U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey Cummings on March 23 vacated a jury verdict against two Brookfield police officers accused of falsely arresting and using excessive force against a 67-year-old man in 2016. The judge then signed off on a new settlement agreement between the parties.
The agreement vacating the judgment against Brookfield police officers Andrew Lowry and Rafael Alvarado calls for the plaintiff, Rogelio Valdez, and his attorneys to be paid a total of $575,000.
The entire amount will be paid for by Brookfield’s risk management insurer, the Illinois Risk Management Association (IRMA).
That’s more than the $160,000 a jury awarded on Dec. 9, 2021, after a three-day trial, but it also comes with an agreement by Valdez not to pursue any further litigation against the village or individual police officers connected to two separate incidents in 2016 and 2017.
The new settlement amount includes all of the attorneys’ fees Valdez incurred for litigating both incidents and to compensate him for “physical pain and suffering” resulting from both incidents.
The December jury award of $160,000 was compensation for the 2016 incident only, and that amount did not include attorney’s fees, which IRMA was also required to pay.
Shortly before the trial, Valdez voluntarily withdrew excessive force allegations related to his 2017 arrest by Brookfield police. In both 2016 and 2017, Valdez was charged with battery to a police officer and resisting arrest. The charges were later dismissed after Valdez completed a court diversionary program designed for veterans.
Margo Ely, executive director of IRMA, told the Landmark she believed Valdez was planning to refile a lawsuit regarding the 2017 incident and that the settlement avoided the additional expense of another suit.
The other factor in pursuing a new settlement agreement was to have the official record reflect that both police officers were not held liable individually. Brookfield Police Chief Michael Kuruvilla said he remains convinced the jury erred by finding in favor of Valdez.
“We would not have chosen to take the case to trial if we were not confident that our officers’ conduct was lawful and in keeping with their training,” Kuruvilla said in an emailed statement. “Even taking into consideration the current anti-police climate, this case did not present evidence of police misconduct, overreach, or abuse. For many reasons, we believe that it was an unfair verdict for the officers, whose careers were previously unblemished. Therefore, we worked with our insurance provider, to right what we perceived was wrong and negotiated a settlement that vacated the judgment against the officers.”
By vacating the judgment against Alvarado and Lowry, the two are also no longer liable for paying punitive damages that the jury awarded Valdez.
The punitive damages were part of the $160,000 total payout awarded by the jury to Valdez. Of that figure, $75,000 were compensatory damages paid for by IRMA, the risk management insurer.
The jury also awarded a $75,000 judgment in punitive damages against Lowry and $10,000 against Alvarado, amounts they would have had to pay individually had not the judgment been vacated.
“If we see a case where an individual officer faces punitive damages, that’s not something we want to subject them to,” Ely said. “We wanted to clear their records.”
In August 2016, Brookfield police were called to the Valdez residence to have them remove his adult daughter from the premises because she was intoxicated and allegedly had assaulted him.
During the incident while Valdez was outside his residence, Lowry arrested Valdez for “hitting a police officer.” Lowry reportedly handcuffed Valdez and shuttled him downstairs “like there was a fire,” according to the lawsuit.
While rushing down the stairs both men fell, with Lowry suffering a fractured ankle that would force him to retire the following year. Valdez suffered a broken toe but did not seek treatment for it for weeks.
“At best it was an accident,” Ely said. “There wasn’t any evidence of malice. That’s why the punitive damages were particularly disconcerting for us.”
Both IRMA and village officials said the jury verdict surprised them and that had they had any doubt of winning the case, they would have sought a pre-trial settlement.
“This was one where we just felt the facts were on our side and that [the officers’] conduct was not unlawful,” Ely said.