Mayor McDermott Issues New Statement Regarding Case Settlements

CATEGORY: Mayor's Office, News

There is a widespread misconception that most cases go to trial. The truth is, a tiny fraction of cases ever make it to a jury trial. For example, the National Law Journal reports that only 1.2 percent of federal civil cases went to trial in 2009. There are many reasons that cases settle, including the basic issue of cost. Put simply, even if a defendant wins a case, he still loses, because he has had to pay upwards of $100,000 for the privilege of hearing from a jury that he is not at fault.

So why don’t you hear about all of these settlements that are entered into everywhere? Because most settlements are subject to confidentiality agreements, and also because settlements are not usually as interesting a subject to the news media and Hollywood.

As a result of the recent incident involving officers of the Hammond Police Department and Mr. Jamal Jones, I have been asked by the media to comment on prior civil cases involving one of the police officers involved in the Jones incident. These cases were all resolved without any admission of fault by the city or its police department. I wanted to release the facts of these cases to the public through social media and the city’s website so that I could ensure all the facts as I understand them are briefed to Hammond residents and the public accurately.

The first case, Stancato v. City of Hammond, arose out the arrest of an individual who was fighting with a Hammond Police officer in 2005 (nine years ago). When backup for the officer arrived, it was observed that the plaintiff was choking the officer The plaintiff was subdued and arrested as a result of this attack on the police officer. The plaintiff filed suit against the City of Hammond and initially demanded $3 million. This case eventually settled, on the eve of trial, for $150,000.

The second case Gray v. City of Hammond, is a 2006 (8 years ago) incident that arose out of a traffic stop, when the Gray’s car was stopped upon the (mistaken) assumption it may possibly contain a murder suspect who fled from Calumet City. This stop occurred near the Calumet City/ Hammond border and very close in time to the report of an armed murder suspect being chased into Hammond.

The Hammond police officer asked to search the curbed vehicle to determine whether the murder suspect had forcibly entered the vehicle or was in the vehicle. Soon after the Gray’s vehicle was curbed, one of the occupants of the vehicle fled from it without permission of the involved officer. This individual was chased by the officer, apprehended and arrested. At the time of the arrest the officer did not know that this particular vehicle had nothing to do with the suspect fleeing from Calumet City.

As a result of this mistaken assumption by the Hammond police, the Grays filed a lawsuit in federal court against the City of Hammond with an initial demand of $1.5 million dollars ($300,000 for each of the 5 people in the vehicle at the time of the incident). This case was later settled for $17,500.00.

In Warner v. City of Hammond, a convicted murderer, who was not a city employee, attended a City of Hammond employee Christmas Party in 2011 and was taking photographs of the employees and families in attendance without any explanation as to why or how he was there. When asked, by a Hammond Police officer to leave the party Mr. Warner refused, insisting he was a properly invited guest of the employee party. As a result of Mr. Warner’s refusal to leave the party, he was then arrested for trespass. Mr. Warner later sued the City of Hammond for False Imprisonment, Assault and Battery, Slander, and for Constitutional violations. Eventually, this case was settled for $14,350.

I wanted to release these facts to you myself so that Hammond residents understand that one thing I have always prided myself and my administration on is facing issues head on and being transparent. I didn’t want the media to sensationalize the facts or unfairly put the city or its employees in an unfair light.

I am committed to continuing dialogue on this incident with members of the community that want to look for solutions to issues and want to constructively make Hammond the best place to live and raise a family. It is important for everyone to respect police officers and the often dangerous job they have to do to keep our streets and neighborhoods safe. I appreciate all that the Hammond police department does to make our city safe. I also believe the Citizens of Hammond deserve to know the facts about these three cases in an objective and straightforward manner.