Several speakers, including Evanston’s City Clerk, called on City Council members to examine the City’s actions and initiate reforms in the wake of a $1.25 million settlement with a former Northwestern University student following a police stop and arrest in 2015.

At their Jan. 28 regular meeting, City Council members approved the settlement and a release of claims in a lawsuit involving former Northwestern graduate student Lawrence Crosby. Aldermen aproved the measure unanimously on the consent agenda.

The payment is not an admission of liability, said Corporation Counsel Michelle Masoncup, in the accompanying memo to the settlement resolution.

The action came more than two years after Mr. Crosby, then a Ph.D. student at Northwestern University, was arrested. The settlement was of the civil lawsuit arising from that arrest.

Evanston Police arrested Mr. Crosby on Oct. 10, 2015, following a 911 call that the car Mr. Crosby was driving on Ridge Avenue may have been stolen.

Mr. Crosby pulled into a parking lot, where police arrested him after swarming him and bringing him to the ground. The incident was recorded on both a police dashcam and one in Mr. Crosby’s car, the  RoundTable reported. Police learned when they were on the scene that Mr. Crosby was the owner of the car.

Mr. Crosby was charged with resisting arrest and disobeying a police officer in the incident. After a judge acquitted him of those charges, Mr. Crosby filed a civil suit against the City of Evanston.

A trial on the case was to have begun Jan. 10, the RoundTable reported.

Addressing the Council during the citizen comment portion of the Jan. 28 meeting, Evanston resident Misty
Witenberg, noting that City officials were not admitting liability in the case, encouraged them to do so “in this mess, because we refused to take blame from the start.”

 “I just want to ask, ‘Who is advising these decisions that keep adding zeroes to settlements?’” Ms. Witenberg asked Council members.

At the meeting, Evanston City Clerk Devon Reid had initially begun speaking on the settlement issue during the report the Clerk regularly gives at the start of the meeting. But Mayor Stephen Hagerty stopped him, asking Mr. Reid to make his statement along with other citizens, from the speaker’s lectern on the chamber floor rather than behind the dais, where Mr. Reid, the City Manager and City Council members sit.

Mayor Hagerty explained he thought the decision was appropriate because the comments being made were in Mr. Reid’s role as a citizen “and the role of Clerk is not to speak up here on these policy issues.”

In his remarks, Mr. Reid noted first-responders have a difficult job.

“Community scrutiny is centered around the actions of the first responders and first responders had a tough job,” Mr. Reid acknowledged.  “They thought this was a felony stop.”

Further, he said Evanston police had implemented a number of reforms after the incident, such as a cessation of a policy enforcing suspects  into the prone position during felony traffic stops – “and we should be proud of these steps, and I expect  under the leadership of Chief Cook [new Police Chief Demitrous Cook] that these  measures will go further.” Mr. Reid maintained, though adding, that “the swift criminalization of young Black men is unfortunately ingrained deeply into the bedrock of our culture.”

He charged that when the City released dashcam footage of the incident, that contributed to the further criminalization of Mr. Crosby, “accusing him of actively resisting arrest and failing to comply with our officers.”

“The public has an interest in the City’s acknowledgment of what we did wrong and it is beyond the final costs,” he said. “It’s essential for public trust overall, and essential for the safety of our officers and essential for making sure this doesn’t occur again.”

Mr. Reid sought assurance that officials would review the actions and take serious steps to ensure such incidents do not happen in the future.

Council members typically do not respond during Citizen Comment at Council meetings. During Council comment at the end of the meeting, however, Alderman Donald Wilson, 4th Ward, said the settlement should be a reminder that “there is still a lot of work to be done.

“Policy changes have been made,” he said, “but the harder part of this is to think about what underlies all the events that transpired – not just that night, but thereafter.

“You know… there is this idea of about [making] apologies, not [making] apologies,” Ald. Wilson continued. “I am sorry about what happened to Mr. Crosby, but I am also very sorry that we live in a world where the circumstances and the policies and the decisions that are made lead to these results, and that’s a much harder question.

“I think this has to force us to dig deeper, and to acknowledge prejudices that underlie these events. Excuses are not acceptable – rationalizations are not acceptable. I know I’m never going to know what it’s like to walk in the shoes of a Black man, and I’m never going to know how it feels to be in any of these circumstances. It’s also not my place to speak for another person’s experience. But I have a job when I’m up here, and we all have a job when we’re up here. And it’s not just to listen, it’s not just to hear – but I feel like part of our job, and I think my colleagues agree, is to do everything we can to tear down barriers that have been put up.

“These barriers have existed for a long time; they’ve been carefully constructed,” he said. “But going forward we’re accountable for the future and we have to look to the future and really, really dig deep and effectuate real change – long-term change.”

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.