Council OKs $4.95M settlement in police use of Taser on mentally ill man

Hal DardickContact Reporter Chicago Tribune
April 13, 2016

The Chicago City Council on Wednesday approved paying nearly $6.5 million to settle two cases of alleged police misconduct, one involving a man tased while in the throes of a mental breakdown in a lockup during a chain of events that led to his death.

Before Philip Coleman was held at a South Side police station in December 2012, his father had “begged” officers to take him to a hospital, not the lockup, but police refused that request, said Ald. Edward Burke, 14th. A commanding officer at the scene told the family that “he doesn’t do hospitals, he does jails,” Burke said before the council approved a $4.95 million settlement with Coleman’s parents.


Police used a Taser on Coleman, a 38-year-old University of Chicago graduate, in his jail cell after he refused to cooperate with officers trying to take him to court. Police then dragged an unconscious Coleman from a cell while handcuffed, with both the Taser use and dragging captured on a lockup video that the city later released.

The officers then took him to a hospital to have the Taser prongs removed, where he again lashed out, Burke said. He was restrained, hit with a baton and repeatedly tased, the alderman said.

Doctors injected Coleman with an antipsychotic drug, to which he had a rare reaction that raised his body temperature and caused his death, with the family maintaining police treatment of him contributed to that reaction, Burke said. “In layman’s terms, it could say that he boiled to death,” he said.

Burke said the settlement was for an amount of money “far less than a jury would award would this ever go to trial.

“It’s a tragic and sad case. No amount of money can bring back this family’s loved one, but hopefully out of this tragic event, a realization will be more widespread that in these cases where people are mentally ill and police are involved, there must be a better way to deal with them,” he added.

“There has to be more training,” said Burke, a former cop who has been on the City Council since 1969 during decades of Police Department misconduct. “There has to be more awareness. There has to be more common sense, and if nothing else, some humanity. How can people deal with these folks who are clearly not in control because of nothing they did, but because they are suffering a mental breakdown.”

The other settlement, for $1.5 million, involved another death in police custody that occurred in 2014.

Justin Cook, a 29-year-old father of three young children, had been pursued by officers after he allegedly blew through a stop sign on the West Side. After Cook was captured on foot, he said he needed to use his inhaler.

The officers testified that they sprayed his inhaler into his mouth, but several witnesses said the officers denied him use of the device as he screamed for help, Burke said.

One witness, a passer-by at the scene, testified that one of the two arresting officers, both of whom had just completed their probationary period, sprayed the inhaler into the air and told Cook he “should have thought about that before you ran,” Burke said. Another called 911 to report Cook was being denied his inhaler.

“I know some of you would suggest there ought to be an accounting of the actions of these officers,” Burke told his colleagues. “There’s gonna be a tribunal higher to than the Police Board.

“There’s no amount of training, no amount of in-service training, no amount of videos that can cure people of inhumanity,” added Burke, who has voted to settle numerous police misconduct settlements during his 47 years on the council. “It seems to me that this kind of misconduct is so reprehensible that it is nonexplainable. But now, our taxpayers are going to suffer again.”

Both of the settlements come as the city is dealing with the fallout from the November release of a police dashcam video showing white police Officer Jason Van Dyke repeatedly shooting black teenager Laquan McDonald.

McDonald at the time was walking away from Van Dyke, who has been charged with murder. After the video’s release, the U.S. Justice Department launched a probe to determine if police have “a pattern and practice” of violating people’s civil rights.

As that controversy roiled, Mayor Rahm Emanuel released the Coleman footage. At the time, the mayor issued a statement saying he does not “see how the manner in which Mr. Coleman was physically treated could possibly be acceptable. … Something is wrong here — either the actions of the officers who dragged Mr. Coleman, or the policies of the department.”

The Independent Police Review Authority, which initially declined to recommend discipline for the officers involved, has reopened the case.


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