CHICAGO (CBS) — A federal appeals court has thrown out a $44.7 million judgment against the city of Chicago, awarded by a jury more than three years ago over off-duty Officer Patrick Kelly’s shooting of his friend, Michael LaPorta, after a night of heavy drinking.
In January of 2010, police were called to Kelly’s home and found LaPorta with a gunshot wound to the head. Kelly claimed LaPorta had shot himself with the officer’s gun in a suicide attempt. It wasn’t until 2017 that the case was revisited and investigators found that Kelly had pulled the trigger and then lied about it for nine years.READ MORE: Chicago Police Board Begins Hearings On Bid To Fire Officer Patrick Kelly For Shooting Friend And Lying About It
That same year, a federal jury found the city liable for LaPorta’s injuries, which have left him permanently disabled, paralyzed on the left side. The jury awarded LaPorta a record-breaking $44.7 million in damages – the most ever rewarded in a police misconduct case in Illinois.
On Tuesday, a panel of judges from the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that verdict, ruling LaPorta’s case against the city was “deeply flawed,” because Kelly was off-duty when he shot LaPorta, and not acting as a police officer.
“LaPorta’s injuries are grievous, but his legal theory for holding the City liable is deeply flawed. Whatever viability it might have had under state tort law (we’re skeptical, but there’s no need to make a prediction), it has no foundation whatsoever in constitutional law,” 7th Circuit Chief Judge Diane Sykes wrote. “When Kelly shot LaPorta, he was not acting as a Chicago police officer but as a private citizen. LaPorta claimed that he was deprived of his due-process right to bodily integrity. But it has long been settled that ‘a State’s failure to protect an individual against private violence … does not constitute a violation of the Due Process Clause.’”
In reversing the verdict in the case, the appeals court ordered U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber to enter a judgement in favor of the city.
The 24-page opinion stated that, because Kelly was acting as a private citizen when he shot LaPorta, and not as a police officer, the city cannot be held liable for his actions. The appeals court rejected arguments from LaPorta’s attorneys that the city should be held liable for failing to have an “early warning system” in place to identify officers likely to engage in misconduct, for failing to properly investigate and discipline officers who engage in misconduct, and for perpetuating a “code of silence” within the Chicago Police Department.
“LaPorta’s case is tragic. His injuries are among the gravest imaginable. His life will never be the same,” Sykes wrote. However, the appeals court held federal law “imposes liability only when a municipality has violated a federal right. Because none of LaPorta’s federal rights were violated, the verdict against the City of Chicago cannot stand.”
Judge Michael Kanne joined Sykes in ruling in favor of the city. Judge Amy Coney Barrett took part in oral arguments in the case in 2019, but has since become a U.S. Supreme Court justice and did not take part in the ruling.
LaPorta’s attorney, Antonio Romanucci, called the appeals court ruling “intensely concerning, not only as it relates to delivering much needed justice for Michael LaPorta and his life-changing traumatic brain injuries, but also for the City of Chicago and the precedent this case sets in terms of accountability for police officers and the culture of impunity at CPD.”
“We vigorously commit to continuing this fight for Mr. LaPorta in the weeks and months to come,” Romanucci added in a statement.READ MORE: 2 Investigators: Family Questions Investigation Into Near-Fatal Shooting With Cop's Gun
LaPorta’s attorneys have said Kelly, now suspended and facing an effort to fire him from CPD, was the poster child for the “Code of Silence” among police officers.
The city’s Law Department said the ruling “follows legal principles that the Supreme Court settled long ago: that a municipality and its taxpayers are not liable under the Constitution for violence by a private actor.”
“In this case, Patrick Kelly was a private actor, despite his position as a police officer. Action that police officers take in their own home, after a night of drinking, and in other circumstances where they make not even a pretense of enforcing the law, is private conduct. We have maintained that position since the beginning of this case, and courts across the country have reached the same conclusion repeatedly. The court’s decision today merely reaffirms those principles.”
At the trial in LaPorta’s lawsuit, Kelly repeatedly invoked his 5th amendment right against self-incrimination.
LaPorta denied he shot himself, insisting at trial that Kelly shot him in the head.
In interrogation video from the night of the shooting, Kelly was combative after he told fellow cops LaPorta shot himself. Kelly told them to call his father, a former member of the department.
While in custody he was somehow allegedly able to urinate on his hands, to throw off forensic tests.
After handing down their verdict, jurors said they believed Kelly shot LaPorta. He was never charged criminally for the shooting.
It wasn’t until the jury’s verdict in the case that the Civilian Office of Police Accountability ruled Kelly shot LaPorta after a night of heavy drinking, and recommended Kelly be fired.
Then-Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson later moved to have Kelly fired. The next hearing on the disciplinary charges against Kelly is scheduled for next month before the Chicago Police Board.MORE NEWS: City Wants Michael LaPorta, Shot And Permanently Disabled By CPD Officer Patrick Kelly, To Testify Against Him
As for the lawsuit, the next possible steps for LaPorta’s attorneys include asking the full 7th Circuit Court to review the case, or appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court.