‘An Excuse to Start Suing’: Non-Black City Council Members Object to Paying $1.6M Settlement to Black Woman and Family Despite Violent Arrest by Chicago Officers Leaving One Partially Blind

An Illinois woman who became partially blinded after a violent arrest by Chicago police during the uprisings in the days immediately following George Floyd’s murder is one step closer to participating in a seven-figure settlement.

A Chicago City Council committee voted last week to pay damages to resolve lawsuits brought by those involved in her case and in two other ones brought by citizens claiming harm from police wrongdoing.

Video screengrab of Chicago police attempting to remove several Black people from their vehicle outside a mall

On Thursday, Feb. 17, the Chicago City Council Committee on Finance voted 13-7 to settle for $1.675 million with Mia Wright and four other people with her when she was pulled from a car by at least seven officers in a mall parking lot on May 31, 2020. 

The officers had been staking out the mall on that day of looting across Chicago, and the five were targeted as suspects.

The committee vote fell along color lines, with only the 13 Black committee members participating in the meeting voting for the settlement to the group of five African-Americans. The next step is a vote on the settlement by the full council this week.

Alderman Raymond Lopez said in opposing the settlement that the city would be opening a “Pandora’s box” by settling the lawsuit and would give “everyone an excuse to start suing.” By early last December the city of Chicago had already paid out more than $67 million in 2021 alone to resolve police misconduct claims.

Wright, who would receive the largest payout if approved by the Council, says her violent confrontation with the police on that May afternoon left her blind in one eye and impeded her dream of becoming a paramedic.

In an encounter that was captured on cellphone video, the group of four women and one man were surrounded by police in the parking lot of the Brickyard Mall when officers smashed the front passenger window with their batons and ordered all in the car to get out.

Many businesses were closed on that Sunday as protests over the murder of George Floyd deteriorated into looting, but this family says they were only trying to make their way to the mall’s Target, unaware that it had been closed.

The 26-year-old former emergency medical technician student claims she was attempting to obey the officers’ command and get out of the front passenger seat of her cousin’s vehicle.

However, before she could get out of the vehicle, one of the cops grabbed her by her hair and pulled her out of the car. After putting her on the ground, he kneeled on her neck.

Wright was arrested on disorderly conduct charges, and she says it wasn’t until she was in the back of a police cruiser that she became aware she had shards of glass in her right eye.

“All I thought about was what happened to George Floyd,” Wright said. “It could have been another situation like that.”

WTTW reports that Alderman Nicholas Sposato said during the Finance Committee meeting he did not believe Wright and her relatives were at the northwestern Chicago mall to shop. He asserts they were there to loot stores during the unrest that accompanied the protests.

Assistant Corporation Counsel Caroline Fronczak blasted his comment, saying that an investigation conducted by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability found no credence to a narrative that Wright, Tnika Tate, Kim Woods, Ebony Wilbourn, or Javon Hill were involved with any criminal activity.

Fronczak further noted that no one from the car fit the description of a prospective looter with a hammer that officers were looking for, nor was any stolen property found in their car.

Like so many others on that day, Fronczak stated that the five were caught in “chaos and confusion.” 

Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown has already disciplined seven officers for their participation in the incident, and at least one has been recommended to be terminated.

Alderman Leslie Hairston objected to the notion that Black Chicagoans should not be allowed to patronize stores outside their community. “When you are a person of color in this city you are targeted because of the color of your skin,” she said.

Two other settlements approved that day were $1.4 million to Shatrelle McComb, a woman whose 15-month son was killed in 2015 after being struck by a car driven by a man fleeing police in a residential neighborhood; and $1.2 million to Jomner Orozco Carreto and Carlos Ramirez, who were injured when an off-duty Chicago police officer shot into their vehicle while they sat unarmed in a parked car in 2020.

Wright would receive $650,000 in the proposed $1.675 million settlement and the others in her group would be awarded $243,750 each. The committee will send the recommendation from city lawyers to the full elected body on Wednesday, Feb. 23, for a final vote.

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