Court Records Show Lawyers Got 40 Percent of $5M Laquan McDonald Settlement, While Other Attorneys Are Cleaning Up From Police Settlements

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Michael D. Robbins, left, and Jeffrey Neslund, attorneys for the family of Laquan McDonald, at a news conference Dec. 11. (AP)
Michael D. Robbins, left, and Jeffrey Neslund, attorneys for the family of Laquan McDonald, at a news conference Dec. 11. (AP)

Recent news report show that lawyers often receiving large chunks of settlements paid to the families of victims of police violence. The Guardian reported that lawyers representing the family of Laquan McDonald, the teenager who was videotaped being shot 16 times by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke, received 40 percent ($1.8 million) of the $5 million settlement paid by the city of Chicago. Lawyers usually get 33 percent of these kinds of settlements.

The Chicago Sun-Times provided a detailed timeline of the negotiations between lawyers Michael D. Simmons and Jeffrey Neslund and lawyers representing the city of Chicago. The timeline was based on interviews, court documents and correspondence obtained from the city. According to The Sun-Times, Simmons and Neslund initially demanded $16 million, $1 million per bullet, but a month later they settled for $5 million. Court records also show that McDonald’s mother and sister are the sole heirs to his estate. McDonald’s mother, Tina Hunter, received $2.25 million and his sister received $2.75 million. Both settlements will be paid out in monthly installments.

The lawyers also said the tape proved that Chicago police officers had falsified the report on the McDonald shooting. The police report claimed that McDonald lunged at officers, but the video clearly shows Van Dyke shooting him when he was walking away.

“Contrary to the false statements the City allowed the F.O.P. (Fraternal Order of Police) spokesman to spin to the media, the dash cam confirms that Mr. McDonald did not ‘lunge’ toward the police. This case will undoubtedly bring a microscope of national attention to the shooting itself as well as the City’s pattern, practice and procedures in rubber stamping fatal police shootings of African Americans as ‘justified,’ ” Simmons and Neslund wrote. “This particular shooting can be fairly characterized as a gratuitous execution as well as a hate crime.”

The Post-Courier reports that lawyers representing the family of Walter Scott, a Black man shot in the back while he was fleeing North Charleston police officer Michael Slager, received a quarter of the $6.5 million settlement. The law firms of Stewart, Seay & Felton, Lanier and Burroughs of Orangeburg and Knight & Whittington of Summerville will receive about $2.4 million in costs and fees. According to The Post-Courier, three of Scott’s four children will each receive $1 million annuities. Scott’s brother, who represents his estate, will receive $3 million and his former wife Lisa, will receive $17,000 owed in back child support. The S.C. Insurance Reserve Fund will contribute $1 million to the settlement, the other $5.5 million will come from city funds.

North Charleston city attorney Brady Hair was happy the case was quickly resolved.

“If you compare what happened in other cities, such as Baltimore, Ferguson (Missouri) and now Chicago, there is no doubt that the manner the Scott case was handled was a victory for the city of North Charleston, the Scott family and the state of South Carolina,” said Hair in an interview with The Post-Courier. “No brick was thrown, no building was burned and no violence occurred in the city after this event.”

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