Largest Legal Settlements Against Police

Settlements Are on the Rise

Largest Legal Settlements Against Police
September 10, 2015

New York City recently settled a wrongful-death claim with the family of Eric Garner for $5.9 million almost a year to the day after Garner died from the use of a chokehold by an NYPD police officer. The 43-year old Garner was being taken into custody for selling untaxed cigarettes and was unarmed at the time of his death. Garner's family filed a notice that they intended to pursue a $75 million lawsuit against the city, prompting the eventual $5.9 million settlement.

Unfortunately, large legal settlements against police officers and departments are not uncommon, and occurring more with the recent rise in tensions between police departments and the public. According to The Wall Street Journal, the ten U.S. cities with the largest police departments paid out a total of $248.7 million in settlements and court judgments in 2014. That represents almost 50% more than the $168.3 million paid out in 2010. Over that five-year period, those ten departments paid out $1.02 billion in settlements over police misconduct.

Video may be part of the reason that settlements are larger and arrived at more quickly than in the past. The Garner incident was captured on video and shown repeatedly through the media, inflaming tensions and creating a likely sympathetic jury. City officials are often in a no-win position with a trial — drag police departments and the taxpayers through a long trial and risk civil unrest in case of a victory or a massive judgment against the city in case of defeat.

The Garner settlement is just one of several multimillion dollar lawsuits to be recently settled in New York City alone. Within the last few months, David Ranta received $6.4 million settlement after being wrongly imprisoned for 23 years and the family of Jerome Murdough received a $2.25 million settlement after he died in his cell at Rikers Island.

The largest individual settlement in New York City is from 2001 in the case of Abner Louima, a Haitian-born man abused while in the custody of Brooklyn police, who received $8.75 million in the civil suit. As for group settlements, the five men wrongly imprisoned in the 1989 Central Park jogger case settled with the city for $41 million.

Large settlements are not limited to New York City. Here are some of the largest legal settlements in other cities across the U.S.

  • Los Angeles – Police in Los Angeles mistakenly shot at two ladies delivering newspapers during the 2013 manhunt for Christopher Dorner. Around 100 bullets were fired at their truck, costing the city $4.2 million in a settlement, or around $42,000 per bullet.
  • Chicago – Chicago may top all individual settlements with a $22.5 million settlement in the case of Christina Eilman, who was arrested during a bipolar episode at Midway Airport and then released without assistance at sundown in a high-crime neighborhood. Eilman was sexually assaulted and fell from a seventh-story window, suffering permanent brain damage along with a multitude of physical injuries.

At the same time, a $10.2 million settlement was reached with Alton Logan, who was wrongly imprisoned for 26 years through misconduct by former Police Commander Jon Burge. Burge's abuse and suppression of evidence cases have collectively cost Chicago around $60 million.

  • Boston – Boston officials settled for $4.5 million in the case of Rekia Boyd, who was killed when an off-duty officer shot blindly over his shoulder into a group of men.

A second large settlement involved David Woodman, who was arrested during a 2008 celebration of the Boston Celtics NBA championship and died in police custody. His family eventually settled for $3 million.

Tensions between police departments and the public are reaching highs not seen in years, and given recent events such as the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, MO, the Walter Scott shooting in North Charleston, SC, the Freddie Gray death in Baltimore, and Sandra Bland’s death in custody in Waller County , TX, the tension is not going away anytime soon. Expect the trend to continue in the short term and new records to be set for settlements.


