Com­mit­tee OKs $5M to set­tle suit by mo­torists de­nied due process af­ter ve­hi­cles seized

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY FRAN SPIEL­MAN, CITY HALL RE­PORTER fspiel­man@sun­times.com | @fspiel­man

Chicago tax­pay­ers will spend nearly $5 mil­lion to com­pen­sate mo­torists de­nied due process af­ter their ve­hi­cles were seized in con­nec­tion with sus­pected dru­gre­lated of­fenses.

The City Coun­cil’s Fi­nance Com­mit­tee signed off on the $4.95 mil­lion set­tle­ment to re­solve a class-ac­tion law­suit filed in March 2015.

Plain­tiffs Bran­don Fuller and Sa­van­nah Washington filed the law­suit be­cause their ve­hi­cle had been seized for po­ten­tial for­fei­ture af­ter a pas­sen­ger in the car was ar­rested for mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion.

One month later, a judge found there was no prob­a­ble cause for the search. The drug case was dis­missed. But it was too late for Fuller and Washington.

They claim the Chicago Po­lice De­part­ment’s As­set For­fei­ture Unit con­tacted the lien­holder of the ve­hi­cle “al­most im­me­di­ately af­ter” their car was im­pounded and “en­cour­aged the lien­holder” to re­pos­sess the ve­hi­cle. They claim to have made sev­eral at­tempts to re­cover their ve­hi­cle, to no avail. It was re­leased to the lien­holder.

State law re­quires CPD to de­ter­mine if for­fei­ture is war­ranted, then ei­ther send the ve­hi­cle to the state’s at­tor­ney’s of­fice for a prob­a­ble cause hear­ing and sub­se­quent for­fei­ture hear­ing or re­lease the ve­hi­cle to the owner or the lien­holder.

First Deputy Cor­po­ra­tion Coun­sel Re­nai Rod­ney said an in­ter­nal po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion con­firmed the plain­tiffs’ com­plaints about the vi­o­la­tion of due process.

In July 2015, CPD re­vised its ve­hi­cle re­lease pro­ce­dures to “make ex­plicit that lien­hold­ers were not pro­vided with any pref­er­en­tial treat­ment in the re­cov­ery of ve­hi­cles im­pounded for al­leged drug-re­lated of­fenses.”

“There­after, all ve­hi­cles seized by CPD were ei­ther sub­mit­ted to the state’s at­tor­ney of­fice for a prob­a­ble cause de­ter­mi­na­tion or re­leased to the owner,” Rod­ney told al­der­men.

Though the plain­tiffs orig­i­nally claimed the flawed prac­tice af­fected 22,000 ve­hi­cles, Rod­ney said the set­tle­ment ad­vanced Mon­day af­fects “only 356 ve­hi­cles” im­pounded by the city be­tween March 28, 2013, and Aug. 1, 2015.

Own­ers of each of those ve­hi­cles will be mailed a claim form, with a Nov. 18 dead­line to re­turn it.

Un­der ques­tion­ing by Ald. Ed­ward Burke (14th), Rod­ney ac­knowl­edged one-third of the $4.95 mil­lion set­tle­ment — $1.65 mil­lion — will go to plain­tiffs’ at­tor­neys. The three named plain­tiffs each will re­ceive a $5,000 “in­cen­tive pay­ment.” There’s also a “claims ad­min­is­tra­tion fee” of $15,158.

That leaves $3.27 mil­lion in the “set­tle­ment pot” to be dis­trib­uted among the 356 ve­hi­cle own­ers.

“They will be en­ti­tled to the Kel­ley Blue Book value of their ve­hi­cle at the time that it was seized by CPD. … The av­er­age value of the ve­hi­cles for which we have a fair pur­chase price is approximat­ely $9,891.66,” Rod­ney said.

Those ci­ta­tions were be­ing routed to ad­min­is­tra­tive hear­ing of­fi­cers, in­stead of to Traf­fic Court, where a pend­ing law­suit claims they be­long.

Also on Mon­day, the Fi­nance Com­mit­tee de­bated for hours, then re­luc­tantly signed off on a $500,000 set­tle­ment stem­ming from the Chicago Po­lice De­part­ment’s fail­ure to honor a Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion re­quest.

Charles Green filed the law­suit in Novem­ber 2015 af­ter CPD failed to re­spond to his re­quest for 50 years’ worth of closed com­plaints reg­is­ter files for present and for­mer Chicago po­lice of­fi­cers.

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