Jury: Officers justified in deadly 2009 shooting of armed man in west Evanston

Marshall Cohen

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Evanston has avoided paying more than $1 million in damages to plaintiffs in three recent lawsuits, city attorney Grant Farrar announced Tuesday.

In addition to money saved from favorable judgments, the city has moved toward using in-house lawyers rather than hiring outside counsel, resulting in lower legal fees, Farrar said.

He announced the move in the wake of the city’s most recent legal success: Jurors decided last month that Evanston Police Department officers reasonably believed they were “in danger of death or great bodily harm” when they fatally shot 32-year-old Desrick York in a west Evanston apartment building, according to court documents.

With the decision, the city dodged a potential six-figure damages claim, Farrar said during a meeting with reporters Tuesday at EPD headquarters, 1454 Elmwood Ave.

In the early morning of April 26, 2009, officers responded to an apartment building at 1810 Church St., roughly one mile west of the Northwestern campus. They found York in the basement, knife in hand, standing over another man, police say. When he advanced toward the officers and refused to drop the knife, they opened fire. York was hit with 11 close-range shots and was later pronounced dead at the scene.

York was the father of two young children. The deadly police shooting sparked concern among the victim’s family, some city officials and 5th Ward residents. The children’s mother, Chicago resident Michelle Andrewin, filed the civil lawsuit against Evanston in 2010.

The case went to trial this April and lasted about a week, Farrar said.

All three officers who were involved in the incident testified for the city. Chicago-based law firm Stotis & Baird, which regularly handles civil rights, police brutality and police misconduct cases, represented Andrewin during the trial.

Andrewin’s lawyer Michael Baird asked the jury to make the city pay $350,000 in damages to his client, he told The Daily on Tuesday.

The jury did reach a verdict in favor of the plaintiff and awarded $43,208 in reduced damages, according to the court order. However, they also unanimously answered a special interrogatory question in favor of the city, stating that the officers’ actions were justified.

The jury’s response to the interrogatory question overrides the verdict in favor of Andrewin, so the city is not responsible to pay any compensation, according to the order, which was issued April 17 by Cook County Circuit Court Judge Edward Washington II.

“The bedrock of this outcome was that the officers actions were justified, the investigation was appropriately handled and the system worked,” Police Chief Richard Eddington said.

Farrar said “credible” and “convincing” testimony from the three officers helped the city win the case and avoid the six-figure bill.

The Illinois State Police Public Integrity Task Force and the Cook County’s State Attorney both investigated the shooting and came up with the same conclusion: The officers acted appropriately when they fatally shot York.

Baird said his client was disappointed with the result but also “felt like she had her day in court” and was glad to have an opportunity to present her case.

“She was glad someone took a look at this and didn’t just let this guy die without anyone standing up for him,” Baird said.

However, Baird said the shooting and subsequent trial tarnished the image of the police department. He said even though they won’t have to pay any damages, the department should reflect on the situation and the 11 shots fired in York’s direction that night.

“This should not be a good day for the police,” Baird said. “This should be a time to go back and take a look at what they did in this case and try to learn from it so it doesn’t happen again.”