Civil trial underway in case of man killed by cop

December 11, 2007 4:01:15 PM PST
The trial began Tuesday in a lawsuit filed by the family of a man shot and killed by a Chicago police officer four years ago. The shooting, which was captured on tape, happened inside a CTA Red Line station. The officer later said the shooting was "not justified."

Officer Alvin Weems remains on the Chicago Police force. The family of Michael Pleasance is suing the city and the officer for wrongful death.

The jury in this case will not be deciding whether a police officer acted improperly in a shooting. The city has already acknowledged that he made a mistake -- in this case with fatal consequences. The jury's charge is to determine what the city should pay for this mistake. In other words, what value do you assign a life?

Pleasance was 23 when he died. What was his life worth to his mother and stepbrother who have sued the city over his death?

Pleasance was shot and killed by Chicago Police Officer Alvin Weems March 8, 2003. A CTA Red Line security camera recorded officer Weems arriving at the station with gun drawn as he moved to break up an apparent fight. Weems is later seen with two young men. His gun is up and then he shoots Michael Plese Pleasance in the head, killing him.

Weems later claimed Pleasance lunged at him, though the tape does not support that. The city has since acknowledged that Weems was wrong, and because the city has admitted liability, the security tape will not be shown to the jury in Pleasance's wrongful death case. The jury is being asked to assign a financial value to Pleasance's life.

Pleasance's mom testified Tuesday that he was a loving, caring son, her companion, her buddy. Her attorney says there will always be an empty seat at the Pleasance table after an unimaginable tragedy.

Attorneys for the city say, "Yes, there is a parent's unconditional love, but Michael Pleasance dropped out of high school, did time in prison for drugs, didn't hold a job, and showed little initiative to fine one." Consider the whole package, the city says. It all makes for a somewhat clinical process.

"It's offensive in some respects. And many people react to it as sort of a gross concept. How do you take this tragedy and quantify it in terms of dollars? The answer is, it's the only way our system knows for compensating loss," said Dan Kotin, personal injury lawyer.

Kotin is a personal injury lawyer not involved in this case. The jury, he says, will consider loss of earning, and the intangibles, loss of love, comfort, affection and protection.

The attorneys in this case can't discuss particulars since the trial's underway. There were pre-trial discussions about a possible settlement, but that didn't work, and neither side will discuss what they believe is a fair and reasonable financial settlement. They will present the numbers they think appropriate as the trial concludes. And then it will be up to the jury.

For the first nine months of this year, the city has paid out $26.5 million in lawsuits involving the police department. That does not include the Burge settlement.

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