The city of Chicago has agreed to pay $9.5 million to settle a federal lawsuit filed by a man who was severely injured when a police officer jolted him with a Taser and he fell and hit his head on the pavement, court records show.
Few lawsuits against Chicago police over the last decade have cost the city as much.
Jose Lopez was injured in July 2011, as officers were aiding paramedics who had been called to the Little Village neighborhood, where Lopez was experiencing chest pains. Lopez repeatedly refused medical treatment and officers alleged that he took a swing at them before Officer Stevan Vidljinovic tased him, according to court records.
Lopez’s lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago, said he was not combative before he was shocked and crashed to the pavement. One of his attorneys, John DeRose, said Lopez cannot talk and moves very little.
“On a real great day, he can blink to yes or no questions,” DeRose said Wednesday. “He’s locked in that body.”
Vidljinovic, a 9-year veteran of the department, said in a phone interview that he did nothing wrong or in violation of department policy. He noted that court records indicated that tests found the drug PCP in Lopez’s system.
“(The Taser) is a less lethal use of force that we’re trained to use … to subdue an individual that’s being combative,” he said.
The settlement has yet to go to the City Council, which approves legal payouts from the city, but the settlement amount was disclosed in a motion DeRose filed earlier this month.
A city Law Department spokesman declined to comment.
Lopez’s lawsuit went to trial in February and lasted more than two weeks. A jury found that Vidljinovic used excessive force and unlawfully seized Lopez, but did not find that he intentionally inflicted severe injuries on Lopez. Jurors also determined the evidence didn’t show Lopez swung at police.
Before jurors could determine damages, the parties reached a settlement, court records show.
If approved, the settlement will be piled on top of more than $500 million that the city has paid out in lawsuits against police since 2004. Just last week, litigation that seeks to force broad reforms in the troubled Police Department cited these payouts as evidence of a pattern of excessive force and misconduct that can only be corrected by putting the police under a federal judge’s oversight.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel has pushed a plan to reform the department without a judge’s oversight, and he and his allies have highlighted changes he has made in the 19 months since a video of an officer shooting black teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times sparked heated protests.
One of those changes was the addition of hundreds of Tasers to the department’s supply. Though the devices are generally less dangerous than guns, people shocked with them are sometimes injured by the falls that result.