by Todd Feurer, CBS Chicago web producer
CHICAGO (CBS) — The city is one step closer to settling two lawsuits filed over cases involving police officers improperly raiding homes, including one incident in which they pointed guns at innocent teenagers.
The City Council Finance Committee signed off on a $295,000 settlement agreement with Wivionia Haywood Jones and Erick Smith, after police burst into the couple’s apartment without a warrant; and a $200,000 settlement with Karonna Williams and her two sons, after officers busted into their home while serving a warrant for an apartment across the hall.
CBS 2 Investigator Dave Savini has uncovered a systematic problem with CPD raiding wrong homes, and traumatizing innocent victims, including pointing guns at children. Savini’s reporting formed the basis for a CBS 2 documentary on the problem, titled “[un]warranted.”
In both cases being settled this month, city attorneys conceded that officers had no legitimate reason to break into the victims’ homes, because the families had not given consent and police had no reason to believe there was an emergency inside.
In Jones’ and Smith’s case, on Dec. 29, 2012, officers responded to a call about a dispute between the couple and their upstairs neighbor over marijuana use, according to First Assistant Corporation Counsel Renai Rodney.
The woman, Tracye Young, had called police to complain about the smell of marijuana coming from the couple’s apartment, and aggravating her child’s asthma, Rodney said.
Even though the officers didn’t report smelling marijuana from Smith’s and Jones’ apartment, Rodney said police forced the door open after Smith tried to close it. Once inside, officers used pepper spray on Smith as he was trying to call 911 and arrested him.
One officer later admitted to signing an assault complaint against Smith on Young’s behalf, although Young has said she never felt threatened by Smith and never wanted him arrested.
Rodney told aldermen a jury almost certainly would have determined the officers “clearly didn’t have consent” to enter the home, and if the case had gone to trial, the city could have been liable for damages of up to $700,000 — more than double what the city has agreed to pay in a settlement.
Only one of the two officers faced any disciplinary charges, but the Independent Police Review Authority exonerated him for his use of pepper spray, and found seven other disciplinary charges were “not sustained.” Now that the couple’s lawsuit is being settled, Rodney said the Civilian Office of Police Accountability could reopen an investigation into the officers’ actions.
In the other case, Williams sued the city after officers raided her apartment on May 2, 2018, and burst into her son’s bedroom with guns drawn, even though they only had a search warrant for an apartment across the hall.
Rodney said officers at the time were searching for a suspect in a recent kidnapping and sexual assault, and had obtained a warrant for the suspect’s apartment. They were given a master key to enter the building, but it didn’t work on the apartment listed on the warrant.
Based on the description of a doormat in the hallway, the officers broke into Williams’ apartment, believing it might actually be the suspect’s home, according to Rodney.
However, the officers didn’t have a warrant for Williams’ apartment, and there was no apparent emergency that would have warranted them breaking in. While the officers claimed they believed there might be another kidnapping victim inside, Rodney said that assumption was purely speculative, and not sufficient reason for a raid.
Williams’ 18-year-old son, Naseem Stevens, was sleeping when the officers broke into his bedroom, pointing guns at him.
“I was scared. I didn’t know what to do,” he said the day after the raid. “When my door kicked in I woke up. I look up, it’s three officers in my room with their guns pointed at me and telling me to lay on my stomach and put my hands behind my back.”
Stevens has said police then handcuffed him and his younger brother, and allowed them to call their mother, who was not home.
Williams was seeking $650,000 in damages in settlement talks, but agreed to a settlement of $200,000, according to Rodney.
The raid at Williams’ home remains under investigation by COPA.
Both settlements must get final approval from the full City Council, which meets next week.