Chicago Aldermen To Vote On $3.65 Million In Legal Settlements | WBEZ
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Chicago Aldermen To Vote On $3.65 Million In Legal Settlements

Updated at 4:50 p.m.

Lawyers for the city of Chicago will ask aldermen to approve five legal settlements worth a collective $3.65 million. A committee will vote on the proposed settlements Monday, and the full City Council is expected to consider the payouts later this month.

All five proposed settlements involve police, including one brought by a witness to the now-infamous Laquan McDonald shooting who was taken to police headquarters and held in custody for several hours after the incident.

The largest of the five proposed settlements would pay out $1.3 million to the family of Tevin Jones-Rogers, who was killed in a car crash that started with a high-speed police chase in 2017. According to court documents provided by the city’s law department, Jones-Rogers was struck by the driver of a stolen SUV in nearby Calumet Park, after Chicago police began chasing the car thief in the city.

The other large settlement — for $1.2 million — would go to the family of Heriberto Godinez, who died in police custody in July 2015. The incident was caught on camera, but then-State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez did not bring charges against the officers involved.

Ald. Raymond Lopez, 15th Ward, tweeted Thursday that there’s “no way in hell” he would vote yes on the Godinez settlement, calling the man a “coked-out gang banger that died resisting arrest.” Autopsy results at the time showed Godinez had alcohol and cocaine in his system the night he died.

The smallest settlement — if approved — would pay $125,000 to Alma Benitez, a witness to the fatal shooting of teenager Laquan McDonald at the hands of officer Jason Van Dyke. Court documents say Benitez was inside the nearby Burger King on Pulaski Road and attempted to take photos and video on her cell phone of the incident. Her case alleges that officers responding to the scene demanded she turn over her phone and then took her in a squad car to police headquarters, where she was held until 4 a.m.

Legal settlements are routinely brought before the City Council for approval, but the practice — and cost to taxpayers — has rankled aldermen and even Mayor Lori Lightfoot, herself a former prosecutor.

The mayor has more than doubled the budget for legal settlements in 2020 to $153 million. The budget for the current year was $62 million and as of October 31, the city had paid out $66 million in settlements and judgments. She said earlier this year that her team wants “to have some forecasting that’s actually tethered to the facts.”

In the past in Chicago, the actual amount spent and the budgeted amount has varied widely. In 2018, the budget was about $47 million, but the city ultimately spent $142 million. The city has also borrowed to cover the cost of legal settlements, but Lightfoot has said she wants to move away from that practice.

Becky Vevea covers city politics for WBEZ. Follow her @beckyvevea.

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