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Former Chicago police officer awarded on-duty injury benefits after being shot in a bar

Former Officer Danny Golden was paralyzed after being shot in the spine during a bar fight while allegedly trying to de-escalate the situation


Chicago police Officer Danny Golden is pushed during the St. Jude Police Memorial March on May 7, 2023, at Gold Star Families Memorial and Park on the Museum Campus. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Brian Cassella/TNS

By Sam Charles
Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — The Chicago Police Department and its pension board have now each determined that former Officer Danny Golden was performing official police duties just before he was shot and paralyzed outside a bar in the Beverly neighborhood nearly two years ago.

It’s a decision that came months after Golden applied for on-duty disability benefits in December, highlighting what can appear to outsiders as a subjective process with no hard and fast rules on how long it may take to reach that decision, or which officers or their families are certain to receive them.

Pension board meetings to rule on duty disability applications are open to the public. CPD, meanwhile, will make its own determination as to whether an officer was injured “in the line of duty,” though the process is opaque. Superintendent Larry Snelling said last week that any officer, whether working a shift or not, can be injured in the line of duty so long as they are responding to “criminal activity.”

It was not known when the Police Department ruled Golden’s injuries to be duty-related, but his pension board application was approved at the board’s March meeting. He applied for on-duty disability benefits about two months after his allotted medical leave time ended, records show.

An officer is not required to be on duty and in uniform for their injuries — or death — to have occurred in the line of duty. Shortly after the killings of off-duty Officers Luis Huesca last month and Aréanah Preston last year, CPD announced both died in the line of duty.

Key facts often vary. Golden had been at the bar where the altercation that ended in gunfire took place, for example, while Huesca and Preston were both killed in attempted robberies as they each returned home following a work shift.

While announcing charges last Friday in Huesca’s killing, Snelling said the “line of duty” designation is applied “based on how officers respond” in off-duty situations.

“Any time an officer is faced with criminal activity, being attacked, and that officer responds physically in any way, shape, form or fashion, he is now acting as a police officer,” Snelling said.

Huesca was killed April 21 near his home in the Gage Park neighborhood. He was still in uniform as he was arriving home from work, and his gun was taken along with his car.

The Police Department announced just two days later that Huesca died in the line of duty, entitling his family to survivors’ death benefits.

Process questioned

The pension board’s duty disability awards came under scrutiny last year from Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza after the board denied an application from Mendoza’s brother, a CPD sergeant who contracted COVID-19 in 2020 while working 17 consecutive days.

Last year, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation that expanded on-duty disability benefits for first responders who contracted the coronavirus.

Injured officers are afforded 365 days of paid medical leave to recover from injuries. If more time is needed, the officer will be placed on an unpaid leave of absence.

An officer then may submit an application to the Policemen’s Annuity & Benefit Fund of Chicago — the pension board — for duty disability benefits.

The designation by the pension fund entitles Golden to 75% of his CPD salary, tax-free, until he reaches retirement age, in addition to city-funded insurance coverage for the rest of his life. Upon retirement age, Golden can apply for his pension.

Records from the city’s Department of Human Resources show Golden was paid $8,164 per month before he was placed on no-pay status in October 2023.

The Golden case

On Friday, July 8, 2022, hundreds of people from the Beverly, Morgan Park and Mount Greenwood neighborhoods gathered at Kennedy Park for an annual 16-inch softball tournament. After the tournament ended, as Friday turned to Saturday, Golden and other attendees headed north to Sean’s Rhino Bar and Grill.

The three men now charged in the shooting entered the bar after 2 a.m. — later than the bar’s liquor license allowed. A fight involving the three and other bar patrons — not the Goldens — soon broke out and spilled onto the sidewalk.

Though Golden was immediately identified as a CPD officer in the suspects’ arrest reports, Cook County prosecutors did not charge any of them with aggravated battery to a peace officer.

“As in all cases, charging decisions are based on the available evidence, facts, and the law,” the state’s attorney’s office said in a statement. “We are unable to comment on pending litigation.”

Records obtained by the Tribune show how Golden detailed his version of what happened in his December application.

“On July 9, 2022, I was a patron at Sean’s Rhino Bar and Grill, 2428 W. 104th St., Chicago, IL., with my friends and family members,” Golden wrote. “While I was inside Sean’s Rhino Bar and Grill, a large fight was started by three males within the establishment in which tables were being turned over and glass bottles and cups were being thrown. I was not involved in the altercation.”

Golden noted CPD had made a finding he was injured on duty.

“After exiting the establishment, I observed an acquaintance of mine … get struck by one of the three offenders and lose consciousness. I then announced my office by stating that I was a Chicago police officer and attempted to take the offender into custody. A short time later several gunshots were fired, at which time I was struck by a bullet which penetrated my spine. My brother, John M. Golden, also sustained a gunshot wound.”

Golden was left paralyzed from the waist down. An attorney for him did not respond to a request for comment.

After they were chased from the bar, one of the three men returned to his vehicle parked nearby and allegedly retrieved a handgun. The gun was passed to the two other men who each fired several rounds.

A day after the shooting, inspectors with the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer protection ordered the bar closed as it violated its liquor license by remaining open after 2 a.m. The property was later put up for sale.

The Golden brothers filed a lawsuit last year against the bar and three men charged in the shooting. The still-pending suit alleges negligence by the bar for failing to staff security guards the night of the shooting.

The only employees working that night, the Goldens allege, were “slightly built female bartenders” who kept serving alcohol after it was not allowed and who “implored Plaintiff, Daniel Golden, to de-escalate the altercation outside of Rhino Bar.”

Despite the younger Golden being only 18 years old at the time, the brothers say they both were at the bar — which regularly ignored occupancy restrictions and often saw fights among patrons — “as invitees of the premises.”

In the answer to the lawsuit, the bar said the Goldens were responsible for their own injuries because they “did not leave in a timely manner, participated in a fight, did not call law enforcement (and) followed certain dangerous individuals when it was unreasonable to do so.”

Court records show the Cook County state’s attorney’s office filed a motion in March to quash a subpoena, issued by attorneys for the bar, for the criminal case files of the three men charged in the shooting. The judge in the case has yet to rule on that motion.


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