Cook County approves settlements over wrongful conviction, ADA violation

The Cook County Board voted to settle three cases with a taxpayer tab of more than $8 million Thursday, including awarding nearly $2 million to a former Chicago Public Schools band teacher convicted of criminal sexual assault of a minor.

That teacher, Eugene Westmoreland, was charged with five counts of sexual abuse and assault in 2019. He pleaded guilty to assaulting two young girls in September 2023.

But while detained at Cook County Jail in 2019, Westmoreland, who was using a cane due to balance issues, fell while trying to climb into a top bunk to sleep, according to court documents. He hit his neck on the edge of a metal desk in his cell and landed on the floor.

Westmoreland alleged, according to court documents, that the county did not follow its policy to assign him to a lower bunk. After the fall, he was confined to a wheelchair and alleged the sheriff violated his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, and that the jail staff showed “deliberate indifference” to his medical needs.

Commissioners agreed to settle the “allegation of a civil rights violation” for $1.85 million.

They also approved a $2.4 million settlement to John Velez, who sued the city and county for his wrongful murder conviction related to the 2001 shooting of Anthony Huenaca.

Velez’s conviction for Huenaca’s murder was thrown out in 2017 after Cook County prosecutors dropped charges, citing errors at his trial.

Among those errors: A damning statement from Velez’s girlfriend was recanted, and lawyers argued it never should have been included at trial. She said police threatened to take away her daughter if she didn’t attest to a statement implicating Velez.

Velez’s lawyers sought redress in a 2018 lawsuit against the city of Chicago and the county for the state’s attorneys’ role in his prosecution.

The board also approved a $4 million settlement to Paxton Kennedy, the manager of the estate of Grant Bahr. The alleged medical negligence at Stroger Hospital, according to court documents, resulted in Bahr suffering “chronic and incurable malnutrition” and a terminal prognosis. He died in 2021, court records say.

aquig@chicagotribune.com