The family of an 84-year-old Chicago grandmother killed in a car accident caused by police traveling at a high rate of speed is frustrated and tired of waiting for accountability more than three years after she was killed.
“Family, church and school, that was her life,” said Pastor Dwight Gunn of his deceased mother, Verona Gunn, who died of injuries she sustained when a Chicago police vehicle careened into the car in which she was a passenger in 2019.
Dwight Gunn, 52, says nothing can replace his mother who was a retired schoolteacher that was also active in her church. She was killed on May 25, 2019, by Chicago police amid a violent collision involving police vehicles.
“This should not have happened,” Gunn said of the deadly crash.
The evening of May 25, 2019, Verona Gunn was sitting in a blue Toyota at a Chicago intersection when a Chicago police van responding to a call for officer assistance, sped through a red light with sirens blaring and flashing lights on and T-boned a police cruiser crossing the intersection with its own lights and sirens on.
The collision caused the police cruiser to hit the Toyota where Verona Gunn and two other relatives were sitting inside.
“My mom and my sister and others who had to be treated that night, it’s just very infuriating,” Dwight Gunn said angrily.
Gunn died from injuries sustained during the crash, two others inside the car were injured and 10 police officers were also injured. The Gunn family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in June 2019.
The family claims the city of Chicago and Chicago police have yet to respond to the family’s lawsuit or take any action stemming from the deadly crash, causing a great deal of anger and frustration for the Gunn family.
“It is indicative of the type of callousness that exist and bureaucracy of the city’s government,” Dwight Gunn said.
Adding to the frustration, dispatch recordings and surveillance video captured the deadly collision, yet it still took Chicago’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability Office (COPA) more than two years to complete its own investigation and send it to the Superintendent of Police for further review.
“Three years later, we don’t have the investigative report from the Civilian Office of Police Accountability, we don’t have any discipline or termination of the officers that willfully violated Ms. Gunn’s rights,” said Andrew Stroth, civil rights attorney representing the Gunn family.
Stroth says the evidence in the case is indisputable. “There is video from the gas station, there is video from the liquor store and it’s very damaging because it clearly shows the officers traveling at excessive speeds,” the attorney said.
“If you listen to the OEMC, the Emergency Management Dispatch tapes, you hear the slowdown order multiple times from dispatch, the officer disregarded those orders to slow down,” Stroth continued.
The Associated Press reports the dispatcher had told the officers before the accident the armed suspect at the scene they were racing to already had been disarmed.
COPA told Atlanta Black Star in a statement, “COPA closed the investigation into this incident on July 2, 2021, and it is our understanding that the superintendent weighed in on COPA’s recommendations. Currently, this case is with the Department of Law.”
“COPA will post its Summary Report of Investigation, which will include COPA’s analysis of the evidence and investigative findings and recommendations, on its website upon the conclusion of the Superintendent’s review or, if applicable, following service of disciplinary charges by the Department of Law on any involved officer,” the agency added.
Chicago’s Department of Law told Atlanta Black Star that the lawsuit filed against the City is still in litigation and thus it cannot comment on the case.
“It’s just a tragedy the City of Chicago should learn from, it’s not like it was a young man with a gun, it was an innocent 84-year-old woman coming home from a graduation party and the cops being overzealous and you watch the crash, it’s horrifying,” Stroth said of the ordeal.
While the Gunn family expects monetary damages down the road, they did not reveal a specific dollar amount they are seeking in damages.
However, they say they want to see immediate policy change, more specifically, a motor vehicle safety program implemented so no one else loses their life to Chicago police responding to emergencies because of reckless driving or high-speed vehicle pursuits.
“In our case, it’s really a matter of people following the general orders, if that would have happened, this would not be a case right now,” Dwight Gunn said of the intended outcome of the family’s lawsuit against the city and police.
Atlanta Black Star contacted Chicago police to learn when the department expects to complete its review of COPA’s investigation and if any disciplinary action will take place against the officers involved in the deadly crash, so far, the department has not answered those questions.
As the Gunn family waits to see when accountability will be handed down, they continue to cherish the memories of Verona.
“My mom was genuinely a very steadfast Christian woman,” Gunn said. “[People] knew they had a place with my mom to be loved on, to be cared for, and that was just her heart and nature,” he continued.
No word on when Chicago police will make the findings of its review public at this time.