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April 12, 2016

Family of alum who died in CPD custody reaches $4.9 million settlement with city

The City of Chicago’s Finance Committee authorized a $4.95 million settlement to the family of University of Chicago graduate Philip Coleman (A.B. ‘96) on Monday. The civil lawsuit by Coleman’s family was filed after the city released the surveillance footage of Coleman’s cell, which shows Chicago Police Department (CPD) employees repeatedly striking Coleman with a Taser and then dragging him down a hallway.

In December 2012, Coleman was taken into custody for aggravated battery, according to a police report. Coleman had suffered a mental breakdown and assaulted his mother, Lena, who called the police but told the officers that she did not want to press charges. When she pleaded with the police to take Coleman to a hospital, a sergeant said, “We don’t do hospitals. We do jail,” Corporation Counsel Stephen Patton told the finance committee, according to The Chicago Sun-Times.

After Coleman died in a hospital due to a fatal reaction to an antipsychotic drug, an autopsy report showed that Coleman received severe trauma with more than 50 bruises and abrasions on his body, according to The Chicago Tribune. The lawsuit filed by his family contended that Coleman would be alive if he had first been taken to a hospital instead of jail.

The finance committee debated for three hours before approving the settlement to Coleman’s family, along with a smaller settlement of $1.5 million to the family of Justin Cook. Cook died in police custody after being stopped for a traffic violation in 2014. The lawsuit, filed by the estate of Cook, alleged that Cook was falsely arrested and that officers showed “deliberate indifference” to his medical condition.

According to court records, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration reached a settlement with Coleman’s family on February 19—several weeks after the video was released on December 7.

Prior to the committee’s decision, Emanuel’s office briefed city council on the settlement and recommended an approval, Sixth Ward Alderman Roderick Sawyer told The Chicago Tribune.

In December, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly ruled that the CPD employee used “brute force” when dragging Coleman out of a cell, which bolstered the claims of Coleman’s family.

Sawyer, who is the Chairman of the council’s Black Caucus, approved of the deal because it compensates the family and prevents the city from going to trial, where he said it would have faced the risk of a jury watching the surveillance footage and awarding an even bigger payment to the Coleman family.

“I accept the decisions of the (city) lawyers that it would be wise to settle this case,” Sawyer said in an interview with the Associated Press.

Sawyer and First Ward Alderman Proco Joe Moreno agreed that the officers involved in the Coleman case should be held accountable for their actions.

“We are going to the public for dollars and the accused [CPD employees] are still walking around collecting a paycheck. I can tell you the mood during my briefing is that people were very upset about that,” Moreno said to the Associated Press.

While the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) initially ruled Coleman’s death as an accident and the force used against him as justified, they reopened the case one day after the release of the surveillance tape. Newly appointed director Sharon Fairley told reporters on March 29 that the IPRA is wrapping up its investigation, which could bring disciplinary action against two involved officers.

“I would like it to be done in a couple of weeks,” Fairley said.

Ed Welch, chief of the Police Department’s Internal Affairs Bureau, also said mental health treatment is supposed to be offered to detainees “at any time” and that the policy was violated in the Coleman case, according to The Chicago Sun-Times.

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