New York City has paid more than $35 million to settle allegations of civil rights violations by police against people protesting the 2020 death of George Floyd. Pasadena, Calif., paid the children of Anthony McLain $7.5 million after their father was killed fleeing a traffic stop.
In Texas, San Antonio settled a wrongful death case last year 2022 with the family of Antronie Scott for $450,000 after an unarmed Scott was shot and killed by a police officer. In Graham, a small town in North Carolina, alleged excessive use of force by police during a voting rights march led to a $336,900 settlement in 2021.
Cities can face hundreds of lawsuits related to police misconduct each year — often related to just a few officers — and while the payouts vary wildly, they almost always are funded by taxpayers. Police officers have qualified immunity, which means they are generally shielded from criminal prosecution, so for people alleging misconduct, lawsuits may be the only recourse, reports CBS News.
"There are ongoing, continuous, regular settlements for police misconduct," said Anne Houghtaling of the Legal Defense Fund, which operates the National Police Funding Database through its Thurgood Marshall Institute. The database looks at police misconduct data, among other information. "It seems almost as if it's a cost of doing business in some jurisdictions."
Police misconduct settlements are agreements made when a civil suit alleging civil rights violations is resolved out of court.
Settlements usually result in at least one of two outcomes: The person or estate bringing the case can receive money. More rarely, a policy change may follow the settlement. Settlements rarely include an admission of wrongdoing or guilt, said law Prof. Joanna Schwartz of the David J. Epstein Program in Public Interest Law and Policy at the UCLA School of Law.
John J. Catanzara Jr., who heads Chicago's Fraternal Order of Police, said setlements "serve a very negative kind of role, more than anything else, because they kind of blacklist an officer for doing something wrong."
It is hard to find clear-cut data on the extent of misconduct settlements. Houghtaling said the National Police Funding Database has data on settlements going back "roughly 10 to 15 years." The limited data makes it hard to establish clear trends, but said there has been an increase in settlements since 2020, when protests erupted after the death of George Floyd — many only being reported recently.
"There's a level of police officers not being held individually accountable, and so they're not paying for the settlements," Houghtaling said. "Their police departments are, and those departments are funded by tax dollars."