The Common Council approved a $525,000 settlement Tuesday in a 20-year-old case involving an off-duty police officer who shot his wife in the back, leaving her paralyzed.
Lawmakers said it's unfortunate that the city has to pay such a large sum when it is struggling with a fiscal crisis, but Corporation Counsel Michael B. Risman said taking the case to trial could have exposed Buffalo to a potential $6 million to $8 million liability.
The settlement was approved with only one dissenting vote, from Betty Jean Grant of the University District. However, several lawmakers who authorized the payment expressed reservations about the city's being held liable for actions committed by an off-duty officer. While they voiced sympathy for Laura L. Jones, who remains in a wheelchair, some Council members said they think the outcome is unfair.
"The taxpayers didn't injure this woman," said Lovejoy Council Member Richard A. Fontana. "I think it's a travesty against the taxpayers of this city."
The victim was shot six times by Clifton Jones in 1981. The officer was not on duty at the time of the incident, but Risman said there is evidence that the Police Department was aware of prior incidents of domestic abuse and did not take preventive action.
The plaintiff also alleged that a few weeks before the shooting, Clifton Jones told a lieutenant that he was under work-related stress and needed counseling. City officials said at that time that the Police Department -- like a majority of law enforcement agencies around the country -- did not have formal psychological counseling programs.
The case originally was dismissed, then reinstated. Had the case gone to trial, the city's case could have been weakened by the fact that several key witnesses are either dead or too ill to testify, Risman said. He noted that State Supreme Court Justice Thomas Flaherty was pushing for a settlement, noting that some earlier proposals sought as much as $2 million from the city.
Terrence P. Higgins, the attorney for Laura Jones, said he thinks the settlement is "inadequate," given the pain and suffering his client has endured for 20 years.
"But Mrs. Jones directed us to accept it. She wanted some finality," Higgins said.