$1.3M settlement in drug swallowing case

September 8, 2011 3:26:22 PM PDT
Chicago's City Council has approved a $1.3 million settlement for the family of a Chicago man who died while in police custody.

The city's law department says it is a good deal for taxpayers because the city might have had to pay a lot more had the case of John Coleman Jr. gone to trial.

Video from a police SUV shows Coleman in the backseat after being arrested on suspicion of drug trafficking on the 100-block of West Division Street in July 2010. After a struggle involving a Taser with five Chicago Police officers, who said it came about in part because Coleman swallowed drugs, Coleman can be seen losing consciousness.

The officers took Coleman to their station -- Larrabee and Division's 18th District -- instead of to a hospital emergency room. And that is where they went wrong

"Five officers of the Chicago Police Department made a conscious decision to ignore proper police procedure. More importantly, they made a conscious decision to ignore basic, common human decency," said defense attorney John Winters.

Coleman's family said his crime was that he was an addict, not a pusher. His lawyer says he asphyxiated in the squad car.

An autopsy showed Coleman died of a heroin and cocaine overdose.

"He was caring. He cared for his family. He was just a family person," said mother Connie Coleman.

The head of the City Council's finance committee said, with the video, a trial would likely end up costing taxpayers much more than $1.3 million.

"I think the cops have to realize that everything they do these days is gonna be on film. Everyone's got a phone that has a camera and they simply have to follow the letter of the law and the procedures in the department," said Alderman Ed Burke.

An internal investigation revealed officers portrayed the series of events that led to Coleman's demise inaccurately. Two were relieved of their police powers.

But, at City Hall, at least one counselor saw the settlement as rewarding crime.

"This somebody was doing something criminal, in my mind. The fact that taxpayers have to reward that behavior, I think it sends the wrong message," said Alderman George Cardenas.

The Independent Police Review Authority is looking at the officers' conduct and will issue a report that may or may not allow two of the officers to regain their jobs.

The Coleman family says all the officers involved were inexperienced and insensitive.

They are hoping publication of the video prevents someone else from dying as John Coleman Jr. did.

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