Chicago Sun-Times - - FRONT PAGE - BY FRAN SPIELMAN, CITY HALL RE­PORTER fspiel­man@sun­ | @fspiel­man

Chicago tax­pay­ers will spend $6.65 mil­lion to set­tle four law­suits stem­ming from al­le­ga­tions of po­lice abuse — two in­volv­ing po­lice shoot­ings, the other two al­leg­ing a po­lice code of si­lence.

All four set­tle­ments are on Thurs­day’s agenda for the City Coun­cil’s Fi­nance Com­mit­tee.

The largest stems from the code of si­lence fa­mously ac­knowl­edged by then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the furor fol­low­ing the court-or­dered re­lease in Novem­ber 2015 of the Laquan McDon­ald shoot­ing video.

Af­ter 13 years in the Chicago Po­lice Depart­ment’s Of­fice of News Af­fairs, Laura Ku­biak was sum­mar­ily pun­ished — trans­ferred to a mid­night shift pa­trolling what she called an “un­safe neigh­bor­hood” — for re­port­ing that a fel­low of­fi­cer had “ver­bally and phys­i­cally threat­ened” her at work.

Ku­biak’s at­tor­ney Me­gan O’Mal­ley said the case could have been set­tled seven years ago “at no cost to the tax­pay­ers,” sim­ply by putting Ku­biak back on the job at News Af­fairs.

In­stead, the city’s Law Depart­ment chose to take the case to trial, lead­ing to last year’s jury de­ci­sion to award Ku­biak $1.4 mil­lion in dam­ages for emo­tional dis­tress and $400,000 in lost wages.

Since then, the set­tle­ment has more than dou­bled — to $3.8 mil­lion — be­cause of at­tor­ney’s fees and pre-judg­ment in­ter­est, O’Mal­ley said.

The al­leged ver­bal and phys­i­cal ha­rass­ment that trig­gered the set­tle­ment oc­curred in 2012.

That’s when Ku­biak re­ported fel­low of­fi­cer Vee­jay Zala had re­peat­edly de­nounced her as “noth­ing” but a “stupid b----,” pro­nounced him­self “the real po­lice” and raised his hand as if threat­en­ing to hit her.

“It was an of­fi­cer com­ing at her down the hall­way … in the mid­dle of po­lice head­quar­ters. … He got up in her face, screamed at her, pointed his fin­ger in her face, and then pulled his hand back as if to hit her. An­other of­fi­cer stood be­tween them and de­fused the sit­u­a­tion,” O’Mal­ley said.

Although Zala’s record in­cluded 31 in­ter­nal af­fairs com­plaints and a fed­eral law­suit ac­cus­ing him of bat­tery and ex­ces­sive force, the depart­ment “chose to re­tal­i­ate” against Ku­biak and a wit­ness who also re­ported the in­ci­dent to In­ter­nal Af­fairs by “dump­ing them back to pa­trol,” O’Mal­ley said.

“Any time that the Po­lice Depart­ment chooses to be com­plicit in si­lenc­ing of­fi­cers and send­ing a mes­sage to the other of­fi­cers that you shouldn’t re­port mis­con­duct or else you will be the one who is pun­ished, that is the code of si­lence,” O’Mal­ley said.

“If the city of Chicago is sin­cere about po­lice re­form, they need to en­sure that, go­ing for­ward, they sup­port the of­fi­cers who re­port mis­con­duct to In­ter­nal Af­fairs and that they are not com­plicit in pun­ish­ing of­fi­cers who be­come whistle­blow­ers” — or in “con­ceal­ing mis­con­duct of of­fi­cers.”

The sec­ond-high­est set­tle­ment — $2.25 mil­lion — goes to the mother of Paul O’Neal Jr., an un­armed 18-year-old shot in the back and killed by Chicago po­lice in 2016.

Ear­lier this year, the Chicago Po­lice Board voted unan­i­mously to fire two of­fi­cers for shoot­ing at a stolen Jaguar driven by O’Neal that was speed­ing away from a South Side traf­fic stop shortly be­fore the fa­tal shoot­ing.

The In­de­pen­dent Po­lice Re­view Author­ity, now called the Civil­ian Of­fice of Po­lice Ac­count­abil­ity, rec­om­mended ter­mi­nat­ing of­fi­cers Michael Cough­lin Jr. and Jose Tor­res on grounds that the part­ners en­dan­gered the lives of civil­ians and fel­low of­fi­cers when they shot at the mov­ing car on a res­i­den­tial street.

The of­fi­cers opened fire af­ter O’Neal slammed the stolen Jaguar into two po­lice SUVs and sped off down the street, body-mounted cam­era video showed.

Af­ter the Jaguar crashed near 73rd Street and Mer­rill Av­enue, O’Neal led of­fi­cers on a foot chase into a back­yard, where a third of­fi­cer, Jose Diaz, opened fire. O’Neal died of a gun­shot wound to the back, ac­cord­ing to an au­topsy.

IPRA ruled Diaz was jus­ti­fied in the shoot­ing be­cause he thought O’Neal had a gun and fired at po­lice.

In other cases:

† A $350,000 set­tle­ment goes to the fam­ily of Stephanie Buress, who ac­cused Chicago po­lice of­fi­cers of break­ing into her apart­ment at gun­point dur­ing her tod­dler’s birth­day party when they raided the wrong home in Fe­bru­ary 2019.

Dur­ing the po­lice-raid-gone-wrong, fam­ily mem­bers ac­cused po­lice of wav­ing guns at ter­ri­fied chil­dren, shout­ing pro­fane in­sults and smash­ing the four-year-old’s birth­day cake. Fam­ily mem­bers said they de­manded to see the search war­rant, but were de­nied.

† The small­est set­tle­ment — $250,000 — goes to the fam­ily of 27-year-old Mar­tice Milliner, shot to death by a Chicago po­lice of­fi­cer on July 9, 2015, in the 7500 block of South Lan­g­ley.

At the time, CPD main­tained the of­fi­cer opened fire af­ter Milliner pointed a gun at him. Milliner’s sis­ter coun­tered in a fed­eral law­suit that her brother was at a birth­day cel­e­bra­tion and the of­fi­cer shot him “with­out cause or provo­ca­tion.” Her law­suit ac­cused an un­known num­ber of other of­fi­cers of “con­spir­ing with one an­other to pre­pare false, mis­lead­ing and in­com­plete of­fi­cial re­ports” to jus­tify the shoot­ing.


In this frame grab from a body cam pro­vided by the In­de­pen­dent Po­lice Re­view Author­ity, po­lice of­fi­cers fire into a stolen car driven by Paul O’Neal on July 28, 2016.

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