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Thursday, April 1, 2004 03:32 pm

Judgment day

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Renatta Frazier

Barely 6 years old, Shug Frazier doesn't quite comprehend the financial settlement his mother won from the city of Springfield this week. It amounts to almost $650,000 -- $500,000 in cash plus an annuity that will pay $1,100 per month for 131 months. But for some reason, Shug has it in his head that the amount is $98. Still, he's thrilled.

"We got $98?!" he excitedly asked his mom, Renatta Frazier.

"That says it all for me," she said, hours after the settlement had been formally announced by Mayor Tim Davlin. "That's how I think about it. This agreement should send the message that it's not about the money. It's about closure. It's about moving on."

Frazier had been among a group of nine African-American current and former Springfield police officers who, in January 2003, filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against several high-ranking law enforcement officials and the city of Springfield. Two plaintiffs were subsequently dismissed from the case, and last week, the city filed a motion to sever Frazier's case from the others'. Her attorney, Courtney Cox, did not oppose the motion, thereby opening an avenue for the city to settle with Frazier. Under the settlement, Cox will receive more than $200,000.

To become official, the settlement will have to be approved by the City Council. At least two ordinances -- the settlement itself and a bank note to finance it -- will be on the council's April 6 agenda for emergency passage. In a press conference held on short notice Tuesday afternoon, Davlin said he is confident he can get the eight votes needed to pass the ordinances.

From the beginning, Frazier was regarded as the marquee plaintiff in the lawsuit, due to the facts surrounding her brief tenure at SPD. Beginning with a State Journal-Register article published in January 2002, Frazier had been the subject of scores of media reports stating that SPD's internal affairs division was investigating whether she failed to prevent the rape of another officer's daughter. She eventually resigned from the department and, with her family, fled to another state. They returned after an October 2002 investigation by Illinois Times discovered that the allegations were false, that the rape had occurred before Frazier was ever dispatched to the scene.

The idea of separating her case from the other officers' was first suggested publicly by Ward 2 Alderman Frank McNeil several months ago. "I knew Renatta had a damn good case, and I said, 'Hey, we need to sever her out and let the other guys fight their way to the top.' And as usual, I was right," McNeil says.

"With the just unconscionable things that were done to her, a jury would say this was deliberate, this was mean-spirited, and the city needs to be punished. So I thought it was in our best interests to get a settlement out of this so we wouldn't have to face that kind of punitive damages situation."

Still, McNeil says the money can't compensate Frazier fully.

"Nothing can restore her name or her standing in the community," he says. "And the pain she and her family went through is incompensable."

Frazier describes the settlement as bittersweet.

"I have mixed emotions about it, to be honest," she says. "My case is settled, but there's still a very big problem in the Springfield Police Department and the city of Springfield, and that is racial discrimination. It affects those officers every day. They do work in a racially hostile environment."

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