Man Awarded Record-Breaking $44.7 Million After Chicago Police Officer Shot Him in the Head

A federal jury awarded a Morgan Park man a record-breaking $44.7 million Thursday after finding that a Chicago police officer shot him in the head after a night of heavy drinking and that the troubled Police Department enabled the off-duty patrolman’s violent behavior.

The 10-member jury deliberated for two days before reaching its decision, bringing an end to the nearly four-week civil trial that repeatedly hit upon the police accountability issues that have dogged the city for decades.

Though they needed some time to reach a unanimous decision on how much to award in damages, jurors said it took them less than 20 minutes to determine Officer Patrick Kelly fired a bullet into his best friend Michael LaPorta’s skull in January 2010 and then misled investigators by insisting LaPorta tried to kill himself.

LaPorta survived the shooting but still suffers from a host of medical conditions. Now 37, he can no longer walk or read and depends on his aging parents for round-the-clock care.

He smiled after the verdict, while his relatives cried and embraced each other. Two jurors later returned to the courtroom to hug LaPorta and his parents.

“I feel whole again,” LaPorta said in a soft, halting voice.

Because the jury found that the Police Department has a widespread problem with disciplining officers and failed to maintain an early warning system, the city of Chicago is responsible for the $44.7 million award and LaPorta’s legal fees, which likely also will be millions of dollars.

The verdict is a record award for a misconduct lawsuit against the Chicago Police Department, according to records reviewed by the Tribune and sources with knowledge of where the verdict would rank in comparison with past cases.

The previous record was $25 million, which a jury awarded to Thaddeus Jimenez in a wrongful conviction case in 2012.

After a federal jury awarded a Chicago man $44.7 million, his attorney, Antonio Romanucci, says the record-setting verdict sends a strong message.

“My client’s case cannot be viewed in isolation, but as the result of a larger institutional problem that has emboldened police officers with extensive histories of misconduct allegations to continue these harmful behaviors without fear of repercussions,” LaPorta’s attorney Antonio Romanucci said. “This verdict is a step towards creating meaningful and permanent institutional reform in law enforcement in the city of Chicago.”

Two jurors who spoke to reporters after the verdict said the massive award was absolutely intended to send a message to the city.

“They can’t get away with this,” said Andrea Diven, of North Aurora. “It’s something that’s embedded and it needs to change.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel declined to comment on the verdict, but the city’s Law Department released a statement saying it intended to appeal.

“We are disappointed in the jury’s verdict, and, as we argued in this case, taxpayers should not be responsible for an off-duty officer’s purely private actions,” said Bill McCaffrey, spokesman for the Law Department. The trial itself was handled by an outside law firm.

The Police Department also declined comment, but it confirmed Kelly has been stripped of his police powers, meaning he can no longer carry a gun or make arrests. Sources said the move was made last week after Kelly exercised his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to answer questions during the civil trial, including whether he shot LaPorta, his childhood friend and college roommate.

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Filming Cops
Filming Cops 5618 posts

Filming Cops was started in 2010 as a conglomerative blogging service documenting police abuse. The aim isn’t to demonize the natural concept of security provision as such, but to highlight specific cases of State-monopolized police brutality that are otherwise ignored by traditional media outlets.

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