Whistleblower, Fired After Seeking Tougher Police Oversight, Awarded $1.1 Million For Emotional Distress

A Cook County jury’s award rebuffs an appellate ruling that left the whistleblower with $100,000 for that harm.

WBEZ
Lorenzo Davis, photographed in 2015, was fired as a supervising investigator of the city’s Independent Police Review Authority. He says he feels “vindicated” by Thursday’s verdict in a wrongful termination lawsuit that has dragged on for more than five years. Chip Mitchell / WBEZ
WBEZ
Lorenzo Davis, photographed in 2015, was fired as a supervising investigator of the city’s Independent Police Review Authority. He says he feels “vindicated” by Thursday’s verdict in a wrongful termination lawsuit that has dragged on for more than five years. Chip Mitchell / WBEZ

Whistleblower, Fired After Seeking Tougher Police Oversight, Awarded $1.1 Million For Emotional Distress

A Cook County jury’s award rebuffs an appellate ruling that left the whistleblower with $100,000 for that harm.

A Cook County jury has awarded $1.1 million for emotional distress to a whistleblower who was fired from the Chicago agency that investigates shootings by police after he found officers at fault for some shootings.

Thursday’s verdict is the second time a jury has awarded Lorenzo Davis seven figures for emotional distress over his 2015 firing as a supervising investigator of the city’s Independent Police Review Authority, now known as the Civilian Office of Police Accountability. After the first award, an appeals court had knocked down the amount to just $100,000.

“I feel vindicated,” Davis said. “I feel that the jury was fair.”

A written statement from the Law Department did not answer whether the city is planning to appeal Thursday’s verdict.

“We are disappointed with the verdict and are exploring our options for post-trial motions,” the statement says.

When IPRA fired Davis, a move first reported by WBEZ, the agency had investigated nearly 400 shootings by officers during its eight years of existence but had deemed just one, an off-duty incident, to be unjustified.

A team of IPRA investigators led by Davis, a former Chicago police commander, had found officers at fault for some on-duty shootings. But those findings had not been approved by Scott M. Ando, the agency’s chief administrator.

Davis was the agency’s only supervisor who resisted orders to change findings about shootings, according to an IPRA evaluation obtained by WBEZ.

Ando, a former federal drug agent, had been promoted to head IPRA by then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel. He was dumped by Emanuel in December 2015 during a public outcry about police accountability after the city’s court-ordered release of a dashboard-camera video showing teenager Laquan McDonald’s fatal shooting by Officer Jason Van Dyke.

Davis, meantime, brought a federal wrongful-termination lawsuit in September 2015. That lawsuit was dismissed in 2016 when a judge determined that Davis’s refusal to change his findings was not protected by the First Amendment.

Davis’s attorneys brought another version of the suit in Cook County Circuit Court, suing the city under the state’s whistleblower law. That suit led to a June 2018 trial in which jurors heard six days of evidence spanning two weeks.

The jury deliberated just 55 minutes before awarding Davis $2 million for emotional distress plus $800,000 for lost salary and benefits. The trial judge, James E. Snyder, trimmed the salary-and-benefits portion to $751,470, a sum the city did not contest.

But the city challenged the emotional-distress damages in the Illinois Appellate Court, leading to a January 2020 ruling in which a three-judge panel concluded the $2 million “would be completely unprecedented in Illinois” and was “so large as to shock the judicial conscience.”

That ruling lowered the emotional distress amount to $100,000, leaving Davis with a total award of $851,470 and angering the leader of the jury that had heard the case’s evidence.

Davis could have brought a challenge to the Illinois Supreme Court but instead opted for a new trial on the emotional-distress damages. That trial, back in Snyder’s courtroom, proceeded before a new jury that heard evidence from Tuesday to Thursday before reaching its verdict.

Davis, a licensed lawyer, criticized Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration for taking the case this far.

“The city could have had a better outcome if they were willing to settle the case for something that was fairer and more just,” Davis said.

Chip Mitchell reports out of WBEZ’s West Side studio about policing. Follow him at @ChipMitchell1. Contact him at cmitchell@wbez.org.