Echoing Richard J. Daley's infamous 1968 "shoot to kill" order, cop who killed Michael Russell testified that he felt he would be justified in shooting a suspect who posed no danger to others.
CHICAGO--Today a Daley Center jury found the City of Chicago and recently retired Chicago Police Officer Kenny Lunsford guilty of the 1998 killing of Michael Russell, an unarmed 20-year-old Cabrini Green resident, in a hail of bullets shot at his back. The jury awarded a total of $1.5 million to Russell's family, Mrs. Mildred Hamilton and her three surviving children, including $900,000 for "loss of society" and $600,000 for Russell's "concious pain and suffering."
The family felt compelled to bring the suit when the City refused to impose any disciplinary measures on Lunsford, a 31-year veteran of the force who had previously threatened Russell and has a notorious reputation for brutality in the projects. To date, Cook County States Attorney Dick Devine's office has refused to bring any criminal charges against Lunsford.
"They shot an unarmed man in the back, and then lied about it for five years. Justice was served," said Jon Loevy, lead attorney for Mrs. Hamilton and her family. The Hamilton family was represented by the law firm of Loevy and Loevy, with attorneys Mike Kanowitz, Amanda Antholt and Arthur Loevy assisting in the case.
The issues of race and class, while rarely mentioned at the trial, were a constant subtext to the proceedings. "You can't tell me that the City would decline to discipline an officer, and that Devine would decline to prosecute that officer, if that officer had shot an unarmed white person from the Gold Coast in the back," said Andy Thayer of the Chicago Anti-Bashing Network, one of several community activist groups monitoring the trial.
As Loevy said in his closing arguments, "All he [Russell] did was be black, walk out the door, and stand by a tree. This was an unarmed man, shot in the back as he ran away after he committed no crime."
In closing arguments, Tom DiCianni, an attorney for the City of Chicago, said that "while I'm not trying to smear anybody," that gangs "are some of the most violent and vicious people, and gangs are a plague to our society." Loevy countered that Deconcini was "trying to imply their loss is less because of where they live."
Lunsford testified that he shot 13 bullets at Russell's back after a nearby shooting at 500 W. Oak Street on the evening of April 5, 1998. In blatantly contradictory accounts attempting to justify killing Russell, Lunsford alternately said he witnessed the deceased being the trigger man in the other shooting and being a lookout for the shooter.
But the victim of that other shooting, Mario Morgan, from day one said the shooter was another person, Craig Winn. Just hours after the crime, Winn confessed to police about shooting Morgan, and later pled guilty and served four years in prison for the crime. Morgan's testimony also pointed to an apparent cover-up and witness tampering in Russell's killing, noting that when police and assistant state's attorneys interviewed him in his hospital bed, he identified Winn in a police photo spread as the shooter, but "they told me that that wasn't the guy who shot me."
Office of Professional Standards investigators found Lunsford guilty of lying about the Russell's killing, but their finding was overturned by then-OPS chief Callie Baird. Until today, Lunsford has faced no penalties for killing 20-year-old Michael Russell.