The family of a veteran who committed suicide in a Chicago police cell could receive $1.75 million in compensation

The family of an Army veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder who committed suicide in a police cell is on track to settle with the city for nearly $2 million.

The City Council Finance Committee on Monday approved the proposed $1,750,000 payout as well as three other costly settlements with police. Irene Chavez, the woman who died at the Woodlawn station in December 2021, tried to warn officers about her mental health issues when they arrested her, City Attorney Caroline Fronczak told councilors.

Chavez was arrested that evening after a Jeffery Pub security guard reported he had been hit in the head by her. At the time of her arrest, Chavez told police about her mental health issues, including a PTSD diagnosis. She completed two tours abroad in Afghanistan, Kuwait and Korea, Fronczak said.

When officers brought her back to the Woodlawn station, they placed her in a holding cell. The one-way mirror to the cell only provided a 15% view from Chavez’s side to the outside, but officers should have been able to see clearly inside. However, the window was covered with paper, apparently to give the officers more privacy – which Chavez’s family said prevented them from monitoring them.

Chavez cried as she was placed inside. An officer asked if she was OK, Fronczak said.

“No, I’m not,” she said, according to Fronczak. She asked her to call her therapist.

She threw objects—quarters, a shoe—at the wall.

“This isn’t funny,” she screamed.

She later yelled at officers again saying she was making a “final cry for help.”

About 47 minutes into her cell, she strangled herself with a T-shirt. An officer checked on her after she had been quiet for about five minutes and determined she was incapacitated. Police were able to successfully revive her, but she died in a hospital a day later, according to Fronczak.

Chavez’s family alleged that the police did not have adequate accommodation measures for people with intellectual disabilities and subjected the woman to unacceptable detention conditions. The $1.75 million settlement will go before the full City Council on May 22.

Three other approved settlements, each based on alleged police misconduct involving automobiles, totaled $1,655,000.

A $525,000 settlement was approved in committee Monday in response to a CPD officer running over a 15-year-old girl by accidentally leaving his car in reverse. The officer was responding to a scene of “civil unrest” amid protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, City Attorney Margaret Mendenhall Casey said.

The teenager and her family had a trash can full of new clothes. An unidentified officer ordered the teenager to get on the ground. Another officer who was parked nearby got out of his car but was unable to get the car into park, Mendenhall Casey said.

“In fact, the car was in reverse and the key was in the ignition,” she said.

The police car rolled over the teenager’s legs and torso. She was taken to hospital with signs of the accident and was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

In another community, an officer attempted to stop a Cadillac with a broken taillight. As the driver took off and fled, the officer pursued Casey for a mile at about 50 mph before the Cadillac struck another driver’s car at East 76th Street and South Chicago Avenue, according to Mendenhall.

The man hit by the swerving driver suffered broken bones, had a ventilator inserted into his neck and was hospitalized for over a month.

Councilors approved his $940,000 settlement after the man claimed the police chase violated CPD’s vehicle pursuit policy because it conducted a pursuit for a minor traffic offense and then resumed the pursuit when he couldn’t see the car he was chasing, Mendenhall Casey said.

Committee members also approved $190,000 in compensation for a car accident involving a police officer who ran a red light without using his sirens or emergency lights. The man whose car was hit by police has persistent back pain and a bulging disc and a crack in his spine, Mendenhall Casey said.

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