Chicago City Council approves one of its largest police settlements in years, accepts more migrant funding despite objections

Chicago aldermen approved one of the city’s largest police misconduct settlement awards in years Thursday, while also diving into an emotional debate about what the city owes newly arriving immigrants as longtime Black residents feel overlooked.

The City Council approved a $25 million settlement award in a police misconduct case in which two men were wrongfully convicted of murdering a college basketball standout three decades ago, with “no” votes from Aldermen Brian Hopkins, 2nd, Marty Quinn, 13th, Silvana Tabares, 23rd, Bill Conway, 34th, Anthony Napolitano, 41st, and Brendan Reilly, 42nd.

The settlement produced scant discussion on the council floor. Aldermen have approved $220 million to pay out Chicago police-related lawsuits since the start of 2021.

In 2016, Tyrone Hood and Wayne Washington independently sued the city, alleging police, including then-Detectives Kenneth Boudreau and John Halloran, fabricated evidence and coerced testimony to win murder convictions in the May 1993 killing of Marshall Morgan Jr. The Tribune reported last month about a tentative deal to settle both lawsuits simultaneously.

“These families that were tortured and brutalized into false confession — on behalf of the city of Chicago, we are sorry,” Mayor Brandon Johnson said in a news conference after the council meeting. “These are mostly Black men. It’s painful. Now, of course, we do have a fiduciary responsibility to make sure that we’re making critical investments and righting the wrongs of a time ago. Constitutional policing is important. … And it is a cost when we fail. There is a cost to it.”

While the massive police settlement didn’t generate much debate, a decision on whether to accept a $33 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency did.

Aldermen voted 45-4 to accept the grant, the proceeds of which are to be spent on the thousands of migrants who have arrived in Chicago from southern border states in the last year.

As with many City Council votes concerning migrant funding over the past several months, some aldermen raised concerns about millions of dollars being designated for the 13,500 asylum-seekers so far who have arrived in Chicago while homeless residents in their wards cannot find housing.

Ahead of the vote, Ald. Raymond Lopez, 15th, sought to divide the migrant funding item from the rest of an appropriations ordinance, which also included grants for homeless Chicagoans and the police.

“One of my colleagues gleefully joked when I voted against this in budget (committee), ‘Well, we finally got you to vote against the police,’ because I had to say no to a $5 million grant for training in order to say no to $33 million I couldn’t explain,” Lopez said. “You can wrap it in bacon, but if it’s a turd, it’s still going to taste like …”

About $19.8 million of the FEMA funding will be designated for food, while $13.2 million will go toward shelter costs. The funds are projected to only last about five to six months, in part because some of it will go toward already incurred costs stretching back to May.

Ald. Emma Mitts, 37th, struck a strident tone as well by stressing that West Side families in her ward remain in need after unprecedented “devastation” in her community from massive floods this summer.

“They’re constantly reminding me of all the dollars being spent out for the migrants,” said Mitts, who noted she still supports accepting the FEMA funds. “Now, if we can walk and chew gum at the same time, doggone, now is the time. That’s all I can tell you.”

Some of the complaints drew a rebuke from Johnson’s budget committee chair, Ald. Jason Ervin, 28th, who reminded his colleagues that FEMA funding for migrants has federal restrictions on its use, and that the city can either accept or reject the dollars. He said as the city heads into budget season — with a hefty $538 million projected budget deficit looming — the council needed to set priorities.

“The key point here that I think that we have to remember is that we have to be able to figure out a way to solve all these challenges,” Ervin said. “I believe that by turning this money down, that doesn’t help us down that path of solving challenges because, again, these situations aren’t changing or aren’t going away. We need additional funding.”

In addition to Lopez, the aldermen who voted against accepting the FEMA money were Desmon Yancy, 5th, Anthony Beale, 9th, and James Gardiner, 45th.

Johnson again touched on the tension when addressing reporters, prefacing his remarks by noting the continued “unprecedented levels of new arrivals” from Texas.

The mayor reiterated his vow to “replace police stations with base camps before inclement weather” arrives, after latest data show about 2,000 migrants continue camping out on Chicago police lobbies, often under squalid conditions. He also nodded at the deficit projection released by his budget team Wednesday and took a light knock at the much smaller $85 million prediction from his predecessor, Lori Lightfoot, for not taking into account the escalating needs of the asylum-seekers and other factors.

“The projected budget deficit is something that I anticipated during my campaign and provides a much more accurate view of our finances than the previous April report,” said Johnson, who assumed office in May. later: Later, he added: “As far as any more specific decisions, these are collective decisions … but what I’m also very clear about is, as I said before, making critical investments and balancing the budget, that doesn’t place the burden on working people.”

Aldermen also approved via voice vote the $1.5 million purchase of a former U.S. Marine Corps building in the 39th Ward to use as a migrant shelter. The site, at 3034 W. Foster Ave. on the Far Northwest Side, will be acquired from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago.

