Aldermen question settlement in police abuse case

City Council's finance committee yesterday approved a $195,000 payment to settle a lawsuit brought by a man who accused police officers of threatening him with a chainsaw as his autistic daughter looked on.

Even as they okayed the payment, aldermen renewed their questions about the city’s handling of misconduct cases lodged against Chicago police officers.

"Can't the city file some kind of grievance?" inquired Alderman Leslie Hairston (D-5). "There's nothing that the city is doing to aggressively discourage these things."

The plaintiff, Lloyd Haywood, 44, said three police officers seized him unlawfully outside his home, prevented him for caring for his ten-year-old daughter, tormented him with a chainsaw, taunted him with racial slurs, ransacked his home, and left pornographic images on his computer.

Haywood said that as he stood on his porch in cuffs, one officer  took a neighbor's chainsaw, gunned the motor and buzzed the blade around Haywood's head, neck and ears, while saying, "What should I cut off next?"

Other officers mocked Haywood when he asked them for help, according to court papers.

Haywood's complaint also said the Police Department failed to conduct a serious investigation of the incident.

The incident, which took place in 2004, happened at the Stateway Gardens housing project on South Federal Street as police made a series of drug arrests. Haywood was not among those arrested.

Defendants in Haywood's case are still on the force.

Alderman George Cardenas (D-12) said the city's failure to discipline the officers concerned him.

"How can we allow them to continue on the force," he asked.

Awarding a settlement to a plaintiff does not mean the officers were guilty of misconduct,  said Karen Seimetz, a lawyer representing the city.

Andrew Hale, a lawyer for the defendants,  said the city was "adamant" that the defendants were not guilty.

The city settled the case after examining the risk of an adverse jury verdict and the potential cost of a trial, he said.

"I do not believe there is any pattern of abuse and cover-up here," said Hale.

Craig Futterman, clinical professor of law at the University of Chicago and the lead attorney for the plaintiff, attended today's committee hearing.

"I really applaud some of these aldermen who are beginning to ask these critical questions," said Futterman.

"The cost of allowing police abuse to occur systematically-to allow a small percentage of officers to abuse with virtual impugnity-- is far more than the $127 million that's being paid off, probably more like $200 million with the outside counsel," said Futterman.

"The real question is what do those numbers represent in terms of harm to people," said Futterman, "including the harm done to good police officers whose jobs become harder and lives more dangerous by the actions of a small number of abusive police officers."

The City Council will vote on the settlement when it meets on Wednesday.