Chicago Police Fire War Case Resurfaces

A Chicago police officer who was involved in an on-duty altercation with a Chicago fire captain in 2011 that resulted in a $1.6 million settlement in favor of the police officer, has filed a new suit claiming he was demoted in retaliation for the first suit.

The altercation between Officer Joseph J. Smith and then-Captain Mark Altman occurred on November 1, 2011 while both were operating at the scene of a water rescue in the north branch of the Chicago River.

Smith claims Captain Altman told him to “get the fuck out of here, get the fuck back,” and then pushed him. Smith claims the push resulted in serious bodily injury that ultimately required surgery.

According to the Chicago Sun Times, Smith’s supervisor, Sergeant Eduardo Beltran, sought to arrest Altman but was dissuaded by “higher-ups” in the police department to drop the matter. Smith sued the city and Captain Altman, who is the son of former Chicago Fire Commissioner Edward Altman. Captain Altman was promoted to battalion chief in 2013.

A federal court jury awarded Smith more than $1.3 million, which the judge reduced to $400,000 before agreeing to a retrial on the issue of damages. Prior to the retrial, the case was settled for $1.6 million,  $1,122,449 in compensatory damages and $480,000 in costs and attorneys fees.

Smith’s second suit claims that shortly after the first case was settled, he was demoted for no reason. The Chicago Sun Times quoted his attorney, Blake Horwitz, as saying:

  • “There’s no legal reason to demote him and decrease his salary.”
  • “The only reason you have is that it’s retaliation for having filed a lawsuit and won a lawsuit against a captain of the fire department. They’re messing with him.”

Here is a copy of the complaint in the second suit: Smith v Chicago II

Here is a copy of the complaint in the original suit: Smith v Chicago I

More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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