The estate of a Glendale Heights man shot and killed by a Forest Park police officer in 2017 will receive nearly $600,000 from the village’s insurer in exchange for dropping a blistering federal civil rights lawsuit that accused the village of, among other things, maintaining an environment that “encouraged the extrajudicial shooting of civilians.”
The Forest Park Village Council unanimously approved the settlement without commissioner comment or without disclosing the actual settlement amount itself during their regular Dec. 13 meeting. The village clerk provided a copy of the settlement to the Review in response to a public records request the following day.
In the written settlement, the village makes no admission of guilt and “continue[s] to deny any and all fault, wrongdoing or liability,” stating that the decision to pay out $599,900 was made “merely to avoid the expenses and burden of further litigation in this matter.” An additional $100 was awarded to Gomez’s estate to maintain a confidentiality agreement.
The settlement must still be approved by Magistrate Judge Sheila Finnegan, although she has been kept abreast of settlement discussions in recent weeks, according to online court records.
The case was initially filed in February 2018 by Daisy Perez, Marco Gomez’s sister, on behalf of her brother’s estate. An amended complaint filed in August 2018 named the village of Forest Park and police Officer Daniel Miller, the man who fired the fatal shot, as defendants, and claimed that Miller shot Gomez “without lawful justification” and that Gomez was “unarmed and presented no immediate threat” when he was killed.
According to the estate, 26-year-old Marco Gomez was driving a Volkswagen Jetta near Jackson Boulevard and Harlem Avenue in Forest Park on Feb. 3, 2017, at around 6 p.m., when Miller approached the car on foot. The vehicle had been reported stolen.
The complaint goes on to allege that Gomez attempted to back the car away from Miller as the officer approached, and that when Gomez put the car in drive to travel “away from defendant Miller,” the officer shot Gomez once in the chest, killing him.
Attorneys representing Miller and the village countered that Gomez was a parolee driving a stolen car who had fled from Chicago police earlier that day, and that Gomez drove the Jetta directly at Miller before the fatal shot was fired.
Beyond the circumstances of Gomez’s death, the estate’s suit made additional, more widespread claims that the death was “done under the authority of one or more interrelated de facto policies, practices and/or customs” of the village, its police and others.
The suit alleges those de facto policies included a failure to properly train, discipline or “otherwise control” officers who use excessive force, the existence of a “police code of silence,” “the encouragement of excessive and unreasonable force,” and a failure to properly investigate officer-involved shootings.
“Defendant Miller had good reason to believe that his misconduct would not be revealed or reported by fellow officers or their supervisors, that their false, incomplete, and misleading reports would go unchallenged by these supervisors and fellow officers … and that they were immune from disciplinary action,” the complaint reads.
The suit goes on to assert that “the policies, practices and customs alleged in this complaint encouraged the extrajudicial shooting of civilians, including shooting at vehicle occupants in the context of a vehicle pursuit, other police misconduct, the fabrication of evidence, the intimidation of witnesses, the making of false, incorrect and misleading statements and reports, and the maintenance of a code of silence.”
Gomez’s lawsuit was one of several filed in federal court in recent years, all accusing the police department of excessive force, and it is at least the fourth of those cases to be settled without a trial. The amount of the settlement in the Gomez case, however, is by far the largest amount the village has agreed to pay.
In one case, the village paid out $54,000 to Tyrone Roney in 2018, after he accused Officer Scott McClintock of attacking him and knocking out his teeth in 2015. Roney was charged with aggravated assault, resisting arrest and battery in that incident but was found not guilty.
In another case, also settled in 2018, the village agreed to a $38,000 settlement with Trumell Lee, who accused Officer Nicholas Defors of placing him in a chokehold while he was in handcuffs, to the point where Lee claimed he blacked out.
Two other minor settlements, one in 2017 and another in 2019, paid out a combined $8,000 to plaintiffs.
The village also denied wrongdoing in all those settlements.
According to the settlement agreement in the Gomez case, the village’s insurer must pay the full amount within 30 days.