A federal jury awarded a Chicago man $44.7 million Thursday after a drunk, off-duty police officer with a history of violence and mental instability shot him in the head.
The jury found that Officer Patrick Kelly, 36, shot his friend Michael LaPorta, 37, in the head after a night of heavy drinking in January 2010 and then lied to police that LaPorta had tried to kill himself, according to the Chicago Tribune.
The jury relied heavily on Kelly’s dubious history at the Chicago Police Department. Kelly has been found mentally unfit for duty twice, arrested twice, and was accused of beating his girlfriend. LaPorta survived the shooting, but can no longer walk or read.
“My client’s case cannot be viewed in isolation, but as the result of a larger institutional problem that has emboldened police officers with extensive histories of misconduct allegations to continue these harmful behaviors without fear of repercussions,” LaPorta’s attorney Antonio Romanucci told the Tribune. “This verdict is a step towards creating meaningful and permanent institutional reform in law enforcement in the city of Chicago.”
The City of Chicago has announced the city will appeal the decision to avoid paying out the $45 million. The city’s police department has been under assault for alleged misconduct and corruption for all of 2017.
“We are disappointed in the jury’s verdict, and, as we argued in this case, taxpayers should not be responsible for an off-duty officer’s purely private actions,” said Bill McCaffrey, a spokesman for the Law Department.
Kelly’s false claim that LaPorta tried to kill himself was met with immediate scrutiny from LaPorta’s family, but Kelly’s fellow police officers proved willing to classify it as a suicide attempt and Kelly wasn’t charge.
The jury claimed that evidence mounted against Kelly’s story. Kelly claimed LaPorta shot himself with his left hand, but LaPorta was “a lifelong hunter who always shot with his right,” according to the Chicago newspaper. Investigators also found no evidence of finger prints on the handgun the man supposedly used to shoot himself.
“I didn’t believe it was a suicide attempt,” Jury member Andrea Diven said. “There were a lot of things about that story that didn’t make sense.”
The jury deliberated for two days, but reportedly decided that Kelly’s story was bogus within 20 minutes. The rest of the time was devoted to reaching a unanimous decision on how much LaPorta was entitled to.
“I feel whole again,” LaPorta told reporters. “Finally got justice.”
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