The Crusader Newspaper Group

20 years later, last E2 Nightclub lawsuit scores partial victory in federal court

Lawsuits have come and gone. Settlements have been paid. Two decades have passed and no one ever spent time in jail for one of the deadliest tragedies in Chicago history.

Nearly 20 years after a tragic stampede at the E2 nightclub killed 21 people, the last lawsuit that seeks some justice from the tragic event is slowly making its way through federal court in downtown Chicago.

A federal judge on April 5 gave a partial victory to Howard and Mary Ray. Some 19 years after the deadly stampede, they are still seeking justice for their 21-year-old son, DaShand Ray who was among the E2 victims, all of whom were Black.

On February 17, 2003, they and over 1,000 people were enjoying an evening at E2 nightclub at 2347 S. Michigan Avenue in Bronzeville. Radio station WGCI was hosting a special event when a security guard reportedly used pepper spray to break up a fight. More than 1,100 patrons jammed the club’s only stairwell exit that was designed to hold 240 people. Police said the pile of bodies on the stairwell was as high as six feet in some areas. Twenty-one people between the ages of 19 and 43 died and over 50 people were injured.

Reverend Jesse Jackson was among Black leaders who called for an investigation as funerals for the victims were held throughout Chicago’s South and West Sides.

E2 nightclub owners Calvin Hollins Jr. and Dwain Kyles were charged with 21 counts of involuntary manslaughter. In 2009, the men were acquitted, but found guilty of criminal contempt for violating a court order to close the second-floor nightclub for building violations months before the tragedy. After an appeals court overturned that conviction, the Illinois Supreme Court upheld the original decision. In the end, Hollins and Kyles ended up serving just two years of probation and 500 hours of community service.

In 2018, an Illinois appeals panel upheld a Cook County judge’s ruling, which cleared Chicago police who were accused of preventing patrons from leaving the E2 nightclub as they feared for their lives.

At least 89 wrongful death and injury lawsuits were filed in the E2 nightclub case.

In 2014, Clear Channel Communications, whose station WGCI held an event at the nightclub, agreed to an out of court settlement to many of the victims’ families. The settlement amounts reportedly ranged from $1.2 million to $2 million.

The Rays were among those who received a settlement. But last August, the Rays rejected a separate undisclosed settlement offer from the city, according to court transcripts.

In 2020, the Rays on behalf of their son’s estate, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division. According to the complaint, the Rays say while seeking justice for their son, their constitutional rights as plaintiffs were violated during trial proceedings in state court when only four of nine video recordings of the evening were presented as evidence. The Rays seek to uncover the missing five videos and are suing for malpractice against the city and the lawyers who represented them in state court.

Attorneys for the defendants, citing the two-year statute of limitations, asked Judge Martha Pacold to dismiss the case. They said the Rays had until December 27, 2018, to file another lawsuit, but did not do so until January 10, 2020.

Judge Pacold denied their motion to dismiss the case. She ruled that the statute of limitations does not begin the day the plaintiff suffers an injury. Judge Pacold said “the period starts when the plaintiff knows or should know facts that would cause him to believe that his injury was wrongfully caused.”

Represented by Attorney Eric Onyango, the Rays in their federal lawsuit argue that they would have prevailed in the state criminal trial had the city produced videos from all nine cameras from the club that night. The lawsuit said the city produced only four after police officers confiscated the videos from nine cameras from the E2 nightclub the night of the stampede.

“This case is simply about malpractice,” Attorney Onyango told the Crusader.

It’s the last known E2 lawsuit in any court. The complaint names as defendants the City of Chicago and the law firm James D. Montgomery & Associates, Ltd. In their lawsuit, the Rays say the firm failed to protect them as rights to due process under the equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amend ment were violated.

The lawsuit argues that the Montgomery law firm, which represented the Rays and other relatives of the victims, “knew or should have known that Plaintiffs” had a viable cause of action in demanding all the videos in court but failed to timely “assert one.”

Montgomery’s lawyers, who sought to dismiss the case, are represented by Attorney Eric Kaplan of the law firm Kaplan Papadakis & Gournis, LLP. Attorney Nikoleta Lamprinakos of the law firm Robbins Schwartz Nicholas Lifton & Taylor Ltd is representing the city of Chicago.

In her ruling against dismissing the Rays’ lawsuit, Judge Pacold also ruled that attorneys for the Montgomery law firm had not proven the Ray’s claims of prevailing in court if it had not been for the alleged malpractice and constitutional violations. Judge Pacold ruled the defendants “have not established that plaintiffs’ malpractice claim is legally insufficient.”

The Ray’s lawsuit seeks a jury trial. The complaint is the last E2 nightclub lawsuit in the courts that seeks some form of justice for the victims.

While Judge Pacold’s ruling is a partial victory for the Rays, she dismissed claims that four Chicago police officers violated their son’s constitutional rights when they allegedly destroyed or tampered with video recordings that were removed from the E2 nightclub that night. Judge Racold ruled that the Rays failed to prove this claim in their case.

Judge Pacold also denied the Ray’s claim for injunctive relief saying because there are “no allegations of any potential future injury, I grant the request to strike plaintiffs’ request for injunctive relief.”

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