Naperville settles excessive force lawsuit for $435,000

Naperville officials have settled a lawsuit brought by a Lemont woman who suffered a torn rotator cuff when she struggled with police while her son was being arrested on drug charges in 2010.

Jill Pelka-Wilger, Naperville’s assistant legal director, said the $435,000 settlement with 55-year-old Olga Alexsoff was finalized Monday and neither the city nor police officers admitted any liability. Pelka-Wilger called the settlement a “business decision.”

The incident took place outside of Alexsoff’s home on the 14000 block of Angelico Street in Lemont. Pelka-Wilger said undercover Naperville police officers were arresting a compliant Dimitar Alexsoff in the driveway of the home when his mother began interfering with the arrest.

“She attempted to pull the police officer out of the vehicle and when they asked her to step back, she did not comply, so they attempted to place handcuffs on her,” Pelka-Wilger said. “As she was twisting and turning while the handcuffs were being placed on her, her left rotator cuff was torn.”

Attempts to reach Olga Alexsoff’s attorney were unsuccessful.

Olga Alexsoff was never “formally charged” with any crime, which Pelka-Wilger acknowledged “may have hurt our case” if it had gone to trial.

“Their argument would have been the force used to restrain her was excessive because it did not stem from an arrest,” she said.

Pelka-Wilger added that because the incident occurred in Cook County, Naperville officials were leery about going to trial because Cook County is “notorious for unpredictable jury awards.” She cited a similar case that played out in a Cook County courtroom that resulted in a $2 million judgment against a municipal police department.

Nine Naperville police officers were initially named in the lawsuit, but eventually all were dismissed from the suit, Pelka-Wilger said.

It’s unclear if the case resulted in any changes to department arrest procedures. Naperville Police Chief Bob Marshall did not return calls seeking comment. Marshall was not the police chief at the time of the incident.

In the end, Pelka-Wilger said the woman’s son, now 31, was the only person charged with a crime. He eventually pleaded guilty to a felony and spent a year in prison, she said.

While some city officials agreed with the settlement decision, they were not pleased with the circumstances that led to it.

“My general observation is that police have been overreaching, which has been a particular focus of mine since I took office in 2007,” said city councilman Bob Fieseler. “In many cases, we get in more trouble with how bystanders and family members are treated than with the suspects themselves.”

Fieseler said that while the Alexsoff case was settled for less than half of what was sought in the lawsuit, he complained the city’s police department had become the target of a growing number of lawsuits over the years by bystanders. He said the officers should have arrested Olga Alexsoff.

“If they felt they were justified, then they should have charged her with a crime that led to her being injured,” he said.

Fieseler said because the city is self-insured, the money being spent to settle the case would come from the police department’s budget.

“It means that any vacant positions are held open for a little longer,” he said.

The actual settlement payout is somewhat complicated. Pelka-Wilger said Olga Alexsoff will receive $130,000 from the city in cash. She will also receive $189,000 that will be placed in a Medicare trust that can only be used to pay for future medical care of the injured shoulder. Also, Medicare received a $13,000 payment to cover costs already paid on Olga Alexsoff’s behalf. The remaining $103,000 was paid to Olga Alexsoff’s attorneys and to cover her court costs, Pelka-Wilger said.

It’s unclear what happens to the funds in the Medicare trust if the woman doesn’t use all of it during her lifetime.

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