Cook County Record

Thursday, August 22, 2019

State appeals panel upholds $2.1M verdict vs City Hall for family of woman killed by suspects fleeing cops

By S. Laney Griffo | Mar 21, 2017

CHICAGO - The city of Chicago must pay $2.1 million to the family of a woman who died when burglary suspects fleeing the police crashed their vehicle into hers, a state appeals panel has ruled.

Sherri Denise Freeman, administrator for Tommye Ruth Freeman, sued the city in 2009 for wrongful death under the Survival Act and the Wrongful Death Act.

According to court documents, the case centered on a July 3, 2008, police chase, which began when Chicago Police officer John Kennedy and his partner Dan Passarelli were flagged down by a man reporting he had been burglarized.

The man said the suspect was driving a white SUV that had just pulled out further down the street.

Kennedy flashed his lights at the driver of the vehicle, identified in court documents as Rodney Jones. Rather than pulling over, Jones turned the wrong way onto a one-way residential street and sped away.

Kennedy started following Jones down the one-way street at a speed greater than the speed limit. Kennedy was unsure of the exact speed.

“Although Officer Kennedy acknowledged that he was violating traffic laws as he drove westbound down 78th Street, he stated that he was 'authorized' to do so under certain circumstances, including during the emergency operation of his vehicle or during a pursuit,” according to the court's opinion.

Jones eventually made a turn and lost Kennedy, so the officer turned off his lights and slowed down.

However, after turning, Jones' vehicle collided with a vehicle driven by Tommye Freeman, who later died from her injuries.

Freeman's family sued the city, arguing the police officers failed to properly balance the risk of injury or death of those being pursued or the bystanders, against the reward of catching the suspect.

In this situation, Freeman’s attorneys’ argued the officers could assume someone was likely to get injured during the pursuit and shouldn’t have pursued Jones.

If they hadn’t pursued Jones, the plaintiffs argued, the suspect wouldn’t have driven recklessly and killed Tommye Freeman.

The jury rendered an unanimous verdict in favor of Freeman, finding the city liable and ordering $2.1 million in damages. However, when the court surveyed each juror, one juror said she didn’t agree with the verdict and only agreed to it under duress.

She requested to speak to the court, but the court denied the request and told the jurors to take the night to think about their decision and try again the next day.

The next day, the verdicts came back unanimous again, and all the jurors agreed with the verdict during the survey.

The city asked for a mistrial but was denied. The city appealed both decisions.

In the Illinois First District Appellate Court, justices Mary Mikva and Sheldon Harris affirmed the jury verdict and the denial of the city's motion for mistrial.

Connors particularly disagreed with the dismissal of the request for a mistrial.

“The trial court here failed to conduct an inquiry that would have allowed the dissenting juror to be heard or to determine if she had been coerced,” the opinion said. “As a result, in consideration of the totality of the circumstances, I believe the trial court abused its discretion in this matter, and this cause should be remanded for a new trial."

Freeman was represented in the action by attorneys with the firm of Power Rogers & Smith P.C.

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City of Chicago Illinois First District Appellate Court Power Rogers & Smith