A federal jury awarded a record-breaking $44.7 million Thursday to a man after finding that a Chicago police officer shot him in the head following a night of heavy drinking and that the city’s troubled police department enabled the off-duty patrolman’s violent behavior, reports the Chicago Tribune. The 10-member jury deliberated for two days before reaching its decision after a four-week civil trial that repeatedly hit upon accountability issues that have dogged the city for decades. Jurors said it took them less than 20 minutes to determine Officer Patrick Kelly fired a bullet into his best friend Michael LaPorta’s skull in January 2010 and then misled investigators by insisting LaPorta tried to kill himself. Most of the deliberations focused on determining damages.
LaPorta survived the shooting but suffers from a host of medical conditions. Now 37, he can no longer walk or read and depends on his aging parents for round-the-clock care. “I feel whole again,” LaPorta said in a soft, halting voice after the verdict. The city of Chicago is responsible for the $44.7 million award and LaPorta’s legal fees because the jury found that the police department has a widespread problem with disciplining officers and failed to maintain an early warning system. Juror Andrea Diven said the massive award was intended to send a message to the city. “They can’t get away with this,” she said. “It’s something that’s embedded and it needs to change.” Kelly, 36, was stripped of his police powers, meaning he can no longer carry a gun or make arrests, after he exercised his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to answer questions during the civil trial.