CTA worker awarded $2.5 million in train crash caused by cop chasing cyclist

The city of Chicago must pay almost $2.5 million to a CTA train operator who was injured after a police car chasing a bicyclist crashed into a Brown Line train, a jury found.

A Cook County jury last week found in favor of CTA worker Jeffery Bryant, who suffered a serious spinal injury after the August 10, 2012, crash in the Albany Park neighborhood, Bryant’s attorneys said Tuesday.

Chicago police Officer Charlotte Gonzalez crashed into a CTA train seconds after she drove past activated safety gates, lights and bells and onto the railroad tracks near the Kedzie Brown Line station, according to a statement from the law firm of Aleksy Belcher. Gonzalez was chasing a bicyclist, who was also a suspected gang member, for riding on the sidewalk, said attorney Bryant Greening, who represented the CTA worker with lead attorney Matt Belcher.

Jeffery Bryant was thrown forward and suffered disk herniations in his lower back, requiring surgery, and has not been able to return to work, Greening said.

The lawsuit hinged on an interpretation of Chicago Police Department General Order 03-03-01 — official policy — that requires officers to weigh the need to pursue a fleeing suspect against the level of danger created by a motor vehicle chase.

The city argued that the pursuits rule was to be considered narrowly and apply only to cases in which a police car pursues another motor vehicle. So the rule would not have prevented Gonzalez from pursuing a person on a bicycle, the city argued.

Gonzalez testified that she did not violate any safety rules given the plain language of the general order, the law firm statement said. She said she would have ended the pursuit and not driven onto the tracks had the suspect been in a car and not riding a bicycle. The bicyclist was not caught.

Bryant’s attorneys argued that the general order should govern all police car operations, regardless of the suspect’s mode of transportation — whether it is a car, a bicycle or a skateboard.

“The City’s position allows an alleged offender to decide when the rules apply,” said Belcher in the law firm’s statement. “Community safety requires that police officers, not suspects, govern the safe operation of department vehicles.”

The jury agreed, finding that Gonzalez, who is an active tactical officer, acted with conscious disregard for the safety of herself and others in driving onto the CTA tracks, Greening said.

The $2.48 million in damages was for medical expenses, pain, suffering and a loss of normal life.

Police Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi deferred comment to the city’s Law Department.

“We are disappointed in the jury’s decision and are evaluating our legal options,” said Law Department spokesman Bill McCaffrey.

Cyclists age 12 and older are not allowed to ride their bicycles on city sidewalks, and fines range from $50 to $250. Riding on a sidewalk is the most common type of citation against bicyclists, with 2,820 citations issued in 2015 for riding on sidewalks or on roads that do not allow bicycles, according to police statistics.

Kenneth Franklin, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 308, which represents CTA rail operators, said he was glad that Bryant succeeded in his lawsuit.

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