taxpayers on the hook for nearly $3.5 million, including two wrongful death lawsuits on tap before the City Council Finance Committee next week.

The largest settlement on the agenda for Monday's Finance Committee meeting, $1.3 million, will go to the family of 18-year-old Tevin Jones-Rogers, who was killed when the driver of a stolen vehicle crashed into his car during a high-speed police chase in the West Pullman neighborhood. Jones-Rogers was pronounced dead at the scene.

Jones-Rogers' mother sued the city, claiming officers chased the stolen Ford at high speeds, despite the risk to civilians, and showed a reckless disregard for the safety of others.

Another settlement, for $1.2 million, will go to the family of 24-year-old Heriberto Godinez, who died in police custody in July 2015.

Dashcam video of Godinez's arrest showed an officer placing his foot on Godinez's neck for approximately two seconds as he was lying on the ground in handcuffs while another officer restrained him.

His family sued police, claiming officers used "unreasonable and dangerous methods of force," and showed "reckless indifference" to Godinez's rights.

Police have said Godinez was arrested after police responded to a report of a burglary in the 3000 block of West Pershing Road, and found him in a garage. According to police, officers thought he might have been mentally ill, and took him into custody when the homeowners said they didn't know him.

During the arrest, Godinez began sweating heavily, and had difficulty breathing, police said, so officers called for paramedics. However, Godinez became unresponsive despite medical attention.

The Cook County Medical Examiner's office said an autopsy determined Godinez died from cocaine and alcohol poisoning.

"The sudden, unexpected collapse and death of Mr. Godinez most likely represents a cardiac dysrhythmia following intense physical exertion while under the influence of cocaine and ethanol," according to the autopsy report.

Citing video evidence, the autopsy report said Godinez "demonstrated agitated behavior with self-injury which allegedly continued upon placement into a transport vehicle."

The autopsy also noted several superficial injuries, but found "there were no lethal blunt force or penetrating injuries," and said there was no evidence of a broken neck or injuries to the larynx.

Cook County prosecutors decided not to charge any of the officers involved, saying they could not prove police used excessive force during the arrest.

A third settlement for $850,000 will go to Donna Gillespie, the guardian of Shaquille Gillespie. According to published reports, Shaquille was in a West Side alley with his brother in March 2013, when police officers approached them, accused them of ignoring their commands, and threw Shaquille to the ground and used pepper-spray on him, accusing him of attacking them.

The final settlement up for a vote is a $125,000 settlement with Alma Benitez, a witness to the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. Benitez says detectives pressured her to change her account of the shooting, claiming dashboard camera video contradicted her assertion McDonald was not a threat to police when Officer Jason Van Dyke shot him 16 times.

Van Dyke was convicted of second-degree murder in the shooting, and is serving a prison sentence of nearly 7 years.

The Finance Committee is expected to approve all four settlements, sending them to the full City Council for a vote on Dec. 18.


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