The city of Chicago has agreed to pay $20 million to settle a code-of-silence lawsuit brought by the families of two young men killed in a fiery drunken driving crash caused by an off-duty police detective, sources told the Chicago Tribune.
The agreement to pay $10 million each to relatives of Andrew Cazares and Fausto Manzera was reached in dramatic fashion earlier this month after it was revealed that key documents involving an alcohol-fueled bar fight in detective Joseph Frugoli’s past had been improperly withheld.
The amount of the agreement was not made public, but sources have since confirmed the figure to the Tribune. The settlement must still be green-lighted by the city’s Finance Committee before going to the full City Council for a vote. That could happen as soon as next month.
If approved, it would mark yet another massive payout for the city in a police misconduct suit. In the past two months alone, nearly $100 million in judgments have been assessed against the city for police-related cases, including a record $44.7 million jury verdict in October for a man who was shot by his childhood friend, Officer Patrick Kelly, in an off-duty incident. Earlier this month, the City Council approved a $31 million payout for the “Englewood Four,” who each spent some 15 years in prison for a 1994 rape and murder before DNA linked the crime to a convicted killer.
Bill McCaffrey, a spokesman for the city’s Law Department, declined to comment Monday on the Frugoli settlement, citing department policy. A lawyer for the victims’ families also declined to confirm the amount when contacted by the Tribune.
While the settlement would end the lawsuit, the city may still face consequences for withholding the key documents. After the bombshell report on Frugoli’s 1992 bar fight surfaced in the midst of the trial, lawyers for the victims’ families asked U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall to sanction the city for failing to comply with the routine exchange of evidence known as discovery.
Speaking to reporters immediately after the case was settled, attorney Timothy Cavanagh, who represents the Cazares family, indicated he would not pursue the sanctions in light of the deal. But he also said he hoped the judge would look into who was responsible.
“It’s something that the judge, quite frankly, will still have jurisdiction to look at and see why were these critical documents not turned over during the case,” Cavanagh said.
Records show the city has been sanctioned by judges eight times for failing to turn over records in a police misconduct case since Rahm Emanuel became mayor in 2011. All totaled, discovery-related penalties — which include two large post-trial sanctions — have cost the city more than $1 million over the past six years. The city has also been ordered to pay millions of dollars in plaintiffs’ attorneys fees.
Frugoli had been drinking for nearly five hours at two South Side bars in April 2009 when he got behind the wheel of his Lexus SUV, entered the southbound Dan Ryan Expressway at a high rate of speed and slammed into the back of Cazares’ car near Roosevelt Road, where Cazares had pulled over because of a flat tire.
Frugoli was pulled from the wreckage by a good Samaritan and limped away on a ramp, bleeding from the head as the vehicle he’d struck burst into flames. He was found walking near Clinton Street and Roosevelt Road by Chicago police officers responding to the call of a person fleeing the scene.
Frugoli’s blood alcohol level was later measured at 0.328 percent, more than four times the legal limit of 0.08 percent.
When a state trooper arrived at the hospital to arrest Frugoli, a high-ranking Chicago police official acting as street deputy that night was already there and prevented Frugoli from making any statements, according to testimony. “Mr. Frugoli sat up and said, ‘I wasn’t driving. Did you find the other guy?’ ” Trooper Garrett Lindroth told the jury in testimony earlier this month.
Frugoli, now 50, was convicted of aggravated DUI and leaving the scene of a fatal accident, and is serving an eight-year sentence in state prison.
Lawyers for the Cazares and Manzera families alleged in their wrongful death lawsuit that the police code of silence protected Frugoli and caused him to think he could drink and drive without fear of consequences. Just a year before the fatal crash, Frugoli was involved in an off-duty crash with a marked squad car that injured two officers, yet he was never given a field sobriety test or questioned at the scene, according to trial testimony.
A large part of the plaintiffs’ argument centered on records turned over by the city that showed Frugoli had never been disciplined for any of the 18 complaints he received in his two-decade career.
But when Frugoli took the witness stand on the third day of trial, he revealed that he had indeed been suspended for five days in 1992. After the jury left the courtroom, Kendall asked Frugoli for details of the case and ordered lawyers for the city to go back to the Police Department and search for it.
The 115-page file documenting the 1992 bar fight was finally handed over three days later, along with two other previously undisclosed files.
The records showed Frugoli walked into the First Base Tavern in Bridgeport with two friends, smashed bar glasses, broke bar stools and pool cues, punched one man in the face and threw another seven feet across the bar into a pool table.
When the panicked bartender asked Frugoli to leave, the off-duty officer yelled, “Nobody messes with the Frugolis!”
As Frugoli left with his friends, a Chicago police sergeant responding to calls about the altercation told him to “hold it” and that she wanted to talk with him. Instead, Frugoli took off in his car. He pulled over only after the sergeant chased him in her marked squad car with her lights flashing.
Despite indications that Frugoli had been drinking, he was allowed to drive himself back to the police station, where he was never handcuffed, questioned or issued a sobriety test, the record showed. Misdemeanor battery charges were later filed, but Frugoli said they were dropped at his first court date.
Frugoli was suspended from work without pay for 15 days for the fight, but the sanction was reduced to five days after he appealed, records show.
On Dec. 8, one day after the bombshell evidence was shown to the jury, the settlement in the lawsuit came together in dramatic fashion in the middle of arguments.
When Cavanagh told the jury it was time to “talk about damages,” the city’s attorneys suddenly sought a sidebar. After both sides huddled with the judge for more than 10 minutes, Kendall called a recess. During the break, relatives of the victims were seen weeping and hugging one another.
When the judge returned, she announced that the case was over.
Jason Meisner, December 18, 2017, Chicago Tribune, “Chicago to pay $20 million to settle code-of-silence lawsuit over fatal crash caused by drunken cop, sources say”, https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-met-chicago-cop-fatal-dui-settlement-20171218-story.html