CHAMPAIGN — The city council approved settling two lawsuits accusing police officers of wrongdoing for a combined $3.7 million Tuesday night in what one council member said was "a business decision."
"This is not a reflection on the officers," Greg Stock said. "The idea that this is somehow reflective of their conduct is wrong. These were fine officers doing a fine job. This is a business decision because our liability is too high."
The bulk of the funds being paid — $3.5 million — is going to Teshome Campbell, who claimed he was wrongfully incarcerated for nearly 18 years in connection with the 1997 murder of James Shephard.
Campbell sued the city and six officers after his 1998 murder conviction was vacated and he was released from prison in 2016.
The council approved his settlement by a vote of 7-2, with Stock and Clarissa Nickerson Fourman voting "no." The payouts to Campbell and his lawyers will be handled by insurance.
The council also approved a $220,000 settlement for Alton Corey, who sued the city and two officers over their use of force when they were summoned to his apartment complex on Edgebrook Drive for a 2017 domestic dispute. That vote was 8-1, with Fourman the lone "no."
The payout for that settlement will come out of the city's retained-risk fund. Altogether, the city is on the hook for $470,000, with the remaining $250,000 going toward attorney fees in both settlements.
Mayor Deb Feinen emphasized the potential financial risk of the cases going to trial in her comments.
"We were in a position where we had to look at the potential exposure of what it would mean to have a potential $11 million out of the budget," she said. "That would devastate the city of Champaign."
Council member Tom Bruno echoed Stock's comments and praised the recommendation from the city's legal team.
"They advised us on the risks we would face if we went to trial," he said. "And I agree that this is the prudent thing for us to do in the exercise of our fiduciary duty to this city."
Both settlement agreements say the city isn't admitting to any liability or wrongdoing, and that the settlements are being made solely to resolve disputed claims and avoid litigation.
Fourman, the only council member to vote down both settlements, said she didn't want to continue an "anti-police trend."
"I'm tired of setting a pattern that if you have an issue with the police, that then you sue," she said. "We have people in our community living in squalor, and we're just going to drop $3.7 million? I don't think so. At some point in time, someone needs to stand up and say, 'This needs to stop.' This promotes anti-police behavior, and I'm scared of that."