The foreperson of a Cook County jury is upset about an Illinois appeals order that slashed the jury’s award to a whistleblower who was fired from the Chicago agency that investigates shootings by police officers.
A three-judge appellate panel on Friday eliminated all but $100,000 of a $2 million award to Lorenzo Davis for emotional distress from his 2015 dismissal as a supervising investigator of the Independent Police Review Authority, now known as the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.
“They just disregarded two weeks of work that us jurors went through,” Jamal Samaha, the foreperson, said of the order. “We wanted to find what is right for this individual and then it was overturned by an appeals court. It angers me.”
In its eight years of existence, IPRA had never found an on-duty shooting by an officer to be unjustified.
But a team of IPRA investigators led by Davis, a former Chicago police commander, found officers at fault for some shootings. He was the agency’s only supervisor who resisted orders to change findings about shootings, according to an IPRA evaluation obtained by WBEZ.
That led IPRA Chief Administrator Scott Ando to fire Davis. Ando, a former federal drug agent, had been chosen to run the agency by then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Davis brought a lawsuit arguing the firing was retaliatory and that it violated the Illinois Whistleblowers Act.
At the trial, held in 2018, Samaha and the other jurors heard evidence on six days spread over two weeks. Then they deliberated just 55 minutes, returning with an award that included $800,000 for lost salary and benefits plus the $2 million for emotional distress.
“When we opened up the book of evidence and saw everything, we realized that this was a correct amount as a group,” said Samaha, a sales representative for a medical company. “Every single [juror] was on board with that.”
The trial judge trimmed the amount for lost salary and benefits to $751,470.
The city did not contest that amount but challenged the amount for emotional distress in the appeals court.
In Friday’s order, the appellate panel said the $2 million “would be completely unprecedented in Illinois” and was “so large as to shock the judicial conscience.”
The order left Davis with an award of $851,470.
One of Davis’s attorneys said he might appeal Friday’s order to the Illinois Supreme Court and might also opt for a new trial about the emotional-distress damages.