Beleaguered Chicago Officer Faces Wrongful Death Suit

CHICAGO (CN) – A Chicago patrolman behind the largest jury verdict ever awarded for police misconduct in the city now faces a wrongful death lawsuit from a woman who claims he shot and killed her 21-year-old boyfriend without cause after responding to a domestic dispute.

The late Hector Hernandez’s girlfriend Esperanza Davila claims in a lawsuit filed Friday in Chicago federal court that Officers Patrick Kelly and Antonio Corral shot Hernandez 13 times, including eight times in the back and buttocks.

She claims he did not pose a threat to the officers, contradicting a police report on the shooting. At the time, Hernandez had a young son and Davila was pregnant with his daughter.

Last month, a jury awarded Kelly’s childhood friend Michael LaPorta $44.7 million after Kelly shot and severely injured him at Kelly’s home. LaPorta can no longer walk. The jury found that the city should pay the award to LaPorta because it had turned a blind eye to the misconduct of its officers and was to blame for Kelly’s conduct. The damages award is the largest ever for police misconduct in Chicago.

Represented by Jeffrey Granich and Antonio Romanucci, Davila seeks damages, attorney fees and costs. Granich and Romanucci have both represented other clients in lawsuits against the city and Kelly. Romanucci also represented LaPorta.

At a press conference on Friday, Davila said the shooting still haunts her young son, who has been in therapy and is at risk of self-harm.

“It’s unbelievable, and for him to still have been on the streets, it makes no sense at all,” Davila said of Kelly.

Chicago Law Department spokesman Bill McCaffrey declined to comment on the lawsuit.

An investigation into officer-involved shootings found that Kelly and Corral were justified in the shooting of Hernandez because they feared their lives were in danger.

The officers told investigators that after they responded to Davila’s home on West 50th Street in Chicago on April 7, 2014, Hernandez had brandished a knife and threatened to kill himself. He was on parole at the time and had a history of domestic-battery charges. He had punctured his neck with one knife, grabbed a larger knife and lunged at the officers, according to police records.

A panel of the Independent Police Review Authority, or IPRA, a now-discontinued body that investigated officer-involved shootings, issued the finding.

Davila says that her boyfriend’s death was preventable. Her lawsuit outlines 27 complaints against Kelly and claims he was allowed to act with impunity because of an unspoken department policy to protect officers accused of misconduct.

Among the alleged complaints against Kelly are a “domestic altercation” in September 2005 and an incident in June 2006 where Kelly allegedly broke his girlfriend’s brother’s nose after throwing a TV remote at his head.

In an August 2013 incident, Kelly, now 36, was accused of shocking a pregnant woman multiple times with a stun gun and allegedly causing her to miscarry. The city reportedly settled the case for $500,000 in July.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Kelly was found mentally unfit for duty on two occasions, was arrested twice, faced allegations that he beat his girlfriend, and was treated for alcoholism.

In all, civilians registered 21 complaints against Kelly before Hernandez was shot and killed, Davila says.

In addition, six excessive force, false arrest and police misconduct lawsuits named Kelly as a defendant. The city has reportedly paid $1.2 million in settlements for claims involving Kelly. He now works at the department 311 city services call center, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Davila’s 48-page complaint paints a markedly different portrait than the one presented by the police.

She says that Kelly and Corral responded to a “non-violent verbal argument” between the couple and entered the home with their weapons drawn, boxing Hernandez into the corner of the kitchen.

Hernandez’s family members and Davila were in a bedroom when the shooting occurred, the complaint states. She says that the officers did nothing to de-escalate the situation and could have used stun guns.

Instead, Kelly and Corral “proceeded to violently and intentionally discharge every bullet in their service weapons into Hector Hernandez,” according to the lawsuit.

The IPRA report found that, based on witness testimony, the officers had told Hernandez several times to drop the knife but he refused.

The officers had responded a little after 6 p.m. that night in April 2014 and saw Hernandez sitting on the front porch holding his 2-year-old son. He had one hand in a backpack, according to the IPRA report, and was refusing to return the child to his mother.

Hernandez told the officers there was 9mm pistol in the bag, according to the report. After a relative secured the child, officers followed Hernandez into the kitchen where they saw him holding a knife, the IPRA found.

The report says he ignored their orders to drop the knife and repeatedly told the officers that he was not going to go back to jail. He then punctured his neck with a small knife, causing a 1/8-inch-deep wound, according to police records.

He grabbed a longer knife with 10 to 12-inch blade and lunged at the officers, the IPRA report states.

Kelly discharged his gun 11 times before it jammed, according to the report.

Hernandez was found lying on his stomach unresponsive and was pronounced dead at the scene. He had gunshot wounds to his chest, back, pelvis, forearm, leg, thighs and all over his body, according to police records.

Davila says the city of Chicago actively covered up Kelly’s involvement in the shooting and responded to a records request by sending the police report, which uses pseudonyms to identify the officers.

Other court cases eventually revealed Kelly as one of the officers in the Hernandez case. The lawsuit says that Davila had no way of knowing that Kelly was involved in the shooting until June 2016, when he was deposed in another case.

“This newly released information, along with subsequent media investigations and reports, has recently revealed to plaintiff that the death of Hector Hernandez [was] caused by the City of Chicago’s widespread de facto policies, practices, or custom of maintaining a code of silence, failing to investigate, failing to discipline, failing to maintain an adequate early warning system, or otherwise hold accountable its police officers, whether on or off duty,” the complaint states.

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