CHICAGO (CBS) -- Following an unusually heated debate, aldermen on Thursday agreed to pay $1.675 million to settle a lawsuit filed by five people who were violently assaulted by police officers at the Brickyard Mall during widespread looting in May 2020, despite no evidence the group was involved in any criminal activity.
The City Council Finance Committee approved the settlement with Mia Wright and four other family members who were attacked by officers in the mall's parking lot on May 31, 2020, amid widespread civil unrest in Chicago in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. Under terms of the settlement, Wright will receive $650,000 in damages, while the other four people who were in the car with her will get $243,750 each.
The case was one of three settlements of more than $1 million approved by the Finance Committee involving police misconduct claims.
Wright and several relatives had gone to the Brickyard Mall on May 31, 2020, because there had been looting at another mall they had wanted to visit. But they quickly realized the Target store they wanted to visit was closed, and their vehicle was surrounded by police as they tried to leave the parking lot.
Cellphone video of the incident showed officers on both sides of the car bashing the windows with their batons before pulling Wright and another woman from the vehicle and pinning them to the ground.
Assistant Corporation Counsel Caroline Fronczak told aldermen police approached the car because one officer claimed to have seen 19-year-old Javon Hill with a hammer outside a Champs Sports store trying to break into the store before getting in the car.
But video footage from the store showed the man seen with the hammer did not match Hill's description, and the officer later admitted to having doubts about who he saw with the hammer.
Fronczak said an investigation by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability found no evidence that anyone in the car was involved in any looting before officers approached the car. Indeed, she said there is no evidence they got out of the car before police forced them out. COPA recommended eight officers face discipline for their actions in the incident, ranging from firing to reprimands, and Chicago Police Supt. David Brown agreed with the recommendations, according to Fronczak.
Wright was left blind in one eye as a result of post-traumatic stress, according to Fronczak. She initially was charged with disorderly conduct, but the charge was later dropped.
"There is no doubt that this was a chaotic day for the city of Chicago, but through this chaos the officers involved did not have complete or accurate information, and did not comply with CPD policies when they stopped plaintiffs' car that day, removed the occupants from the vehicle, and then charged Mia Wright with a criminal offense," Fronczak said.
Asked for her assessment of the lawsuit, Fronczak told aldermen she estimates the city would have only a 5% to 10% chance of winning at trial.
Despite no evidence that anyone in the car was involved in looting, Ald. Nick Sposato (38th) questioned why they went to the Brickard Mall in the first place, noting the family lives more than 20 minutes away in North Lawndale, and that there were incidents of looting all over the city on that day.
"By that time in the afternoon, everybody in the city knew what was going on with the mass chaos," Sposato said. "They passed up a load of Targets, and they were closer to two party stores if they needed stuff for a party for a child."
Sposato's questions prompted angry responses from several Black aldermen, including Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), who chairs the Black Caucus, who said "people have the right to move about as they choose," and correctly noted there are no Target stores in Chicago between North Lawndale and the Brickyard Mall.
Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) accused Sposato, who is White, of showing "inherent bias" in questioning why the group was visiting the Brickyard Mall, and suggesting that they were there to cause trouble.
"These people were treated this way because they were Black, and I'm hearing from my colleagues some very disturbing comments," she said. "What my colleagues don't seem to understand is that, when you are a person of color in this city, you are targeted because of the color of your skin, and certain perceptions that people have. They make up things about you so that they can come and do unconstitutional things to you."
Sposato defended his questions about the case, saying he was not arguing that Wright and her family didn't have the right to go to the Brickyard Mall, only saying he felt it seemed unusual under the circumstances.
"This is an odd set of circumstances, because somebody needs diapers and stuff for a kid's party, and they would go that far away from their house when most people shop closer to home, especially on a crazy day like that," he said.
Sposato's explanation didn't appease Hairston.
"People are free to shop wherever they want; whether they're getting diapers, whether they have to pass 30 stores or not, they may travel," she said.
Sposato wasn't alone in his opposition to the settlement. Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) said the settlement is tantamount to the "opening of Pandora's Box to give everyone else an excuse to start suing us now, because of what happened that day, when they were willfully trying to destroy this city."
"To say that that day was chaotic is an understatement to what the city experienced when full civil unrest, when this whole city was under siege for nearly 24 hours straight, in an organized effort to completely destabilize our city," he said.
Ald. Michele Smith (43rd), however, pointed out that the city's own attorneys repeatedly admitted police had no evidence Wright and her family were involved in the looting, or any other criminal activity. She said the incident appears to be a clear cut case of unconstitutional behavior by police.
"It is certainly regrettable that people who, on the evidence – which is all that counts, the evidence – were not committing a crime at the time this occurred, and yet had their windows broken, dragged out of the car, put down, and someone allegedly put a foot on the neck for a while," she said. "This is not, in my view – not withstanding my allyship and my support of the police – to be a reasonable response to what was going on."
The committee vote on the settlement was 13-7. In addition to Sposato and Lopez, the committee members who voted against the settlement were Brian Hopkins (2nd), Marty Quinn (13th), Silvana Tabares (23rd), Ariel Reboyras (30th), and Anthony Napolitano (41st), who all routinely vote against settlements involving claims of police misconduct.
for more features.