Aldermen authorize $6M in settlements tied to police wrongdoing

Ray Lopez

Ald. Ray Lopez (15th), who represents gang-plagued Englewood and Back of the Yards, noted that the search warrant was executed during an investigation of alleged drug sales. “No little girl should have to see police barging through their doors. But she also didn’t need to see drug deals going on on the front steps, either,” the alderman said. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file photo

Two Chicago Police officers accused of breaking into a home, holding a loaded gun to the chest of a 3-year-old and using excessive force against the child’s mother and grandmother were stripped of their police powers after being caught justifying a subsequent arrest with similarly false claims.

First Deputy Corporation Counsel Jennifer Notz told the City Council’s Finance Committee about the April 2016 case involving Officers John O’Keefe and John Wrigley as she sought to justify a $2.5 million settlement to members of the Simmons family tied to the execution of an August 2013 search warrant at 930 N. Keystone.

Noting that the credibility of the officers is “paramount,” Notz said there was a “significant likelihood that the officers’ version of events would not be deemed credible.”

The officers claimed that they had recovered keys from Aretha Simmons’ boyfriend that were then used to open the front door.

But during discovery, the inventoried keys were taken to 930 N. Keystone and none of the keys “fit the lock,” Notz said. “In addition, the Police Department’s Bureau of Internal Affairs has recommended – and the police superintendent has concurred in the recommendation – that two officers in this case be separated from the department for lying about a similar incident.”

“In that case, the officers claimed a key was recovered from a suspect, then used to conduct a consensual search of an apartment. However, BIA found that the officers’ reports and testimony were not consistent with a video of the encounter. Due to the similarity between the allegations in that case and this one, the judge in this case ruled that evidence about the other case would be admissible.”

In the Simmons’ case, the officers and several of their colleagues were accused of using excessive force by pointing a gun at 3-year-old Davianna Simmons and her grandmother, Emily Simmons.

While the toddler watched in horror 15 feet away, one of the officers was further accused of putting his hand on the mother’s neck, pushing her face into the wall and injuring her eye.

Officers executing the search warrant were also accused of damaging and destroying personal property and stealing jewelry and cash during the course of the drug investigation.

The majority of the $2.5 million settlement stems from damage done to “the little girl, Davianna” Simmons, Notz said.

“Davianna has nightly nightmares and wakes up screaming, `The police are coming,’ “ Notz said noting that the child is likely to need psychiatric care into adulthood.

“The plaintiffs further testified that Davianna screams and runs every time she sees police officers. Jurors are likely to react sympathethically to Davianna’s videotoaped deposition, which the judge has ruled may be played at trial.”

Ald. Ray Lopez (15th), who represents gang-plagued Englewood and Back of the Yards, noted that the search warrant was executed during an investigation of alleged drug sales.

“No little girl should have to see police barging through their doors. But she also didn’t need to see drug deals going on on the front steps, either,” the alderman said.

In addition to the claims of excessive force and unlawful seizure, the Simmons family members are claiming that the city “had policies of failing to supervise police officers, failing to investigate and discipline officers for misconduct and maintaining a code of silence about officer misconduct.”

In December 2015, Mayor Rahm Emanuel famously acknowledged that there is a code of silence in the Chicago Police Department, in the furor that followed the court-ordered release of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.

In February, a federal judge vowed to hold a hearing — and even threatened to “start lining” Chicago officials up — to get to the bottom of a series of incidents in which city lawyers have been late to turn over evidence in police misconduct cases.

U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly made that promise after Simmons’ lawyers claimed the city had suddenly begun to produce thousands of pages of documents weeks before trial.

The case was subsequently settled for an amount kept secret until the Chicago Sun-Times disclosed the settlement last week.

Without a word of debate, aldermen also signed off on a $3.5 million settlement to Patrick Hampton.

Hampton served 20 years of a 60-year sentence for deviant sexual assault, attempted rape, aggravated battery and robbery only to be released after a federal judge granted his petition for habeas corpus.

The conviction stemmed from a notoriously heinous attack on three Hispanic patrons at a December 1981 “Holiday Jam” concert at the International Amphitheater.

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