The City Council today approved paying more than $12 million to settle two wrongful arrest lawsuits stemming from the Chicago Police Department’s handling of a 2003 anti-Iraq War march.
In one settlement, the city will pay a total of $11 million to settle the federal class-action case filed by some 900 people detained or arrested during a March 20, 2003 protest. All charges were eventually dropped.
In the other settlement, the city will pay $1.14 million to settle a case filed 16 individual plaintiffs. Earlier this week, Corporation Council Stephen Patton described their cases as “compelling,” noting they volunteered to depart peacefully or weren’t even involved in the protests but were nevertheless corralled and arrested by police.
Nearly $6 million of the payments will go to pay lawyers who represented the people who filed the cases, in part because the city did not start trying to settle until an appellate court last year described the police conduct at the protest as “idiotic.”
That ruling made it “highly unlikely” the city could have won the case, Patton said. Going to trial could have increased the costs in the combined cases to more than $20 million, he said.
Of the 44 aldermen voting, only Ald. James Balcer, 11th, voted against settling the case, saying that he and his fellow veterans managed to avoid arrest when he took part in rallies and protests.
“I know that there were people wrongly arrested and convicted or charged — I think it’s wrong,” said Balcer, a decorated Vietnam War veteran. “However, speaking only for myself and only myself, I obeyed the law along with my friends who protested and held rallies during the war.”
The settlement costs do not include about $3.5 million the city spent on outside legal fees before the administration of Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office. The entire tab will be paid by insurance and city funds.