CHICAGO (WLS) -- Wednesday the Chicago City Council approved a $31 million settlement for four men who spent more than a decade in prison for a crime they did not commit.
Unlike previous debates on police settlement cases a heated debated ensued, centered around an ongoing debate about the treatment of African Americans by Chicago Police.
Only two aldermen voted not to support the settlement; one is a former firefighter, the other served the city as a firefighter and police officer.
The City Council has already approved millions of dollars this year for other police-related lawsuits.
"The money we've paid out for all these judgements could have kept all those damn schools open," said Alderman Howard Brookins (Ward 23).
Signing off on yet another huge settlement involving police misconduct gave aldermen some pause. There was a heated debate on whether Harold Richardson, Vincent Thames, Terrill Swift and Michael Saunders, known as the "Englewood 4," are deserving of the shared $31 million payout. It is one of the largest in the city's history.
"I can't stand by and approve $31 million for four individuals I feel are guilty," said Alderman Nick Sposato (Ward 38)
Sposato flipped his position after supporting the settlement two days ago in the finance committee. He said after speaking with the State's Attorney's office and some police officer, he and another Northwest Side alderman are convinced the Englewood 4 had something to do with the 1994 rape and murder of a South Side prostitute.
"There's an overwhelming amount of evidence against the individuals in the settlement, I feel like we are opening a gateway for settlements in the future," said Alderman Anthony Napolitano (Ward 41).
"What we are doing here with a police department that has a history of abusing black males in the city of Chicago. We're not talking about opening a gateway for settlements. The gateway for settlements was open when they started shooting black men in the back," said Alderman Leslie Hairston (Ward 5).
An angry Hairston reminded her colleagues that DNA linked to another suspect is why the Englewood 4's convictions were overturned. She and others said their job is not to retry the case.
"We are not a jury to determine people's guilt or innocence. They are people, they are human beings," she said.
The city's Law Department said accusations of coerced confessions and DNA evidence were two big hurdles that would have been tough to beat had the civil case gone to trial. Originally the Englewood 4 asked for a $70 million settlement.
City Council approves $31M settlement for 'Englewood 4'