An Oak Lawn man who alleged that two Oak Lawn police officers brutalized him in his home without provocation while his two young daughters were nearby has settled his civil rights claim for $2.7 million.
The case was settled on Feb. 24, and the payment was approved by the Oak Lawn Village Board. But there was no admission of guilt or responsibility, village attorney Kevin Casey said on Tuesday.
According to the 11-count complaint filed by Piotr Niton and his two daughters in federal court, Niton said that shortly after midnight on July 27, 2013, he was asleep on his couch in Oak Lawn when he was awakened by “loud and persistent banging on his front door,” and found two uniformed Oak Lawn police officers on his front porch. His daughters were in their bedrooms nearby.
The complaint alleges that the officers began shouting commands at him, questioning him about a hit-and-run that occurred earlier that evening. He told them he had not driven his vehicle that night and said they demanded that he come outside and show them his van. In the complaint, Niton said he refused to leave the house but offered to open the garage door and let them check it out.
The complaint states that an officer then “forced his way into Niton’s home and violently shoved him backwards” onto the floor, and struck him with his fists and knees. The officers also allegedly struck him with steel batons and one of them allegedly placed his knee on his face.
David P. Sterba, the Nitons’ attorney, said that one of the officers repeatedly lifted Niton off the floor by his belt, slamming him back down on his back with such force that the belt broke. The other officer allegedly put him in a chokehold and handcuffed him.
Sterba said that one of Niton’s daughter witnessed the violence, while the other one heard it from her room. He said the $2.7 million awarded was for Niton’s pain, suffering and emotional distress, as well as compensatory damages for the daughters for their “severe emotional distress.”
Niton was arrested and charged with two felony counts of aggravated battery to a police officer and resisting a police officer. But he was found not guilty by a jury following a four-day trial and 45 minutes of deliberation in November 2015.
Sterba said that police eventually determined that another man, not Niton, was responsible for the hit-and-run incident. The other man was an employee of Niton, and the vehicle involved was registered to Niton’s company.
The attorney, a partner in the Palos Heights law firm of Walsh, Fewkes and Sterba, said this week that Niton had to undergo one back surgery as a result of the incident and still requires another operation for “spinal fusion.”
“It’s over for us. We’re very proud of the Niton family for displaying the courage to stand up and fight for justice. And this is a very good day for justice,” said Sterba.
He suggested that the Oak Lawn Police Department should review its policies for handling situations like this in the future.
Oak Lawn Police Chief Michael Murray said the two officers involved in the case are still working for the department. But he said that the agreement prevented him from commenting on the details of the case.