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City Council approved a $125,000 payment Monday night to settle a federal lawsuit against the city and former Police Chief Demitrous Cook, stemming from Snapchat posts Cook made in February 2020.

The payment resolves all claims and covers the plaintiff’s attorney’s fees in the lawsuit, which was first filed on Feb. 23, 2020. It was approved on the consent agendas of both the Administration and Public Works Committee and the full City Council, with no discussion by council members.

Former Police Chief Demitrous Cook (Submitted photo)

The lawsuit stemmed from a Feb. 17, 2020, incident in which Cook posted a picture of the plaintiff’s mugshot to his public Snapchat story, along with numerous mugshots of other people. Handwritten beside the plaintiff’s picture were the words “HIV” and “pending.” Court records state that the plaintiff “has never been diagnosed with HIV and was tested for HIV on 2/22/2020 with a negative result.”

At a press conference on Feb. 21, 2020, Cook explained that the photos were taken as part of an investigation, and that publicly posting them was an accident. Then-interim City Manager Erika Storlie suspended Cook for three days because of the incident.

The initial complaint covered 12 different counts, including defamation, gross negligence and violations of due process. Two court opinions, issued on Oct. 12, 2020, and June 28, 2022, dismissed all counts except for due process claims against both the City and Cook.

In his June 28, 2022 opinion, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly rejected Cook’s argument that because the plaintiff was HIV-negative, his due process rights could not have been violated. Kennelly called this a “Catch-22 argument” and held that a reasonable jury could find a violation if the case went to trial.

“The fact that [the plaintiff] received a test in the recent past, regardless of whether the result was positive or negative, suffices as medical information that he might not want the state to publicize,” Kennelly wrote. “At bottom, a government official can infringe a person’s right to keep his medical information private even if the medical information the official discloses about him is false.”

A city spokesperson did not provide comment on the case beyond a statement of description, and Cook did not respond to a request for comment.

The City Council approved a $90,000 settlement for a separate class-action lawsuit based on the same incident in April 2021. Cook retired as Evanston’s police chief on June 7, 2021, and the department has been without a permanent chief since.

Alex Harrison

Alex Harrison joins the RoundTable for the summer in between his undergraduate and graduate studies at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

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