The city of Chicago is expected to pay $4.1 million to the family of an unarmed man who was fatally shot by police while on the ground.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration has the proposed settlement on Monday’s City Council Finance Committee agenda.
The deal ends a legal battle over a controversial police shooting that was caught on video and raised questions about the officer’s fitness for duty.
A video of the incident shows Officer Gildardo Sierra firing three shots into Flint Farmer's back as the South Side man lay bleeding on a parkway early on June 7, 2011. The incident was the third shooting by Sierra in six months – and the second fatality, records show.
The proposed settlement comes just a month after aldermen voted to pay a combined $33 million to settle police misconduct cases involving Christina Eilman, a mentally ill woman who wandered out of a South Side police station and into horrific danger six years ago, as well as a victim of notorious police Cmdr. Jon Burge.
The Police Department ruled Farmer’s shooting justified, but Superintendent Garry McCarthy later told the Tribune that he considered the case “a big problem” and that the officer involved should not have been on the street given his history of shootings.
Sierra admitted that he drank “multiple” beers before he went to work that night, but the city waited more than five hours to give him a Breathalyzer test, according to a filing by an attorney for the slain man's estate.
The court filing does not say how many beers Sierra purportedly drank or what his blood-alcohol test showed. Sierra, however, denied consuming any alcohol while being treated at Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park shortly after the 1:45 a.m. shooting, according to the filing.
The city waited about 5 hours and 20 minutes after the shooting -- and about 9 hours after Sierra's shift began -- to administer the alcohol test, the filing said.
On the same day the court filing became public, the city reached a settlement with Farmer’s family. The deal came hours after a federal judge upheld a jury’s judgment that a “code of silence” exists in the Chicago Police Department to protect rogue officers.
The Independent Police Review Authority, the city agency that investigates officer-involved shootings, referred all three shootings by Sierra to the Cook County state's attorney's office so prosecutors could determine whether he violated state criminal law.
A spokeswoman for State's Attorney Anita Alvarez has said the investigation is ongoing. The Tribune has reported that the FBI is also investigating the shootings.
Attorneys for the city and Sierra could not be reached for immediate comment.
The alleged failure to quickly administer a Breathalyzer test to the officer after Farmer’s shooting reflects what has been a frequent problem in the department.
A December 2007 Tribune investigation, “Shielded From the Truth,” showed that supervisors often waited hours to administer breath tests to officers, both on- and off-duty, raising questions about how aggressively the department investigates shootings involving officers.
Indeed, the Tribune found that department officials sometimes considered these shootings administrative matters and treated the officers with deference rather than matters deserving rigorous scrutiny.
That crucial delay comes at a cost: It allows an officer's blood-alcohol level to drop, sometimes under the legal level of intoxication. That forces prosecutors -- if they bring a criminal case -- to extrapolate the officer's blood-alcohol content, a move that criminal-defense lawyers typically challenge.
Sierra, 32, who joined the department 10 years ago, was stripped of his police powers and has been working at the city's 311 center since the shooting. He is paid about $75,000 a year, according to 2011 city data.
Before Farmer's death, Sierra, a patrol officer in the Englewood district, had wounded a 19-year-old man in a shooting in March 2011 and killed Darius Pinex, 27, in January 2011.
In Sierra's deposition for the lawsuit, he testified that he wasn't given a “mandatory psychological debriefing” as required by the department following both those shootings, according to Thursday's filing.
Sierra continued working the overnight shift in Englewood after the first two shootings, typically patrolling from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. He was on duty shortly before 2 a.m. on June 7 when he and a partner responded to a domestic-disturbance call allegedly involving Farmer and his girlfriend in the 6200 block of South Honore Avenue.
Confronted by the officers about beating his girlfriend and her 3-year-old daughter, Farmer allegedly fled through an empty lot to South Wolcott Avenue, one street west. He got as far as the parkway when the officer yelled at him.
Police reports said Farmer put his hands in his pocket and pulled out a dark object.
“Don't do it,” a witness heard an officer shout. The warning was followed by gunfire.
Farmer, a 29-year-old unemployed sales clerk, was shot in the abdomen and thigh and fell to the ground.
Moments later, a squad car responded to the scene, officials said, and captured video of Sierra as he stepped onto the parkway, walked about the unarmed Farmer in a semicircle and fired three more shots. A medical examiner later ruled that the last three bullets were the fatal shots.
Farmer was pronounced dead at the scene. A cellphone was found near his body. He was not carrying a gun.
Sierra fired 16 bullets, seven of which hit Farmer, according to police records.
After Farmer's death, McCarthy implemented a policy in which an officer’s history is reviewed after a shooting, officials have said.
The $22.5-million settlement in the Eilman case averted a trial detailing the events of May 2006 when the then-21-year-old California woman was arrested at Midway Airport in the midst of a bipolar breakdown. She was held overnight and then released at sundown the next day without assistance several miles away in one of the city's highest-crime neighborhoods.
Alone and confused by her surroundings, the former UCLA student was abducted and sexually assaulted before plummeting from a seventh-floor window. She survived but suffered a severe and permanent brain injury, a shattered pelvis, and numerous other broken bones and injuries.
The latest Burge settlement gave $10.2 million to Alton Logan, who spent 26 years in prison for a murder he did not commit and who alleged in a federal lawsuit that Burge’s team of detectives covered up evidence that would have exonerated him -- a departure from previous cases that documented torture used by Burge's team to extract false confessions.
The Logan case brought the tab on Burge cases to nearly $60 million when legal fees are counted.
Burge is serving 4 1/2 years in federal prison for lying about the torture and abuse of suspects.
In another high-profile case, the Finance Committee is scheduled to consider a $145,000 settlement on behalf of Jose Fematt, who was 13 in 2005 when rogue Chicago Police officers handcuffed him and took him hostage in their car, demanding information about the boy’s neighbors, Fematt alleged in a lawsuit filed six years later.
The officers were part of the since-disbanded Special Operations Section. Several SOS officers, led by Jerome Finnigan, were convicted of terrorizing numerous residents with home invasions, illegal searches and trumped-up charges, renegade tactics used to pocket thousands of dollars in cash. Finnigan was sentenced in 2011 to 12 years in federal prison.
The Finance Committee on Monday also is set to consider a $1.2 million settlement for a beer truck driver who claimed injury after his truck was rear-ended in 2003 by a Chicago Fire Department truck on Lincoln Avenue at California Avenue.
Peter Schenk, 59, later underwent two back surgeries that he said left him unable to work, according to his lawsuit. He still suffers from pain and depression as a result of the crash, he alleged.
Tribune reporter Hal Dardick contributed.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times