CHICAGO (CBS) — The City Council Finance Committee on Monday signed off on a $2.25 million payment to Ricardo Hayes, an unarmed autistic man who was shot by an off-duty police sergeant three years ago.
Sgt. Khalil Muhammad shot Hayes, then 18, in the arm and chest in the Morgan Park neighborhood on Aug. 13, 2017.
Last year, the Civilian Office of Police Accountability ruled the shooting unjustified, and the Chicago Police Board suspended Muhammad for six months, after he admitted to using deadly force without justification.
First Assistant Corporation Counsel Renai Rodney told aldermen Muhammad was off-duty at the time, dressed in civilian clothes, and driving his personal vehicle when he saw Hayes running down the street. Muhammad claimed he suspected Hayes of breaking into vehicles, so he identified himself as an officer, and ordered Hayes to stop.
Muhammad has claimed Hayes turned toward him, reached back, and started to pull a dark object off his waistband. That’s when Muhammad fired his semi-automatic pistol at Hayes, claiming he feared for his life while still in the front seat of his girlfriend’s SUV.
COPA, however, concluded Muhammad’s actions were “objectively unreasonable.”
In asking aldermen to approve a $2.25 million settlement of Hayes’ lawsuit against Muhammad and the city, Rodney said Hayes functions at the cognitive level of a first-grader, and has difficulty communicating. He has been hospitalized several times since the shooting, and requires ongoing psychiatric and therapeutic treatment, as well as placement in a long-term specialized care facility.
Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38th) questioned why the city is accepting financial liability in the case when Muhammad was off-duty at the time of the shooting, and his actions were deemed unjustified.
“I am supporting this, but I don’t understand why we are responsible as a city for things individuals do off-duty. I still cannot comprehend that,” he said.
Rodney explained, had the case gone to trial, Muhammad would have argued he was still acting as an officer at the time. Muhammad claimed he suspected Hayes of breaking into vehicles when he ordered him to stop, and the city might not be able to convince a jury that the officer wasn’t justified in that belief, even though the evidence clearly shows the shooting itself wasn’t justified.
“That issue of whether the sergeant was acting within the scope of duty is something that would be a question for the jury to determine if the matter went to trial,” Rodney said. “It was our estimation that the jury would find more likely than not that he was acting within the scope of his duties, or scope of his employment by identifying himself as an officer.”
Rodney also noted that Hayes would not be able to “testify in a competent manner” against Muhammad due to his mental disabilities, so it would be unlikely the city would be able to dispute that the sergeant identified himself as a police officer.
The Finance Committee on Monday also approved two other settlements of lawsuits against the city.
A $750,000 payment will go to Artis Aquino, who was injured after his car was rear-ended by a speeding city garbage truck in 2017. Rodney said Aquino was an active-duty Marine at the time, and was recovering from shoulder surgery, but the crash destroyed the surgical repairs that had been made to his shoulder. She said he also suffered head trauma, a herniated disc in his back, and sprained ligaments in his right thumb. Due to his injuries, he was involuntarily discharged from the Marines for medical reasons.
Another settlement for $300,000 will go to Pierre Green, who spent four years behind bars for possession of a stolen vehicle and felony possession of a firearm before he was granted a new trial and the charges were dropped.
Rodney said Green was 24 when he was arrested in 2009, and claimed he did not have a gun and was not in a stolen car at the time, and officers mistook him for someone else. He was convicted, but was later granted a new trial after a second judge agreed his public defender should have questioned police about why they pulled over his car in the first place.
According to Rodney, on Sept. 29, 2009, there was a report of a carjacking of a maroon Ford Taurus. The next day, a resident called 911 to report a group of people in a red sedan hid an object behind her home near 105th and Halsted, and dispatchers broadcast a description of that car on police radios.
Rodney said the car Green was driving was the one from the carjacking a day earlier.
While the car Green was in did not match the exact description of the second car the officers who pulled him over said it had a similar appearance, and both license plates started with X9. They also said they spotted a gun in his lap, but when they tried to pull him over, he stopped and ran off, and tossed the gun away.
Several aldermen voted against the settlement in Green’s case, arguing the Cook County Public Defender’s office should be held liable for the case, since a judge ruled they provided ineffective counsel at trial.
All three settlements must be approved by the full City Council, which meets next on Wednesday.