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Chicago Pays $4.95 Million to Family of Prisoner Who Died After Police Beating

In April 2016, the City of Chicago agreed to pay $4.95 million to the estate of a man who was brutally beaten by police officers while in custody in 2012. The settlement came after a federal judge ruled that police had used excessive and “brute force” without cause and in violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

Philip Coleman, 38, was arrested on the evening of December 12, 2012 on domestic battery charges for throwing furniture and punching his mother in the face during what was later described as a mental breakdown. He spent the night at the Calumet Police District lockup, and surveillance video showed six officers arriving at his cell the next morning to take him to bond court.

Coleman, who had been sleeping, verbally refused to leave his cell; he stood up, then was tased 13 times before being wrestled to the floor and handcuffed. He was dragged motionless down a hallway while being repeatedly struck with a baton, though he was no longer resisting the officers. Coleman was then taken to a hospital where he later died due to a fatal reaction to an antipsychotic drug. However, an autopsy showed he had suffered severe trauma, including over 50 bruises and other abrasions from “the top of his head to his lower legs,” according to news reports.

Coleman’s estate sued the city along with Keith Kirkland, a civilian detention aide, and police sergeant Tommy Walker, who is now retired. Kirkland was shown on the video dragging a motionless and handcuffed Coleman by his arms down the hallway while Walker failed to intervene.

After video footage of the beating was released in 2015, Mayor Rahm Emanuel issued a statement that said he could not “see how the manner in which Mr. Coleman was physically treated could possibly be acceptable.... Something is wrong here – either the actions of the officers who dragged Mr. Coleman, or the policies of the [police] department.”

Coleman’s estate moved for summary judgment on the issue of liability, and U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Kennelly ruled in December 2015 that the force used by the defendants was unreasonable. He found the city and police officers liable.

“Officer Kirkland chose to use brute force when it was no longer necessary,” Kennelly wrote. “Sergeant Walker conceded in his deposition that the officers could have stood Mr. Coleman up and told him to walk.” Previously, Chicago’s Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) had cleared Kirkland and Walker of wrongdoing.

In addition to Walker and Kirkland, Coleman’s estate sued seven other officers and five supervisors for their roles in the police lockup beating. See: Coleman v. City of Chicago, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Ill.), Case No. 1:12-cv-10061; 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 166658.

Meanwhile, the IPRA reopened its investigation after the video footage of Coleman’s beating was made public. In August 2016, the IPRA concluded its investigation, issued a final report and recommended suspensions ranging from 28 to 120 days for six police employees. Those recommendations were forwarded to the Chicago Police Department’s superintendent for review, while suspensions over 30 days must be approved by the Police Board.

However, Coleman’s father, Percy Coleman, who works as a parole officer with the Illinois Department of Corrections, said the IPRA’s investigative report “doesn’t really mean nothing.” He added, “What kind of suspension can you give for killing somebody? It’s not enough, and it’s not even worth talking about.” 

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Related legal case

Coleman v. City of Chicago