Aldermen reject $125,000 settlement for woman whose son was fatally shot by Chicago police after he stabbed officer

·3 min read

Aldermen took the rare stance this week of refusing to pay a negotiated settlement in a lawsuit related to police conduct — in this case to a woman whose son was shot and killed by officers after she called 911 because he was threatening her with a knife.

The City Council Finance Committee deadlocked 13-13 Monday on the proposed $125,000 settlement for Lenora Bonds, meaning the Finance Committee will report to the full City Council that it should not approve the deal Wednesday.

Bonds argued in her suit that the Police Department’s crisis intervention team training was inadequate, city lawyer Victoria Benson told aldermen, and if they had been better prepared, the situation could have been handled without her son, Terrance Harris, winding up dead.

Police shot Harris 29 times, Benson said.

But several aldermen said it sounded like the responding officers did their best in a difficult situation.

Four officers went to Bonds’ home in October 2013 after she called 911 and said Harris was off his medication and threatening her with a knife, Benson said Monday. Harris opened the door and stabbed a sergeant, who had received crisis intervention training, in the face before retreating into the home and locking the door.

Three other officers eventually got in the house, where they said Harris lunged at them with two knives in the basement. All three officers opened fire on Harris, Benson said.

“So there was a CIT officer. He was stabbed in the face,” Southwest Side Ald. Silvana Tabares said Monday. “This is a justified but unfortunate situation. Settling sends a bad message to police officers when they have to make these split-second decisions.”

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Benson said the city was recommending the settlement because going to trial and litigating the specifics of the Police Department’s crisis intervention training program circa 2013 could result in Bonds receiving a larger payment.

She also noted Bonds had left the house and Harris was the only person still inside when the three officers entered and shot him.

“So the question will be was it necessary for them to have done so at that time, given that the individual who had called for police had exited the home,” Benson said.

The cost of police cases has been astronomical for Chicago.

From 2004 through 2019, the city spent about $760 million on settlements, losses at trial and other payouts in police cases, and the number has only grown in the years since. That includes civil rights cases, as well as car crash claims, racial discrimination complaints and sexual harassment suits, among other legal matters.

Aldermen almost always approve settlements recommended by the Law Department in suits against the city, though they have grown more restive in recent years thanks to a growing awareness of how much the deals cost, and a reluctance among politicians to take votes that add to the total.

Some aldermen have also grown more vocal in their support of the police, and have voted against settlements as a way of backing officers who they say face difficult choices in dealing with rampant violence.

Also Monday, the Finance Committee unanimously approved a $14 million settlement to be shared by two men who spent a combined 43 years behind bars after they said they were tortured by police detectives with ties to disgraced late Chicago police Cmdr. Jon Burge until they confessed to a murder they didn’t commit.

The proposed settlement for Kevin Bailey and Corey Batchelor comes four years after a Cook County special prosecutor dropped charges against the two, and a judge tossed out their convictions. The full council will consider their payment Wednesday.

jebyrne@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @_johnbyrne

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