Coffman Law Report: Summary of Police-Involved Shooting Settlements and Verdicts Between 2015-2020
Police violence, misconduct, and unwarranted use of force have been of paramount concern in recent years, especially after the brutal killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Jacob Blake, and so many more. In an effort to shine a light on not only these acts of violence but also upon the corresponding financial consequences for taxpayers, Coffman Law conducted research by charting every police shooting settlement or verdict over the last five years. Today, our blog summarizes these findings by highlighting both the costly nature of these incidents and the other disparities (both racial and otherwise) underlying these numbers. This post begins with preliminary notes on the research results and an overview of the most notable trends, before concluding with the key takeaways stemming from this research.
Preliminary Notes Regarding Research Findings
Before summarizing our findings, there are a few initial points that may help put this research in context. First of all, our research focused solely on police shooting cases, so it would not encompass other misconduct by law enforcement such as the conduct that killed George Floyd or Eric Garner. Additionally, it is important to note that our firm’s list could by no way account for every police shooting settlement or verdict that has occurred in the last five years. This is primarily because the details of many police-involved shooting cases are kept confidential on either a permanent basis, or at least until the criminal investigation into the case has completed.
Finally, our list covers settlements roughly between September 2015 and the present, and the dates used for purposes of this research were those of the settlement or verdict, not the actual date that the shooting took place. Thus, there are surely many police-involved shootings that have occurred in the past five years but were not considered in our list because the civil case or criminal investigation is not yet complete.
Trends Highlighted by Research on Police Shooting Settlements and Verdicts
California Had the Most Published Police-Involved Shooting Settlements
Per the graphic below, California had the highest number of published police-involved settlements and verdicts within the last five years. While our research does not encompass the number of confidential settlements during this time span (which is surely quite a significant number of cases), this state-by-state breakdown still demonstrates which states have been forced to use substantial amounts of taxpayer funds to compensate police shooting victims and their families. For instance, the 20 published settlements in California cost the state $34,820,000, and the 12 published settlement in Illinois totaled $89,071,907.
As depicted in the figure below, the average settlement amount from this research subset was $3,081,954 and the median settlement amount was $1,700,000. For purposes of our findings, the median is likely more telling of the actual recorded settlement figures. This is because, when using an average figure, abnormally high numbers (such as the LaPorta and Damond settlements discussed further below) can skew the average to seem higher than it realistically should be. On the other hand, the median value simply assesses where the “middle” of the settlement numbers would be, so this figure is likely more representative of the actual numbers.
When assessing all of the police-involved shooting cases that have been publicly recorded, the average victim is a 29-year-old male. Specifically, the average age fell at approximately 29, with the youngest victim being 12 (Tamir Rice) and the oldest victim being 67 (Eugene Ellison). In terms of gender, the list was overwhelmingly male – in fact, only 9% of the shooting victims in our list were female.
3 of the 6 Highest Settlements Were Awarded to White Victims
The highest publicly recorded settlement within the last five years belongs to Michael LaPorta, who received $44.7 million from the City of Chicago. LaPorta, a white man, was accidentally shot while drinking with his friend, who was an off-duty police officer. Though the LaPorta settlement is currently being questioned by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, it currently stands as the highest police-involved shooting settlement since 2015. Ranking second on this list was the settlement issued to the family of Justine Damond by the City of Minneapolis. Damond was shot by a Minneapolis police officer who was apparently startled when Damond slapped the side of his police car to get his attention.
Overall, three of the 6 largest settlements since September 2015 were issued to the families of white victims. This statistic exists despite the fact that the majority of our list of recent police-involved shooting settlements and verdicts involved minority victims. In fact, according to a recent study published by the Washington Post, black Americans are killed at nearly twice the rate of white Americans.
Additional Trends Worth Noting
Finally, there are two additional trends from our research that are worth mentioning. First of all, 18% of victims had some form of documented mental health issue. In nearly all of these instances, the victim was also experiencing a mental health crisis at the time of the shooting. Additionally, 16% of victims were shot because an officer mistook an item they were holding for a firearm. Most of these situations involved fake guns, like airsoft or BB guns. However, several other cases involved typical day-to-day items like cell phones or lighters.
The first major takeaway from the research is that we must acknowledge the heavy burden that police misconduct places on the taxpayers. Not only does misconduct such as excessive force or unwarranted shootings diminish community trust in law enforcement, but if this conduct results in a lawsuit, chances are that it will eventually impact taxpayers in a financial manner as well. While most large cities do carry some form of municipal liability insurance, this usually does not cover all misconduct settlements. Alternatively, some cities (such as Chicago) are forced to issue large multi-million dollar bonds to cover immediate police misconduct costs, which are then eventually paid back via taxpayer funds. According to a recent report from ABC News, police misconduct settlements cost American taxpayers over $300 million in 2019 alone.
Another interesting takeaway from our firm’s research relates to jury verdicts. Namely, the widely varying jury verdicts demonstrate the generally unpredictable nature of juries, especially with respect to damages. For instance, a Cook County jury provided over $44 million to Michael LaPorta after being accidentally shot by his friend who was an off-duty police officer. Conversely, there were also a number of verdicts – such as the Gregory Hill Jr. case out of Florida resulting in a $4 jury verdict – in which juries awarded the families of victims virtually nothing. These disparities show how difficult it can be to accurately predict jury verdicts in light of the different backgrounds and beliefs of the jurors, as well as the facts of the case at issue.
Finally, we would be remiss not to mention the social inequities highlighted by our research. As noted above, not only are black Americans killed by police at a disproportionate rate in comparison to white Americans, but in many cases, the highest settlement numbers were also issued to the families of white victims while nearly all of the smallest settlements were given to the families of minority victims. In addition to minority groups, those living with mental health issues also experience police violence at a disproportionately high rate. At a time where police misconduct and the overall role of law enforcement is being questioned on a national scale, we must remember to consider police reform with these vulnerable groups at the front of our minds.
About Coffman Law Offices, P.C.
Coffman Law is Chicago’s leading personal injury law firm and is committed to providing superb legal representation for people who are suffering from severe personal injuries or are dealing with the loss of a loved one due to negligence or misconduct. Coffman Law is a results-driven law firm focused on ensuring that clients receive the compassion, attention, and consideration that they need to seek adequate compensation for injuries or loss. The firm is led by Owner and Founding Partner Brian Coffman, who has dedicated his career to helping accident victims navigate the legal system and obtain compensation for their injuries. If you have been injured or lost a loved one, contact Coffman Law today for a free consultation.