Fran Spielman and Dave Mckinney, The Chicago Sun-Times
Copyright 2006 Chicago Sun-Times, Inc.
All Rights Reserved
Chicago and two police officers -- the first to be called and the last to arrive at the home of murdered domestic violence victim Ronyale White -- can be held liable for her death, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
The high court ruling is a victory for battered women in general and White's estate in particular. But it's a potential precedent-setting blow to Chicago taxpayers.
It means that whenever there is a domestic violence case, the sweeping protections from lawsuits provided the city by the Tort Immunity Act do not apply. Taking precedence is the Illinois Domestic Violence Act, which opens the door to lawsuits against cities and cops if "willful or wanton misconduct" can be proved.
"The Legislature chose to burden municipalities with the duty to enforce the Domestic Violence Act; it also chose to provide only limited immunity from tort claims associated with a breach of this duty. It is not within our authority to question the wisdom of these choices," Justice Thomas R. Fitzgerald wrote in the court's majority opinion.
A lawyer representing White's family hailed the ruling as "a great thing for victims of domestic violence." "We hope that now the city will take responsibility for what happened," attorney Richard F. Mallen said.
COPS ARRIVED AT SCENE LATE
But Law Department spokeswoman Jennifer Hoyle argued that the Tort Immunity Act, which absolves public employees who fail to prevent a crime or make an arrest, should protect officers even in domestic violence cases. "Simply by having a Police Department in existence doesn't mean that a police officer should be held liable for preventing a crime from occurring. That would open the door to thousands of lawsuits filed against municipalities every year by people who say they were victims of crimes," she said. ". . . There aren't thousands of cases out there like this one. But it's possible there will be cases in the future that will be impacted."
White, 31, was shot to death in her home in the 10600 block of South La Salle on May 3, 2002, after calling 911 four times.
Officers Donald E. Cornelius and Christopher Green have said they arrived late because they were inspecting their vehicle and searching the neighborhood for her estranged husband after hearing on the police radio that the offender had fled.
White's estranged husband, Louis Drexel, was convicted last year and sentenced to life in prison.
April 21, 2006
Chicago, cops liable for domestic violence murder