CHICAGO (CN) – A federal judge on Thursday upheld a $44.7 million verdict against the city of Chicago and in favor of a man who was permanently disabled after he was shot in the head by an off-duty police officer following a night of drinking.
In October 2017, a jury found that the city should be on the hook for the conduct of intoxicated police officer Patrick Kelly, who discharged his firearm in his home in 2010 and shot his childhood friend Michael LaPorta in the back of the head.
Jurors decided the city should pay the $44.7 million award to LaPorta, who suffered a severe head injury and was left confined to a wheelchair, because it had repeatedly ignored Kelly’s behavior.
Chicago asked the court to overturn the verdict and grant a retrial, arguing that the award, the largest ever for police misconduct in the city, should be reduced to $28.1 million.
U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber on Thursday denied the city’s motions, writing that “any reasonable jury could have concluded, as did the jury here, that Chicago had a widespread policy or practice of failing to investigate officer misconduct,” and that it had allowed Kelly and other officers to act with impunity.
“In short, as described throughout this opinion, the jury heard extensive testimony concerning LaPorta’s severe and permanent injuries. The court cannot say that their award decisions were not rationally connected to the evidence nor that they were monstrously excessive,” Leinenweber wrote in a 79-page opinion.
LaPorta did not get everything he asked for. The court declined a request for $4.5 million in attorney fees, awarding him $2.5 million in fees and $19,000 in costs.
LaPorta said that he was shot at Kelly’s home after a night of drinking. Kelly claimed later that LaPorta had tried to kill himself and that the shooting was accidental.
However, when a prosecutor asked Kelly during trial if he had taken the firearm out of its holster and then pulled the trigger and shot LaPorta, the officer invoked his right not answer the questions under the Fifth Amendment.
Kelly is on paid leave pending the conclusion of Chicago Police Department investigations into charges of misconduct, which include an alleged assault on a girlfriend.
In a statement, the Chicago Law Department argued that taxpayers should not be held liable for the actions of an off-duty officer.
“We have strong legal arguments for the appellate court, and will be filing a notice for appeal,” the city said in a statement.
LaPorta’s lawyer Antonio Romanucci accused the city of enabling officers like Kelly for decades and said Thursday’s ruling sent a “clear message” to the Chicago Police Department.
“Today’s ruling is a step toward creating meaningful and permanent institutional reform in law enforcement in the City of Chicago and sends a clear message that officers, like Patrick Kelly, who display long patterns of misconduct will no longer be tolerated,” Romanucci said in a prepared statement, according to the Chicago Tribune.