CHICAGO — A Cook County jury on Tuesday awarded nearly $1 million to a Chicago police sergeant who, jurors said, faced retaliation after he raised concerns about a controversial 2017 police shooting on the Far South Side.
After two-and-a-half hours of deliberations, jurors returned their verdict in favor of CPD Sgt. Isaac Lambert, awarding his $910,000 in damages.
“To get dragged by the city for these last three years is unbelieavable, for looking out for a kid who couldn’t look out for himself, is just unreal,” Lambert told reporters shortly after the jury’s verdict was read.
“Right now I’m just happy that this is over and I can move forward with life and try to socialize a little more and do more with my family and friends,” Lambert added. “This is not a situation I wish on any police officer in the entire city of Chicago. To actually do their job, protect a citizen, and go through what I’ve been through. It’s not fair, it’s not right, it’s not just. It’s not what we do as police officers.”
Lambert brought his lawsuit against the city in 2019, alleging that he was removed from the CPD’s Detective Division after he raised concerns about the legality of the shooting of Ricardo Hayes by off-duty CPD Sgt. Khalil Muhammad in August 2017. Hayes — an unarmed 18-year-old with autism — was reported missing from his Far South Side home a few hours before he was shot.
Lambert’s reassignment to the CPD’s Patrol Division, his attorneys argued, violated the Illinois Whistleblower Act. Attorneys for the city, however, maintained that Lambert was removed from the Detective Division because he was an inattentive supervisor who demonstrated poor judgment when he assigned two rookie detectives to investigate the Hayes shooting.
In her closing argument, Lambert’s attorney Megan O’Malley asked jurors to award the sergeant between $1.75 – $2.75 million in damages, plus another $55,000 in lost overtime wages.
“The lies have to stop here,” O’Malley told the jury, “And you have the privilege of saying ‘enough is enough.’”
“This is the code of silence at work,” Torreya Hamilton, another of Lambert’s attorneys, said during her rebuttal argument. “If you keep your mouth shut, if you actually take affirmative action to help the officer or try in some way to cover up his illegal activity, you are rewarded. If you speak out, you’re punished.”J.T. Wilson III delivered the city’s closing argument, telling jurors that Lambert’s suspicions about the shooting, which he raised in a meeting with other police department leaders, were based on information that he received second-hand.
“It all came from someone else,” Wilson said. “So if all the information he had came from someone else, he’s not disclosing any information. He’s having a conversation about what’s already known by others. The conversations he had, they’re not protected by the Illinois Whistleblower Act.”
Just one of the 12 jurors opted to speak with reporters after the verdict was read. The man, a company manager on the North Side who did not want to give his name, said the verdict was reached so quickly because jurors were tired after more than two weeks of proceedings.
Beyond that, the police witnesses presented by the city — which included several current and former higher-ups — were not credible, the juror added.
“The higher they went up in rank, the worse liars they became,” the man said.
During the first week of trial, Lambert testified that, in the hours after the shooting, he sought to protect Hayes from unwarranted scrutiny from investigators, some of whom wanted Hayes — who was recently reported missing from home — charged with a felony after he was shot by Muhammad.“I didn’t do what they wanted me to do,” Lambert testified. “I did what was right and I got screwed.”
After Muhammad shot Hayes, the teen’s family filed a lawsuit against the city that was later settled for more than $2 million. The Chicago Police Board later ordered Muhammad suspended for six months. Another civil suit tied to the Hayes shooting, also filed against the city by a former CPD supervisor, is still pending in Cook County Circuit Court.