The city has settled out of court for $335,000 the suit filed by the family of Jose Baudilio Lemus-Rodriguez, the illegal immigrant killed by rookie officer James Arnold after a brief car chase. Though a consultant who looked at the case said what Arnold did was "objectively reasonable" and the county prosecutor declined to take action, the city's settlement was justified, according to City Attorney Carol Taylor, because legal fees were mounting up and "approaching the amount of the settlement." And:
Filed Thursday in local U.S. District Court, the settlement is good for all parties involved, according to the attorneys.
[. . .]
As part of the settlement, neither the city nor the officer admitted wrongdoing, Taylor said.
That might sound all neat and tidy to people used to the polite language of the legal system, but it doesn't work that way in the court of public opinion, where the party who agrees to pay the money is usually seen as the guilty party. And that assumption, right or wrong, is reinforced in this case because there are videotapes of the incident, which some people have seen and described as not bolstering the contention that the shooting was justified, and which the city still refuses to release. Despite his de facto exoneration by the legal system, Arnold will now face growing doubts about his actions. He has been, so to speak, thrown under the squad car. Did he deserve to be? We don't know, and the city isn't helping.
In a story we ran last week, it was reported that liability claims against the Fort Wayne Police Department have increased significantly in past few years:
. . . due to excess claims in the police professional (liability category), claims paid out increased from about $700,000 in 2007 to $1.3 million in 2008, “of which $800,000 was claims against police,” Stergiou said.
He recommended council consider adding $1 million in the self-insurance indemnity fund to cover a potential rise in claims and legal fees in light of lawsuits against the Police Department. It can take $300,000 to $400,000 in legal fees to settle a $100,000 claim.
Even granted that we live in litigious times, it seems reasonable to expect that if an instituion gets a reputation for settling quickly and easily, it will get sued more often than those that are known to tough it out. The argument that this is a good deal for taxpayers might be defensible in the short term, but the longterm results could be, well, unsettling, which is to say, very expensive. In too many ways for too many people, the fear of getting sued dictates the actions taken or not taken. Is that how we should want our city government to behave?