by Derek Gilna
On October 27, 2017, a federal jury awarded a record $44.7 million to a man, Michael LaPorta, who was shot by a drunken off-duty Chicago police officer named Michael Kelly. Kelly and LaPorta, who were friends at the time, were in Kelly’s home, and after a night of heavy drinking, Kelly shot LaPorta in the back of the head. LaPorta, 37, survived, but he suffered grievous, disabling injuries and requires around-the-clock care from his aging parents.
The City of Chicago loses hundreds of its citizens to uncontrolled gun violence every year and has also faced numerous lawsuits for police misconduct, high-profile criminal prosecution for shooting unarmed citizens, and federal investigation of its police training and management practices. LaPorta’s legal team convinced the jury that the City of Chicago failed to properly supervise or discipline Kelly. He has been sued numerous times and accused of multiple acts of misconduct, yet he still managed to keep his badge and gun.
Attorney Antonio Romanucci said, “My client’s case cannot be viewed in isolation, but as the result of a larger institutional problem that has emboldened police officers with extensive histories of misconduct allegations to continue these harmful behaviors with no fear of repercussions. This verdict is a step towards creating meaningful and permanent institutional reform in law enforcement in the city of Chicago.”
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, who has been widely criticized for the city’s level of violence and police misconduct, had no comment on the verdict, but the city’s law department has indicated that it will appeal.
Kelly, who has been stripped of his police powers, had been arrested and found mentally unfit twice, sued six times, investigated over twenty times, and alleged to have assaulted a fellow officer. Unfortunately, Kelly is only one of dozens of Chicago Police officers whose misconduct has cost the city millions of dollars in judgments, shattered numerous lives, and left parts of the city distrustful of those in uniform.
The jury did not find Kelly credible, especially after he asserted his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination during the course of the civil trial. Kelly had originally maintained that LaPorta had taken his service revolver to commit suicide, but that defense collapsed in the face of LaPorta’s unrebutted denials. The jury deliberated for two days. However, it took the jurors less than 20 minutes to conclude Kelly fired the bullet into LaPorta’s head; the rest of the time deliberating was spent on arriving at a unanimous decision on the amount of the damage award.
Jurors who spoke to the media after the historic award indicated that the amount of the verdict was absolutely meant to send a message to the city and police. Andrea Diven, a juror who spoke publicly about the case, said “They can’t get away with this. It’s something that’s embedded and it needs to change.”
LaPorta is now confined to a wheelchair and has difficulty talking, but he did have a few words to say after the case was over: “Finally got justice.”
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