A handicapped man who sued financially ailing East St. Louis over a jailhouse beating won the deed to City Hall in a court judgment, but his lawyer said Friday they would not lock the government out of the building.
"With the legal posture we have now we could contact the sheriff and ask them to put locks on the doors," said Clyde Kuehn, an attorney who represents Walter DeBow, 55. "We're not going to do that."St. Clair County Circuit Judge Roger M. Scrivner Thursday ordered the city to surrender the deeds to City Hall and a 220-acre vacant tract to help satisfy a $4 million judgment owed DeBow.
Kuehn did not specify what his client might do with the property. The lawyer said, however, he was willing to negotiate and that he hopes to collect about $1 million for DeBow.
The financial blow is the latest for a community that is estimated to be $55 million in debt and has the highest murder rate of any city in the nation with a population of more than 10,000.
City Attorney Eric Vickers said he and Mayor Carl Officer were "outraged" at the court's action Thursday. Vickers said he would file an appeal next week in the circuit court.
"You can't under Illinois law take a city's property. I think it shows a total disregard for the law," Vickers said.
DeBow was beaten in the city's jail in January 1984 while he was held for a minor traffic offense. He suffered serious head injuries that left him severely handicapped.
DeBow was awarded $3.4 million by a jury in May 1985. In May 1988, after Kuehn froze city bank accounts, the city agreed to pay the judgment, which had grown to about $4 million with interest.
The list of troubles plaguing cash-strapped East St. Louis is a long one.
Firefighters have had to give up pay in order to procure proper uniforms, and police officers were forced to chase criminals in squad cars without operable two-way radios.
Toilet paper is a rarity in City Hall restrooms. Street light bulbs remain burned out because the city cannot afford to replace them. There are parking meters on the streets, but no one feeds them because the city has no money to hire meter maids.