Former Chicago police Officer Richard Fiorito was once honored by Mothers Against Drunk Driving for his aggressive DUI arrests, but he was pulled off street duty three years ago amid allegations that he had falsified dozens of the charges.
After numerous lawsuits, the city has formally agreed to pay the last of the drivers who had alleged wrongdoing by Fiorito. In a judgment entered Monday in federal court, James Dean Jr. was awarded $100,000 in a lawsuit accusing Fiorito of false arrest and malicious prosecution. Four months earlier, the city settled with another motorist for $100,000. The city also agreed to pay lawyers for both drivers a combined $250,000 in legal fees.
The resolution came on the eve of a trial at which Dean's attorneys planned to allege that Fiorito arrested Dean for DUI outside the Town Hall Police District just four minutes after he was freed from the station on unrelated traffic charges. Yet no officers inside the district house believed Dean was drunk when he left, Dean's attorneys contend.
The award to Dean and the earlier settlement by motorist Steve Lopez mark the end to litigation over Fiorito, according to city Law Department spokesman Roderick Drew, who said the city never admitted wrongdoing on Fiorito's part. A separate lawsuit filed against Fiorito in 2009 resulted in an additional $25,000 settlement, Drew said.
In a telephone interview Tuesday evening, Fiorito, 63, stood by all his DUI arrests.
"I don't regret one day of it," he said of his 13 years on the force. He resigned in December.
He also denied allegations he directed racial and other slurs at some of the drivers he arrested for DUI.
"Anybody that says I did is a liar," he said.
Drivers started coming forward with similar stories about Fiorito in 2003, according to attorney Jon Erickson, who brought a number of the lawsuits.
"I remember being astounded by the brazenness of his dishonesty," Erickson said Tuesday.
In court filings, attorneys alleged that Fiorito was motivated to fabricate the arrests by the overtime that he received to attend traffic court.
Erickson said he won not-guilty verdicts for about five drivers arrested for DUI by Fiorito and then tracked down about 40 others who said they had been victimized too.
Several of the complaints came from members of Chicago's gay and lesbian community who felt they had been targeted by Fiorito. He was also accused of using hateful language and slurs against other minority groups, the attorneys said.
Amid a flurry of lawsuits, the Cook County state's attorney's office dropped charges against more than 130 drivers arrested by Fiorito for DUI, and Chicago police removed him from street duty. However, in 2010, county prosecutors refused to prosecute Fiorito, drawing criticism from lawyers for some of the alleged victims.
Some of the motorists had wanted to pursue damages against Fiorito but lost out because they had pleaded guilty to lesser traffic offenses in exchange for the DUI charge being dropped, the attorneys said.
Only Dean and Lopez held out, insisting that they did nothing wrong. "Both refused to take any deal and saw it all the way through to the end," said attorney Torreya Hamilton, who worked with Erickson on the federal lawsuit. "And lucky for them."
Lopez, a truck driver, said it wasn't a hard choice.
Fiorito stopped him five years ago as he was driving home early one morning from a family gathering. With a young family and a two-year-old mortgage, Lopez said his clean driving record meant the world to him. A ticket of any kind would have jeopardized his job and future, said the high school graduate from Brighton Park.
"This is how I provide for my family," Lopez said on his lunch break Tuesday as he stood outside the delivery truck he is currently driving. "I'm a driver. If that's what's on my record, it's like someone gave me a Class X Felony. It's hard to find a good job."
After being charged with the DUI, Lopez had a painful conversation with his boss, who nevertheless still trusted in him. In a sworn statement as part of the lawsuit, Lopez said he had one beer earlier the night of his arrest.
Lopez went to traffic court every month as the case worked its way through the system.
The father of three had earned his commercial driver's license just a month before Fiorito ticketed him, something that would have meant a significant pay boost and greater job opportunities. But immediately after the arrest, the CDL was revoked, and he never got a chance to use it. It has since been restored.
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