Justices Slash Jury Award For Whistleblower Who Sought Tougher Police Oversight
An Illinois appeals court on Friday slashed most of a $2.75 million award by a Cook County jury to Lorenzo Davis, a former City of Chicago investigator wrongfully fired for blowing the whistle on an agency that routinely let police officers off the hook for questionable shootings.
A three-judge appellate panel reduced the portion of the award for Davis’s emotional distress from $2 million down to $100,000.
The 26-page order did not touch $751,470 awarded to Davis for lost salary and benefits — which the city did not contest in its appeal — leaving Davis with a total of $851,470.
The $2 million “would be completely unprecedented in Illinois” and was “so large as to shock the judicial conscience,” the order says, pointing to Davis’s testimony at the 2018 trial in his lawsuit over the firing.
“Plaintiff actually downplayed the severity of his emotional distress, stating that he had not sought any medical help for the depression resulting from his termination and admitting that the depression was ‘not severe enough to seek help,’ ” says the order, delivered by Justice Mary K. Rochford with justices Thomas E. Hoffman and Mathias W. Delort concurring.
In a written statement about the order, an attorney for Davis said the fired investigator “continues to be devalued by the city he devoted 37 years to serving.”
The attorney, Torreya L. Hamilton, said it was disappointing that the appellate justices showed a “willingness to substitute their judgment for the jury’s.”
She said Davis might appeal Friday’s order to the Illinois Supreme Court and might also opt for a new trial about the emotional distress damages.
But Hamilton said money has never been Davis’s primary concern.
“When the jurors found in his favor, they refused to believe the lies the city’s witnesses told at trial,” Hamilton said. “The jury’s rejection of the city’s misconduct stands.”
Fired for refusing to change findings
Davis was dismissed in 2015 from the Independent Police Review Authority, an event first reported by WBEZ. He had worked at the agency for seven years as both an investigator and, later, a supervising investigator.
Before joining IPRA — now known as the Civilian Office of Police Accountability — Davis spent nearly two decades as a Chicago Public Schools teacher and then 23 years as a Chicago police officer, earning a law degree as he rose to the rank of commander. He retired from CPD in 2004.
“My entire life I’ve been helping the citizens of Chicago in whatever way I could,” Davis testified at the 2018 trial in his lawsuit. “And there I was, making the police department better, and I was being fired by someone making the police department worse.”
Davis was referring to Scott Ando, the IPRA chief administrator who dismissed him. Ando, a former federal drug agent, was appointed the agency’s leader by then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2013. Ando was forced from the agency in disgrace as its credibility crumbled during the outcry over a dashcam video that showed Police Officer Jason Van Dyke fatally shooting teenager Laquan McDonald.
IPRA’s responsibilities included investigating shootings by police. Between its 2007 inception and Davis’s 2015 firing, IPRA had never found an officer at fault for an on-duty shooting.
Ando testified that he himself had reviewed 250 to 300 shootings by officers and found none unjustified. When the team of investigators supervised by Davis found officers at fault for some shootings, Ando ordered him to change his findings and rewrite his analyses. Davis refused, leading to his termination.
City challenges jury award
Davis’s lawsuit argued his firing was retaliatory and that it violated the Illinois Whistleblowers Act.
After hearing evidence for six days, the jury deliberated just 55 minutes, returning with the $2.8 million award for Davis. That award included $800,000 for lost salary and benefits — an amount the trial judge trimmed to $751,470.
“Lorenzo succeeded in exposing the corruption going on at IPRA under Scott Ando,” Hamilton said Friday.
The city challenged the award in the appeals court. During Jan. 7 oral arguments before the three-judge panel, Chicago Assistant Corporation Counsel Justin A. Houppert argued that Davis’s attorneys had stirred up “passion and prejudice” against the city by “interjecting graphic depictions” of shootings by police officers in the trial. “There is simply no evidence to justify an award of this magnitude,” Houppert said.
Hamilton countered that the jury award was appropriate because the firing “wrecked” his career and he had “lost his life’s purpose.”