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City Council Finance Committee signs off on nearly $25 million in settlements in police misconduct lawsuits

Committee approves $25 million to settle lawsuits against Chicago Police
Committee approves $25 million to settle lawsuits against Chicago Police 03:06

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Chicago taxpayers will have to spend nearly $25 million to settle three more lawsuits accusing Chicago Police officers of misconduct, including a $15 million payout to the family of an innocent woman killed during a high-speed chase in 2020.

Aldermen also approved a fourth settlement involving racial harassment claims a former Water Department worker made against his supervisor.

The City Council Finance Committee approved the latest batch of settlements on Monday, sending them to the full City Council for a final vote on Wednesday.

Committee approves $25 million to settle three lawsuits against CPD 02:08

The largest settlement, approved unanimously by the Finance Committee, is a $15 million payment to the family of 37-year-old Guadalupe Franco-Martinez, who was killed when a Chicago Police Department squad car slammed into her SUV, during a high-speed chase of a suspect wanted for multiple violent crimes in the suburbs in June 2020.

The horrific crash at the intersection of at Ashland Avenue and Irving Park Road was captured on video obtained by the CBS 2 Investigators.

As seen in the video, a marked CPD vehicle with emergency lights activated ripped through the intersection and collided with Franco-Martinez's Ford Explorer with such force that the vehicles burst into flames - lighting up the night sky with a flash of light. She had the green light and had just pulled into the intersection when police ran the red light and hit her SUV.

Then, the squad car spun out and struck a Hummer, injuring the driver and two passengers in the car. Franco-Martinez was taken to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

Deputy Corporation Counsel Mimi Ruether told aldermen Monday that, just four seconds before hitting Franco-Martinez's car, the squad car was going 101 mph, and at the moment of the crash, the squad car was going 89 mph.

Ruether also said that, long before the crash, police supervisors had ordered officers to halt the chase, but they continued their pursuit. Franco-Martinez's lawsuit further accused police of disobeying CPD regulations regarding vehicle chases by disregarding a red light at Ashland Avenue and Irving Park Road without keeping a proper lookout for other vehicles.

The cop car was one of many that had been tracking the homicide suspect on an hour-long, high-speed police chase across the city. At one point, the suspect crashed into several cars near Irving Park Road after exiting the Kennedy Expressway. He then ran to a gas station at Irving Park and Pulaski roads, stole another car and kept driving.

Scanner traffic reports that police stopped chasing at one point, but the pursuit apparently picked back up - following the offender, who was clocking speeds of at least 100 mph. Eventually, the driver hit a pole, and after a short chase on foot was arrested miles away in the 800 block of West Pershing Road.

The officer who crashed into Franco-Martinez's vehicle, Juan Blanco, had only been with the department for two years at the time of the crash, and was initially named as a defendant in the lawsuit, but the lawsuit was later amended to name only the city as a defendant.

Franco-Martinez left behind six devastated kids. Her family was originally asking for $40 million in damages.

"There will be enormous sympathy for the family of Ms. Franco-Martinez, who endured such a tragic, tragic events, and if a jury were to award damages in this case, it could be significantly higher than the recommended settlement amount of the $15 million," Ruether said.

The Civilian Office of Police Accountability opened an investigation on the day of the crash. That investigation is still ongoing, according to a COPA spokesperson.

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) questioned whether the officer who was driving could be held financially liable for the damages that will be paid to Franco-Martinez's family, but city attorneys said, since he was acting in the course of his official police duties, the city holds financial responsibility for the damages.

A second multi-million settlement also approved unanimously by the Finance Committee is a $9.05 million payout to Patrick Prince, who served 25 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit before he was exonerated in 2017. Prince has said he was coerced into a false confession.

According to Prince's lawsuit against the city, since-retired CPD detective Kriston Kato and other officers repeatedly punched and kicked Prince, and slammed his head into a wall while interrogating him in the 1991 murder of Edward Porter, when Prince was 19 years old. Prince also accused police of lying to him by claiming he'd been identified as the killer in a lineup, and falsely claimed they had other evidence against him. According to published reports, Kato has been accused of beating dozens of suspects into false confessions.

Prince's confession was the only evidence against him at trial, as there was no physical evidence linking him to Porter's murder, and no witnesses identified him as the shooter, according to his lawsuit. In 2017, a Cook County judge vacated Prince's conviction, and had him released from prison, finding he had proven his innocence in post-conviction proceedings.

"Mr. Prince claims he confessed only as a result of physical and psychological abuse during his interrogation," said Jessica Felker of the city Law Department.

City attorneys estimated, had Prince's lawsuit gone to trial, a jury verdict could have resulted in $25 million to $50 million in damages against the city.  

At Monday's meeting, aldermen also unanimously approved a $950,000 settlement for Water Department bricklayer Dilan Abreu, who sued the city in 2019, accusing his supervisor of years of racist harassment, including an attempt to push Abreu into a six-foot hole.

Abreu claimed his supervisor repeatedly called him multiple racial slurs against Hispanics from 2015 until 2017, including "stupid f***ing s***," "dumb Puerto Rican," and "Spanish-speaking n*****."

Abreu also filed a physical assault complaint against his supervisor in 2016, accusing his boss of trying to push him into a six-foot hole at a worksite.

The city sought to fire Abreu's supervisor, former Water Department superintendent Paul Hansen, over his misconduct, but he resigned in 2017 before he could be fired, according to city attorneys.

Th only settlement to receive any opposition from Finance Committee members on Monday was a $900,000 settlement with Dwane Rowlett, who was shot by police after fleeing a traffic stop on New Year's Day 2017.

Police have said officers noticed Rowlett speeding and running a stop sign around 2:20 a.m. near 125th and State Streets, and after officers pulled him over, he drove off, sideswiping several cars before crashing into a CPD squad car. Police said, when officers approached the car and found Rowlett in the driver's seat, he began struggling as officers tried to restrain him, and that's when an officer shot him twice.

Rowlett's lawsuit claims he was simply trying to unbuckle his seatbelt when police shot him, and that he was unarmed and never posed a danger to the officers, accusing police of shooting him with no legal justification.

No gun was found at the scene of the shooting, but city attorneys said two small knifes were found in his vehicle, and city attorneys said the officer who shot Rowlett saw him reaching for his right side, and after failing to grab Rowlett's arm, the officer fired nine shots.

City attorneys said Rowlett suffered eight gunshot wounds, and suffered permanent injuries, and still needs a cane or wheelchair to get around. His medical bills have totaled more than $750,000.

According to court records, Rowlett was charged with multiple counts of aggravated fleeing, and later pleaded guilty to one count, and was sentenced to 2 years in prison earlier this month in connection to the arrest that resulted in him being shot by police. He is also serving a 25-year sentence on an unrelated aggravated kidnapping charge from 2017.  

Eight alderpersons voted against the settlement with Rowlett: George Cardenas (12th), Marty Quinn (13th), Matt O'Shea (19th), Silvana Tabares (23rd), Gilbert Villegas (36th), Nicholas Sposato (38th), Anthony Napolitano (41st), and Brendan Reilly (42nd).

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