Family of man killed in alleged brutal Blue Line attack sues CTA

The family of the man killed in a 2023 attack on the Blue Line has sued CTA, saying “willful and wanton” conduct by the transit agency and its employee led to the man’s death.

Kevin Powell died after a nearly hourlong attack early in the morning on March 25, 2023, at the LaSalle Blue Line station that was captured on surveillance video, prosecutors have said. They charged Emmett Richardson, who was a customer service assistant at the time but who has since been fired, with aggravated battery and murder.

“He has a name, his name is Kevin Powell,” Powell’s sister, Rachelle Powell, said through tears at a news conference Wednesday. “He wasn’t some homeless man on the street. His addiction did not describe who he was. I wish you all could have gotten to know him, he would have helped anybody that was in need.”

Powell struggled with addiction and periods of homelessness, the family’s attorney, Lance Northcutt, said at the news conference, as he was flanked by Rachelle Powell and Powell’s mother. He turned to CTA at night for shelter, like many others who sleep throughout the city and on the agency’s 24-hour train lines.

But when Powell arrived at the station visibly disoriented, CTA employees should have called for assistance from those trained in working with people in crises, Northcutt said.

“There is no such thing as a disposable human being,” Northcutt said. “People who are on the downside of an advantage are human beings, and they deserve to have the basic human right to be treated with dignity and respect. This means at minimum that they not be killed for the crime of being homeless.”

CTA declined to comment on the lawsuit because the litigation is ongoing.

Northcutt described Powell’s last moments, in which he was “beaten, tortured and humiliated.” The lawsuit, filed in Cook County Circuit Court, describes what attorneys believe took place in the alleged attack.

Powell arrived at the LaSalle station shortly after 2 a.m. with a wheelchair and personal belongings, then fell asleep sitting on the platform and leaning against the wheelchair, according to the lawsuit.

More than an hour later, around 3:17 a.m., Richardson came up to Powell and kicked the wheelchair, causing Powell to fall. Richardson then kicked Powell’s belongings around the platform, the complaint alleges.

Powell began to walk toward the elevator, and Richardson followed him and pushed him onto an escalator, according to the suit. The two took the escalator to an upper platform, and at the top of the escalator Richardson pulled the hood of Powell’s jacket so hard Richardson lost his balance. When he regained his footing, he ran at Powell and pushed him over the railing at the top of the escalator, the lawsuit alleges.

Powell landed on his back, and Richardson dragged him by the jacket across the platform floor. He hit Powell with a cardboard drink container, the lawsuit alleges, then dragged him to the top of nearby stairs, where he grabbed Powell’s feet and flipped him over, causing Powell to tumble down the stairs, the suit alleges.

Richardson poured water on Powell, then propped him against a railing at the bottom of the stairs and repeatedly hit him in the face and head, according to the lawsuit. He grabbed Powell’s head, and Powell tumbled down a second flight of stairs, losing consciousness.

Richardson called 911, and told police when they arrived Powell had been unresponsive and surrounded by drug paraphernalia. He told police he was helping Powell up the stairs when Powell lost consciousness and collapsed, the suit alleges.

Prosecutors have previously said no drug paraphernalia was observed on video or found when police arrived. The lawsuit alleges Richardson’s comments to police were false.

A medical examiner’s report found Powell died of a drug overdose, with the stress of the attack a secondary cause, according to the lawsuit.

Richardson was fired by CTA four days after the attack for behavior described as “gross misconduct” and for making false statements about the incident, agency officials wrote in a discharge letter. He had worked for the agency for about two-and-a-half years at the time.

Northcutt said he hopes the lawsuit brings changes to the way CTA handles homeless passengers. Many throughout the city and transit system are seeking shelter and there are no quick solutions, but CTA should ensure those sleeping on the system aren’t killed, he said. That can include measures such as appropriate supervision and practices for responding to people who might be in crisis.

The CTA saw a seeming uptick in people living on trains during the pandemic, as those sheltering in the system became more visible when the number of office commuters dropped and when those who needed a place to sleep had a more challenging time finding space in shelters or other typically reliable options. CTA has since 2022 had a $2 million agreement with the city’s Department of Family and Support Service for outreach work.

Northcutt said the transit agency should never have put Richardson on the midnight shift alone, in a position where he was responsible for potentially challenging populations of people, when he had previous documented complaints.

Prosecutors have previously said at a 2023 bond hearing that a customer service manager for CTA told authorities the agency issued Richardson a couple of verbal warnings for his treatment of customers and attitude issues.

A personnel file for Richardson obtained by the Tribune through a Freedom of Information Act request showed he was dinged by the agency for a handful of issues including leaving his station before his replacement arrived instead of working overtime and, according to a customer complaint, yelling at a customer with oversized baggage to use the turnstile instead of opening the exit gate.

Management also reported problems with absenteeism. In March 2022, Richardson was suspended without pay for three days after failing to show up for work, which he said was because of a flight cancellation followed by an inability to fly for several days, according to a redacted copy of the file. He was also put on probation for six months.

Northcutt said the lawsuit is intended to bring justice for Powell’s family, and show that his life mattered.

“We just want justice for my brother,” Rachelle Powell said.