Photo ©iStock.com/mphotoi

  Conversation   |   36 Comments

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Elaine | 09.10.15 @ 14:17
That is a lot of money. Not completely sure how I feel about this.
Sara | 09.10.15 @ 14:18
I really am not going to get into what I truly feel on the subject. Lets just say there are always two sides to a story and that there are good people and bad people. Not all cops are bad. heck most are not bad.....
Steven | 09.10.15 @ 14:26
In my opinion that is quite a bit of money. Sadly some families just want the money.
Steffanie | 09.10.15 @ 14:30
That seems like an extreme amount of money. So many reports against police lately. Yes, there are some 'bad' ones, but why can't we celebrate the good guys....
Carla Truett | 09.10.15 @ 14:35
This is a growing problem and I'm sure some may have deserved some money but the totals seem a bit extreme in some cases.
Britt | 09.10.15 @ 14:38
I don't quite know how I feel about this... this seems a bit excessive.
Kyle | 09.10.15 @ 14:41
For me, I think things like this are completely unnecessary.
Morgan | 09.10.15 @ 14:44
Yeah, I'm sorry but this is ridiculous. Things like this is what causes so much tension between police officers and the black community . Ridiculous.
Daniel Dohlstrom | 09.10.15 @ 14:45
Ok, I am sure there have been legit settlements but this world is too full of those that sue and get paid falsely.
trish | 09.10.15 @ 14:52
Unfortunately a few bad apples (on both sides) ruin the bunch.
Bobbie | 09.10.15 @ 14:53
Those are some staggering amounts of money. Given the amounts awarded, some juries must have felt the system was horribly corrupt.
Beverly | 09.10.15 @ 15:02
While I agree that there is a time and place for a wrongful death lawsuit, I don't agree with how much they cost. I think lawsuits(in general) have become out of control and most are quite silly. We have become a "sue happy" nation.
Nancy | 09.10.15 @ 15:03
It would be interesting to see how many more cops could be on the streets if this money wasn't paid out in settlements.
Bobbie | 09.10.15 @ 15:05
Some of these are staggering amounts of money. The juries must have felt the system was completely corrupt to award such large amounts in some of these.
Erin | 09.10.15 @ 15:37
That's a tough call. There are a lot of factors to take in...how much income is lost, pain and suffering, etc. It would be nice if that money could instead be spent training police or on programs that foster positive community/police interactions. I really believe that vast majority of police and the public have respect for each and hate to see these kinds of things happen.
Christina | 09.10.15 @ 15:41
Everything is so extreme anymore... It's important that people be held accountable for their actions, but these are ridiculous sums of money.
Sarah | 09.10.15 @ 15:47
You know what is really sad? Because they're police officers, they're not allowed to be human and therefore make human errors. I am sure quite a lot of the legal issues were due to the failure of being a human and not a perfect robot who has no reactions, no thoughts or anything. The rest, were probably abuse of power... but again, that's a human for you.
Katie Greene | 09.10.15 @ 16:05
It's so sad to see. Some of these are ridiculous. Sometimes i'ts just cops doing their jobs. Other times a bad cop killing someone innocent and having to pay to their family. Either way our world is crazy and it costs so much for the mistakes and bad decisions of a few
Kamie | 09.10.15 @ 16:15
I feel it is best if I keep what I think to myself.
Owen | 09.10.15 @ 16:16
If people would stop breaking the law and police would stop using excessive force we wouldn't have these lawsuits.
Zanna | 09.10.15 @ 16:22
There's no way to place a value on the loss of a loved one, but having lawsuits bankrupt and entire city's budget doesn't seem right, either.
Angie | 09.10.15 @ 16:25
Are there any stories of any settlements paid to family of police officers who are killed in the line of duty? I don't ever see those...
Chelsey | 09.10.15 @ 16:27
I think it is sad how many people sue and make so much money. Police have such a hard job. I am not saying they are all good. But they have milliseconds to think in life or death situations. I think there needs to be more legal protection for them.
Ambar | 09.10.15 @ 16:28
It would be more beneficial for everyone if the money is used to avoid this kind if incidents with better training or better research resources. But that would require a level of education of the population that does not yet exist.
Alec | 09.10.15 @ 16:28
I'm amazed at the amounts given out. It's really sad that our country is still so backwards and underfunded that these things happen. Police and civilians need to realize that we are all humans no matter race, gender, age, background etc. It's so sad.
gracie | 09.10.15 @ 16:46
As tensions continue to rise it is a rough call? There are good people and bad people on both sides of this issue and on each side there have been people in the wrong. I am not sure there is a high enough price tag for the loss of a life so although they are high figures I can't judge if they are an extreme amount. I do wonder though about how the families of a fallen cop? Do they also get such generous settlements?
Clarissa | 09.10.15 @ 17:03
In light of recent events, I understand the animosity between police and civilians. However, it is unfortunate that it has come to this. Not all police are bad and sometimes people jump to conclusions before analyzing the facts. There are laws in place for a reason, if you break the law there are consequences. If you violate a code of ethics for a job, there are consequences. But this amount of money is excessive.
Selena Walls | 09.10.15 @ 17:06
Seems like an excessive amount of money to pay, regardless on reason.
Irene | 09.10.15 @ 17:07
That's an awful lot of money.
Kathryn | 09.10.15 @ 17:15
There are good cops and bad cops, I have seen both. My father was an officer for 21 years and I have always heard nothing but wonderful things about his time on the force.
Heather | 09.10.15 @ 17:18
Wow just wow. Some things are better left unsaid.
Meredith L | 09.10.15 @ 17:20
Maybe I'm jaded and I might get booed for this - but all of these lawsuits kind of remind me of Cosa Nostra. Let me make a disclaimer: NO ONE deserves to die while in custody. Adrenaline happens and things get out of hand - but not always. But here's the thing. Poor Eduction = Poor living conditions = Criminal activity. It's a fact. And if someone's going to act up and be disrespectful because they know their family is going to be provided for - well, that sounds like mafia mentality to me. Not too different from suicide by cop. That is just my opinion. If I was so desperate and had nothing to lose, I might do the same thing.
Jo Ann | 09.10.15 @ 17:20
These are some large settlements, but obviously there was extreme wrong doing on the part of police. What makes this sad is that most police really are doing their job and these settlements make all police look bad. We tend to forget the good that most officers do.
amanda | 09.10.15 @ 17:24
Suing is not always the answer,,, money wont change the fact that member is gone. There's too much for me to say in feelings, but all this stuff going on needs to stop and we all need to start respecting each other again.
George Middleton | 09.10.15 @ 17:35
If you do wrong own up to it,but it's a bit extreme the amount of money some get.
Jackie | 09.10.15 @ 20:22
These are insane amounts. These lawsuits will end up bankrupting cities.
$commenter.renderDisplayableName() | 12.08.16 @ 08:11
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