Northwestern PhD student accused of stealing his own car wins settlement
In October 2015, a white woman in Evanston, Illinois called the police to report that a man was stealing a car. Then she followed him in her own vehicle, so she could tell dispatchers his location. However, that man was actually 25-year-old Northwestern University PhD student Lawrence Crosby, and he was not stealing a car. He was repairing a loose part to his own car before driving to the science building on campus.
The police pulled over Crosby, who is African-American, and he stepped outside of his with his hands up. Officers then approached Crosby with guns drawn and ordered him to get on the ground. When he did not immediately comply, they tackled him and struck him multiple times. The incident was recorded on dashcam video, which has been embedded below.
In the footage, Crosby is remarkably composed. After getting tackled and struck by officers, he calmly states that he owns the vehicle and was just trying to make a repair. Then he identifies himself a doctoral student, says when and where he purchased the vehicle, and informs officers that he has proof of registration. In the background, the woman who called the police can be heard worrying that she made a mistake.
After the officers discovered the car belonged to him, Crosby was charged with disobeying officers and resisting arrest. An Evanston Police spokesperson claimed their use of force was justified because the officers were responding to what they believed was a case of car theft. Crosby told officers later that he did not immediately comply because he wanted to move to the front of his vehicle, so their interaction would be recorded on his own dashcam.
A judge dismissed the charges against Crosby. However, the city's very decision to press charges rove him to sue. "Instead of apologizing when they had an opportunity to do that, when they ascertained that I was the owner of the vehicle, even that would have ended the rest of the night," he told The Chicago Tribune. "It would have been somewhat traumatic still, but the actions they took after that were the most egregious to me. They knew that I owned the car, they made a mistake, and they decided to persist in prosecuting these crimes that they knew I didn’t commit."
In October 2016, Crosby filed a civil lawsuit in Cook County Circuit, citing false arrest and excessive force. He asked the city of Evanston and the arresting officers to pay at least $50,000 for "compensatory and punitive damages, fees, costs and such other relief."
Now, nearly three years after the incident, Crosby has won that settlement. His attorney told The Chicago Tribune that they reached a settlement $1.25 million, which is scheduled for approval by the Evanston City Council on January 28. Dr. Crosby said that he hopes this incident raises awareness about 'implicit bias,' the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.