Hate crime case settles for apology and $35,000

Rights Under the Law
312/630-9744 (voice), 312/630-9749 (TDD), or email
(slegenza@clccrul.org)

CHICAGO--(January 11, 1999) -- Frank Torres, a Hispanic man and resident of the City's Garfield Ridge neighborhood, has settled his civil rights lawsuit against his former neighbor, a now-retired, caucasian firefighter, who allegedly harassed, settlement agreement includes a formal apology from the firefighter, whose name is being withheld as part of the agreement, to Mr. Torres; a payment of $35,000; and a provision that prohibits the firefighter from contacting the Torreses in the future. The defendant did not, however, admit to any wrongdoing in settling the case.

According to the federal court complaint, the Torreses became the target of repeated acts of ethnic and racial harassment and their property was damaged by their white neighbor beginning in 1994, when the Torreses moved into the Garfield Ridge neighborhood, which is near Midway Airport on the southwest side of Chicago. The harassment and hostility peaked in the spring of 1996 when the defendant painted a line between his and the Torreses' houses and warned the Torreses not to cross the line. When Mr. Torres subsequently crossed the painted line, the defendant attacked him, shouting ethnic and racial slurs.

Based on this ethnically-motivated assault, the defendant was convicted in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Criminal Division, of violating the Illinois Hate Crime Act, sentenced to 200 hours of community service, and fined.

The Torreses were represented by volunteer attorneys Mary Rose Alexander and Jennifer P. Kotler from Latham & Watkins and Sharon K. Legenza from the Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc. "We're extremely pleased by this result," stated Ms. Kotler, one of the Torreses' attorneys. "It's a great victory for Mr. Torres, his family and the cause for which we're all fighting," she added.

The federal Fair Housing Act makes it illegal for a person to intimidate, threaten, or interfere with any person in the exercise or enjoyment of his or her fair housing rights, which includes the right to live peacefully in the neighborhood of his or her choice. The Illinois Hate Crime Act provides that when a person commits an assault, battery, or other enumerated crime by reason of actual or perceived race, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability or gender, he or she is subject to greater criminal penalty because of the bias motivation. Both Acts allow for civil lawsuits for money damages and other relief for those injured by a fair housing violation or a hate crime.  The Chicago Lawyers' Committee represents victims of housing discrimination and hate crimes and provides information regarding fair housing, hate crimes, and other civil rights laws. The Committee may be reached at 312/630-9744 (voice), 312/630-9749 (TDD), or email (slegenza@clccrul.org).


Apology from Defendant to Mr. Torres:

I hereby apologize to Francisco Torres, and his family, for any actions I have taken, or communications I have made, that have caused Mr. Torres and/or his family any undue stress, frustration, or unpleasantness of any kind during the time period in which we were neighbors living at our respective former residences on S. Moody in Chicago, Illinois.   I further apologize to Mr. Torres for any property damage I may have caused to his S. Moody residence.  I assure Mr. Torres that from this day forward I will not engage in any sort of actions or communications directed against Mr. Torres and/or his family, or encourage my family, friends or acquaintances to do so, that could be the cause of any further suffering to Mr. Torres and/or his family.  I deeply regret any pain and suffering Mr. Torres and his family may have endured.

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