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Judge gives family the go-ahead to pursue a wrongful death suit

One would think that those who pledge to uphold the law will not break the law itself. Unfortunately, there may be a "code of silence" between members of the Chicago police force that allows officers to get away with breaking the law, often with disastrous results.

In April 2009 an off-duty drunk police officer slammed into a vehicle that was disabled on the Dan Ryan Expressway. The crash caused the vehicle to catch fire, trapping its two occupants inside. Neither survived. However, it was not the arresting officers, but the paramedics that noticed that the officer seemed to be under the influence of alcohol. In fact, the blood alcohol content level of the police officer who caused the crash was four times above the legal limit.

If it was a civilian who caused a fatal drunk driving accident, the consequences would be severe. However, while the officer in this case was convicted, this crash also exposed how this officer had possibly engaged in drunk driving two times in the past, including a time when he crashed into the side of a police vehicle while travelling home from a casino. However, he was not disciplined either of these times.

The families of the April 2009 crash victims have been given the go-ahead by a federal judge to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit against the officer and against the city of Chicago. In the lawsuit, the families claim that the department's "code of silence" led the officer to think he could engage in drunk driving without consequences, as previous alleged indiscretions went unpunished. The judge ruled that there was enough evidence to show that the officer was treated differently than civilians would be in similar traffic infractions.

The families pursuing this lawsuit have hired an expert who reports that of all alcohol-related complaints issued against officers in Chicago from 2003 to 2009, only 10 percent ended up in a successful drunk driving conviction.

Those who negligently cause the death of another in a car accident should be held accountable. A wrongful death lawsuit is just one way to do this.

Source: Chicago Tribune, "Judge green-lights lawsuit alleging CPD's 'code of silence' led to deadly DUI crash," Jason Meisner, April 3, 2017

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