City settles lawsuits

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Update: 10:32 pm, 2/21/17, Tuesday 

CHAMPAIGN -- The city is spending a lot to stay out of court, and taxpayers are footing the bill.

The city is spending $250,000 to settle the final excessive force lawsuit involving Matt Rush. The former police officer, who was fired twice, was named in four lawsuits total. Settling them all has cost more than half a million dollars, and you're paying for it.

That's not including the cost of paying city staff members and lawyers who worked on the settlements. But the city attorney says, if any of the cases involving Rush went to court, it would have cost the city a lot more money.

By now, the dash cam video is well known. It shows Precious Jackson being stopped, then tackled to the ground by former police officer Matt Rush. Almost three years later, the city council considered settling the last of four lawsuits.

"Anyone in the audience wish to address this issue?" asked Mayor Deb Feinen.

No takers.

The settlement was unanimously approved, but, as city attorney Fred Stavins explained, they didn't have much of a choice.

"There comes a point when you have to consider, what does it cost on the litigants themselves?" said Stavins.

This is what it's cost: $570,000 to settle excessive force lawsuits involving Rush. Plus, $50,000 paid to him in a separation agreement. That's $620,000 taxpayer dollars, and it doesn't include the cost of the work it took to resolve everything. 

"We pay the people who are being sued, too," said Stavins.

Stavins also says if any of the cases did go to trial, it's hard telling what that would cost. But it's not easy on your wallet.

"The prospects of facing up to half a million dollars in attorney's fees after trial, that's pretty daunting," said Stavins. "Even if you win, you're paying a considerable amount in fees."

If you take the amount of money the city has had to spend on settlements and separations, for everyone who lives in Champaign, it works out to be about $7.40 per person. Again, that's not including other taxpayer dollars used for staff costs.

That wasn't the only excessive force lawsuit the city settled Monday night. The other one, filed by Kyle O'Brien, claims two officers used excessive force in a 2013 arrest. The council approved spending $175,000 to resolve that.

Original: 9:47 am, 2/21/17, Tuesday

CHAMPAIGN -- Tuesday, the city council will consider approving two legal settlements resulting from lawsuits filed against the city.

The first was filed by Precious Jackson against the city and three police officers alleging excessive force during an arrest on May 26, 2014.

The settlement for $250,000 would release all claims against the city and officers, would not admit liability and would also dismiss the lawsuit.

The second addresses a lawsuit filed by Kyle O'Brien against the city and two officers claiming excessive force during an arrest August 31, 2013.

The settlement in this case, for $175,000, would also release all claims against the city and officers, would not admit liability and dismiss the lawsuit.

A November, 2016, trial in the O'Brien case resulted in a deadlocked jury.

City Attorney Fred Stavins said:

In each of these cases, both the City and the plaintiffs saw the benefit of avoiding the additional expense of litigation and agreed on a settlement. We carefully reviewed all the facts in each case, and analyzed the legal fees associated with further defending the City and the officers against these allegations.  The proposed settlements were found to be in the best interests of all involved.

The Council Bills and Reports to Council relative to the proposed settlements are available for review.  


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