The City of Chicago has had numerous lawsuits filed against in police misconduct cases—some of the biggest settlements have stemmed from the abuse of former Chicago Police Chief John Burge including $34.3 million in 2013. The City has paid over $59.2 million since 2014 in settlement awards to victims at the hands of police officers. In the case of fallen victim, Rekia Boyd who was shot and killed by Chicago Police officer Dante Servin, charges were dismissed based on the jury’s determination that the shooting was an accident. Similar cases like Ms. Boyd’s have come under public protest as police officers are protected by the union contract set forth by the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP).
The backlog of cases has continued to sit dormant of victims whose families have tried to get justice for their loved one’s murder. The fuel to this fire was sparked when a Cook County Circuit Court judge ordered the City of Chicago to release the police dashcam of 17-year old Laquan McDonald being shot 16 times—execution-style by Chicago Police officer, James Van Dyke. Many questions were raised as residents shared their outrage and the country was once again faced with the reality of racism and modern day lynching taking place in urban cities across the United States.
Three years before the McDonald dashcam video was revealed, the Coleman family had experienced their own similar nightmare when Philip Coleman was taken into police custody on December 12, 2012. Chicago police was called to the family’s West Pullman home to calm down a domestic disturbance when the 38-year old, University of Chicago political science graduate tried to attack his mother.
His erratic behavior led to his arrest in what was described as a nervous breakdown by Philip’s father, long-time law enforcement officer—Percy Coleman and his neighbors.
While in custody, the ordeal resulted in six police officers seen on film entering Phillip Coleman’s jail cell and repeatedly tasered, choked and dragged him until he was unconscious.
Philip Coleman suffered and died from the injuries he endured from the abuse and no charges were filed against the officers for their involvement in Coleman’s death.
Determined to seek justice for his son’s death, the Coleman family retained attorney Ed Fox to represent their case against the City of Chicago. With delays and no investigation by IPRA—the release of the McDonald killing immediately brought attention to similar misconduct cases such as Coleman’s. The city’s Pandora’s box was opened for all the world to see.
Two weeks ago, the announcement was made that Coleman family would not endure the lengthy trial process and that both parties agreed on a monetary settlement.
The Chicago Defender sat down for an exclusive interview with Percy Coleman to discuss the decision behind the settlement and how the family will move forward in preserving his son’s legacy as a community advocate.
Coleman says the decision of a settlement was influenced by his wife who witnessed their son’s initial breakdown on that ill-fated night. As parents, it was too much to go through the rigorous recount of the string of events that a public trial would bring to this case.
After both sides went back and forth on negotiations—a settlement of $4.9 million was agreed upon. As of Monday, the City’s Finance Committee approved the amount to be presented at the City Council meeting on Wednesday.
“There were nine monetary things attached to this. One of them is meeting with the Mayor,” said Coleman. The meeting takes place Tuesday morning at 9:30am and it will include his son, Jeffrey Coleman, Bishop Grant, Attorney Ed Fox and a couple of family friends.
“This was never about money and if it’s really about changing conditions, then I’ll take every dime of it and just go to the mat until I’m out of here. I know the Chicago Police Department–I know it inside and out. I know the gang problems.”
Coleman, served as Police Chief for Robbins and Ford Heights and as the Chicago Housing Authority Police Commander—working on community policing tactics to decrease tense conditions between its residents and the CPD from the 1980’s to the mid-1990’s. He believes the same tactics used by the CHA during those times, should be adapted by the City of Chicago in working with Black owned and operated security firms within the community.
He said, “The only people that really dealt with this was CHA. But, because it was Black oriented they just brushed it to the side like it never happened. It did happen. They got off the most trouble housing list in the U.S.”
The Coleman family is determined to keep Philip’s legacy alive by establishing the Coleman Oliver Foundation. HOSPICE, a program his son led included other educators and ministers traveling to Africa a few years ago. Earning his graduate degree in Political Science and later his MBA in Public Health from UIC—he built an extended network of friends beyond the United States. The foundation is to continue his son’s mission in helping others and building independent empowerment within the African-American community. One of the goals of the organization is to encourage one million people to join by signing up for a yearly paid membership.
“That is what he was trying to put together. The ability to get one million concerned residents worried about the South and West Side of Chicago. We can create our own jobs and instead of people like the Governor and Madigan fighting over which Black person they want to have this or that, position, title or job. Why can’t we understand that nobody is going to save us from us but us?”
The other decision in not pursuing a lawsuit was the possibility of the trial being moved from Cook County to DuPage County. He said his attorney advised him that it could be a likelihood that this could happen. In the wake of past police misconduct cases, a possible huge settlement could cripple the city’s already weakened budget.
Coleman said, “Why are we going to DuPage County? But, we don’t control the system and had nothing to say about where they were going to hold it.” He said in had conversations with both White Republican and Democrat friends and they all said that suburban residents would be more empathic to law enforcement. In his opinion, he felt it would just be another Black person gone.
We asked him what does he expect to get out of the meeting with Mayor Rahm Emanuel?
Not missing a beat, Coleman answered, “The first step is a paid, elective, civilian oversight commission for the CPD. That would scare half of them out of the county if they knew the safeguards that the union contract had put in place for them no longer of any value.
If there’s an outside group who got the experience, the knowledge and the skills to the investigation—you don’t need IPRA. All of that stuff that’s under one person’s control is now gone. Once that’s gone, you’ll have other police officers standing up and speaking up if they know they have a true ‘whistle blower’. If we can do our own investigations and do it in a timely and professional manner,”
He added, “The only thing is that we stop allowing folks–Black and White to tell us what’s best for us if we don’t have input in the process. Why aren’t we involved in your decision making? Why don’t you advocate for a paid, elected and civilian oversight commission for the Chicago Police Department?”
With the newly formed Coleman-Oliver Foundation, the family along with close advisors, faith leaders, legislators and Black media partners are working to host a city-wide day of workshops, lectures and panel discussions in mid-June. The family feels this is one form of healing from such a tragic loss, but is adamant that the problem of police misconduct is much bigger than the loss of a child.
“I think that if Black lives matter, all of these folks that have died in Chicago could not have died in vain. This just can’t be something in and out of the news in three or four days and we go back to business as usual. We cannot continue to accept the illusion of the conclusion.”