Aldermen sign off on $1.675 million settlement for Mia Wright, four others dragged from car by Chicago police
CHICAGO (CBS) — After a monthlong delay, aldermen on Wednesday signed off on a $1.675 million settlement with five innocent people who were dragged out of their car by police officers during the widespread civil unrest in the city in the summer of 2020.
Mia Wright, Tnika Tate, Kim Woods, Ebony Wilbourn and Javon Hill had gone to the Brickyard Mall on May 31, 2020, amid widespread looting in the wake of the police murder of George Floyd, but arrived to find it closed.
Their vehicle was surrounded by police as they tried to leave the parking lot. Cellphone video of the incident showed officers on both sides of the car bashing the windows with their batons before pulling Wright and another woman from the vehicle and pinning them to the ground.
Wright has said she was trying to get her out of the car when police dragged her out by the hair, and then pinned her to the ground, pressing a knee against her neck and back. Wright was left blind in one eye as a result of post-traumatic stress.
Officers thought Wright and the others had been looting, but they have denied any wrongdoing, and city attorneys who recommended the settlement told aldermen in February that an investigation by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability found no evidence that anyone in the car was involved in any looting before officers approached the car. Indeed, city attorneys said there is no evidence they got out of the car before police forced them out.
COPA recommended eight officers face discipline for their actions in the incident, ranging from firing to reprimands, and Chicago Police Supt. David Brown agreed with the recommendations, according to Assistant Corporation Counsel Caroline Fronczak.
Under terms of the settlement, Wright will receive $650,000 in damages, while the other four people who were in the car with her will get $243,750 each.
Last month, four aldermen, after they had raised objections to the payout.
Despite no evidence that anyone in the car was involved in looting, Ald. Nick Sposato (38th) questioned during a Finance Committee meeting in February why Wright and her companions went to the Brickyard Mall in the first place, noting they live more than 20 minutes away in North Lawndale, and that there were incidents of looting all over the city on that day.
“By that time in the afternoon, everybody in the city knew what was going on with the mass chaos,” Sposato said. “They passed up a load of Targets, and they were closer to two party stores if they needed stuff for a party for a child.”
Sposato’s questions prompted angry responses from several Black aldermen, including Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), who chairs the Black Caucus, who said “people have the right to move about as they choose,” and correctly noted there are no Target stores in Chicago between North Lawndale and the Brickyard Mall.
Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) accused Sposato, who is White, of showing “inherent bias” in questioning why the group was visiting the Brickyard Mall, and suggesting that they were there to cause trouble.
“These people were treated this way because they were Black, and I’m hearing from my colleagues some very disturbing comments,” she said. “What my colleagues don’t seem to understand is that, when you are a person of color in this city, you are targeted because of the color of your skin, and certain perceptions that people have. They make up things about you so that they can come and do unconstitutional things to you.”
Sposato defended his questions about the case, saying he was not arguing that Wright and her family didn’t have the right to go to the Brickyard Mall, only saying he felt it seemed unusual under the circumstances.
“This is an odd set of circumstances, because somebody needs diapers and stuff for a kid’s party, and they would go that far away from their house when most people shop closer to home, especially on a crazy day like that,” he said.
Sposato’s explanation didn’t appease Hairston.
“People are free to shop wherever they want; whether they’re getting diapers, whether they have to pass 30 stores or not, they may travel,” she said.
Despite city attorneys’ repeated assertions that Wright and her companions did nothing wrong, Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th) has said the settlement is tantamount to the “opening of Pandora’s Box to give everyone else an excuse to start suing us now, because of what happened that day, when they were willfully trying to destroy this city.”
“To say that that day was chaotic is an understatement to what the city experienced when full civil unrest, when this whole city was under siege for nearly 24 hours straight, in an organized effort to completely destabilize our city,” he said.
Ald. Michele Smith (43rd), however, has pointed out the city’s own attorneys repeatedly admitted police had no evidence Wright and her family were involved in the looting, or any other criminal activity. She said the incident appears to be a clear cut case of unconstitutional behavior by police.
“It is certainly regrettable that people who, on the evidence – which is all that counts, the evidence – were not committing a crime at the time this occurred, and yet had their windows broken, dragged out of the car, put down, and someone allegedly put a foot on the neck for a while,” she said. “This is not, in my view – not withstanding my allyship and my support of the police – to be a reasonable response to what was going on.”