Immigration committee chair Ald. Andre Vasquez, 40th, alluded to the previous heavy discussion on migrants when commending his colleague, Ald. Samantha Nugent, 39th, for identifying the space in her ward.

“I understand that the problems it inflicts in some regard in our city that has been segregated, that when we think about where space is being looked at, it ends up being where we see there’s a lot of vacant land on the South and West Side, in communities that have been historically marginalized and have been asking for support and investment over time and have not received it,” Vasquez said.

Though it didn’t produce debate Thursday, the $25 million police misconduct settlement did face opposition earlier this week when it was discussed during the council’s Finance Committee meeting.

The measure cleared through the committee but the large amount caused some aldermen, such as Hopkins, to balk over what he said was setting a financially imprudent precedent for the future. But officials from the mayor’s Law Department argued going to trial for such an infamous case would be far more expensive.

Under the settlement agreement, Hood, who served 22 years, would receive $17.5 million and Washington, who served 12 years, would get $7.5 million. The city’s insurance would pay for $5 million of the total award.

As many as 10 other misconduct lawsuits are pending against Boudreau, who along with his co-defendant is represented by outside counsel, Felker has said. The city already has paid out settlements in five reversed conviction cases involving Boudreau, according to Felker, and the city’s own insurers don’t oppose the pending settlement to Hood and Washington.

Former Detective Halloran, Boudreau’s partner, is also a defendant in most of the same federal lawsuits. Four of those lawsuits with Halloran named are pending.

The $25 million amount will now be the most sizable such settlement from the city so far this year. It also will surpass any settlements in that category approved by the council last year, when the largest was $15 million paid to the family of Guadalupe Francisco-Martinez, a mother killed in a high-speed police chase in 2020.

This year, the highest settlement finalized before Thursday was $7.25 million awarded to Arthur Brown, a man who served nearly 30 years in prison for a double murder conviction that was ultimately overturned.

In addition to the $25 million for the Hood and Washington settlements, the city’s Law Department has paid nearly $7 million in additional taxpayer funds since 2016 to two outside law firms to litigate the cases on behalf of the city, the Tribune learned through public records requests. It is part of a controversial pattern detailed in a 2019 Tribune investigation, and one that is at discretion of the Law Department.

About $3.7 million of that went to the Sotos Law Firm, while another $3 million was paid to Rock Fusco Connelly LLC, according to records provided by the city’s Law Department. Both firms represent the city on dozens of police misconduct cases, including many involving the same detectives, court records show.

For his part, Johnson has tried to remain above the fray on the monthslong strife among City Council members over police lawsuit settlements.

While affirming his commitment to “constitutional policing,” the mayor and his hand-picked corporation counsel, Mary Richardson-Lowry, defended the city’s legal strategy after one proposed payout — $2 million on behalf of Darius Cole-Garrit, a 21-year-old man fatally shot by Chicago police in 2014 after officials said he pulled a gun from his waistband and pointed it at officers — failed in a high-profile vote in July.

That proposed settlement was scheduled to come up for another vote this month but was withdrawn from the Finance Committee this week, with chair Ald. Pat Dowell, 3rd, saying the delay was “to allow the Law Department to do some more work.”

Morgan was a standout basketball player and honor student at the Illinois Institute of Technology. His half-naked body was found wedged between the front and back seats of his mother’s abandoned blue Chevrolet Cavalier on South Michigan Avenue in May 1993.

Hood and Washington were arrested two weeks later and charged with Morgan’s murder. Washington told police Hood shot Morgan as the pair robbed him, a statement he later said was false, the result of police punching and slapping him while he was handcuffed.

Hood was convicted of murder and sentenced to 75 years in prison. Washington’s trial ended in a hung jury. He later pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Lawyers for the two defendants argued for years Hood and Washington did not kill Morgan, and that instead the likely suspect is actually Morgan’s father, Marshall Morgan Sr., a man imprisoned at Sheridan Correctional Center, where he is serving a 75-year sentence for shooting and killing his girlfriend Deborah Jackson in a similar scenario and circumstance.

Morgan Sr. admitted killing Jackson but has repeatedly said that he was not involved in his son’s killing. Then-Gov. Pat Quinn commuted Hood’s sentence on his final day in office in 2015, and a judge later vacated the conviction. Washington, who was released from prison a few years earlier, also had his conviction vacated.

The City Council approved Chasse Rehwinkel as Johnson’s choice for city comptroller, after the previous Finance Committee vote saw a couple of aldermen balk at Rehwinkel’s support for politicians who have praised the “defund the police” movement as well as his lack of an accounting degree.

Rehwinkel, previously banking director at the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, replied to the committee that he would treat all clients the same and that he had robust experience with public finance. His confirmation sailed through the full council on Thursday.

Chicago Tribune’s Jason Meisner contributed.