One million dollars (Photo credit: Steve Rhodes)
In a nearly two-hour long meeting of the Chicago City Council last Wednesday, Ald. Ed Burke (14th), chairman of the Finance Committee, dedicated fewer than 10 seconds to two civil settlements related to police misconduct that will cost taxpayers nearly $2 million.
The lawsuits involved “false imprisonment and wrongful prosecution,” according to Burke’s statements after Wednesday’s meeting. At the occasion, the alderman read their order numbers -17A and 17B- without explanation, which the City Council approved unanimously.
The vote marked the official end of one Chicagoan’s 60-year struggle for justice.
Oscar Walden, 80, was convicted in 1952 of raping a woman and spent 14 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.
In 2003, Walden was pardoned by then-governor George Ryan. Walden’s subsequent lawsuit, filed against the city in January 2004, alleged he was tortured by Chicago police officers, who threatened him with hanging to force a false confession. Walden lost his original lawsuit, but earlier this year an appellate judge found the city’s attorneys had acted improperly and reopened the case.
Walden and the city reached an agreement in June, and the City Council agreed on a $950,000 settlement for Walden, also unanimously.
“Both Mr. Walden and we are very satisfied with the result. We think it not only vindicates him but we think it also indicates that the city is admitting to the misconduct of its lawyers in the first trial,” said Walden’s attorney, G. Flint Taylor.
Roderick Drew, a spokesman for the city’s law department, said the settlement is not an admission of guilt.
The settlement approved Wednesday involved DeAndre Washington and William Yancy, both of whom were arrested and wrongly charged for the 1999 murder of Sammy Tate, when each was 17 years old.
Their suits against the city claim police detectives coerced false statements from three witnesses leading to their wrongful imprisonment of four years.
Ald. Joe Moore (49th), a member of the Finance Committee and one of the 46 members to approve the settlement, said he knew “next to nothing” about either settlement.
The $1 million paid out to Washington and Yancy brings the city’s total to at least $18.5 million paid out in settlements to victims of alleged abuse or unfair treatment at the hands of Chicago police this year, according to data from the city’s Law Department.
Last month, the City Council approved a $5.4 million settlement for another client of Taylor’s, Michael Tillman, who was an alleged victim of police torture under the watch of Cmdr. Jon Burge.
“Walden’s case was a foreshadowing of the Jon Burge era,” Taylor said. “We still have a lot of police brutality, and you can draw a straight line from the Walden case to the Burge cases. There may have been some improvements, but I tend to focus on the fact that the city still refuses to acknowledge a long history of police torture and abuse against African-Americans.”
Burge was a Chicago Police commander in the 1970s and 1980s, when hundreds of cases of abuse and torture occurred under his watch. He is serving 4 ½ years in prison for lying about the abuse.
Taylor is defending two other alleged victims of Burge: Ronald Kitchen and Sean Whirl.
The City Council has to approve settlements of more than $100,000, which represents about 20 percent of the police abuse cases settled so far this year.
Even when the council is called upon to review settlements, the oversight is minor. City spokesman Drew said typically, Assistant Corporation Counsel Leslie Darling comes to finance committee meetings and describes the cases being settled and fields questions from aldermen if there are any.
“I used to work in the city’s Law Department, so I have confidence that the settlements were as best as the city could ask for,” Moore said.
By all accounts neither the Finance Committee nor the City Council has ever voted against a recommended settlement.
“I’ve been here about a year, and they’ve never voted against a settlement,” Drew said. “We do our homework. When you’re dealing with taxpayer money, you have to be excellent stewards of that money.”