A federal jury quickly ruled Thursday against eight white or Hispanic Chicago police officers who contended they were victims of racial discrimination after being transferred off Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s elite security detail.
The jury deliberated only about 30 minutes before deciding not to award the group any damages after the officers sued for millions in back pay and lost wages.
The decision came Thursday evening after four days of testimony.
“I’m just relieved that it’s over,” said former Chicago police Superintendent Terry Hillard, who was named in the lawsuit. “We had good lawyers. Those were good cops, and I wish them the best.”
Hillard’s attorney, Vince Connelly, echoed the sentiment.
“I’m glad the jury saw it our way,” he said.
When reached by phone, Edward Fox, an attorney for the officers who sued, said he was disappointed by the jury’s decision.
“We respect the jury, but we do disagree with them,” he said. “We think the evidence shows there was a racial component and qualifications were not considered.”
He called the decision “unfortunate.”
A second phase of the court battle, however, begins Friday, during which the officers will argue they were fired for political reasons.
Attorneys for the officers had alleged in closing arguments Thursday that Hillard and his commander, Brian Thompson, only considered race when they were selecting officers for the elite security post of protecting the mayor.
But if the two decorated African-American officers were making decisions based on race, defense attorneys said, they would have added even more minorities than they did to the mayor’s security detail — a lucrative and prestigious post.
The officers accused Emanuel of taking part in selecting the new security team, which included African-American officers with less experience, seniority and who had volunteered during his campaign.
The case generated buzz earlier this week when Thompson testified that protecting the mayor and his family has become more difficult “due to current events” in Chicago, apparently a reference to the fallout over the Laquan McDonald shooting video.
“The threat level to the mayor is a lot higher,” Thompson told jurors. “A lot more people in the city hate him for various reasons, as opposed to (former Mayor Richard M.) Daley.”
Thompson served as chief of the mayor’s security detail under Daley and Emanuel.
On Thursday, lawyers representing the officers told the six jury members and one alternate that the officers bringing the suit had served Daley and had the experience and expertise to continue serving Emanuel. Many of them were then surprised when they were removed from the security post and moved to other positions, the attorneys said.
Fox argued that when selecting the new mayor’s detail, Hillard and Thompson didn’t examine the officers’ qualifications, didn’t conduct background checks, but instead relied on race as the sole factor.
Hillard “said race was a factor in his decision-making,” Fox told the jury. “He admitted to it … race was a factor used in his decision-making.”
Because the officers were removed from the detail, they lost wages and benefits by being placed in other positions, Fox said. He told the jury the officers were also entitled to compensation because of the emotional toll from losing such a high-ranking position.
“Did race contribute to what happened? It’s the Chicago Way,” Fox said.
But the attorneys defending Hillard and Thompson said the accusations of racial bias and discrimination were baseless.
The eight officers bringing the lawsuit felt entitled to positions that were never guaranteed, Connelly said. He said Hillard and Thompson selected officers who they saw as qualified. Once the selections were made, Emanuel’s security team reflected the same diversity that Daley’s team had, he said.
“Terry Hillard wasn’t out to get anybody. Brian Thompson wasn’t picking anybody to eliminate white officers,” Connelly said. “The detail needed to be diverse … that’s not a word we’re running from.”
Daley’s security team was made up of 15 white officers, four Hispanic officers and four African-American officers, Connelly said. Emanuel’s security detail was reduced, but made up of 12 white officers, five Hispanic officers and five African-American officers.
There were nine officers added to Emanuel’s security team, Connelly said. Of them, four were white, four Hispanic and one was African-American.
“These entitled folks want to score a lot of money they don’t deserve,” Connelly told the jury of the suing officers. “Don’t give them anything. Don’t give them a dime.”
(c)2016 the Chicago Tribune
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