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Roddy v. Catto





Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County; the Hon. Thomas M. Daley, Judge, presiding.


Plaintiff, Pearlie Roddy, brought the instant action for damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1980), claiming that her civil rights were violated when she was arrested and detained on a forgery charge pursuant to an allegedly invalid warrant and without probable cause. Following a jury trial, judgment was entered on the verdict in the amount of $18,500 against the defendant, Gary Catto, who, as a State criminal investigator, had procured the warrant in question and effected the arrest of the plaintiff. The court subsequently awarded the plaintiff attorney fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988 (1980) in the amount of $14,949, plus costs of $226.40. On appeal defendant Catto contends that he was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the issue of liability where the plaintiff was arrested pursuant to a facially valid warrant following determination by an independent intermediary that there was probable cause for her arrest and where there was sufficient evidence of probable cause to justify such arrest even in the absence of a valid warrant. In addition, the defendant contends that the plaintiff failed to prove damages of $18,500 and that the trial court's award of attorney fees under section 1988 was excessive. We reverse on the issue of liability and, therefore, do not consider the issues of damages or attorney fees.

The incident giving rise to the alleged false arrest of the plaintiff occurred on May 16, 1980, when a forged Public Aid warrant was presented for payment and cashed at the Centreville Market in Centreville, Illinois. The check was later returned as stolen, and the defendant, an investigator with the Division of Criminal Investigation in the fraud and forgery unit, was assigned to investigate the incident.

During the course of the investigation, after defendant Catto believed that he had obtained an identification of the plaintiff as the perpetrator of the offense, he presented this information to an assistant State's Attorney, who prepared a criminal complaint charging the plaintiff with forgery. The defendant subsequently appeared before Judge Thomas O'Donnell of the St. Clair County Circuit Court, who issued a warrant for the plaintiff's arrest on August 6, 1980. The plaintiff was arrested on August 20, 1980, and detained in St. Louis for two days. She was then brought to Illinois where she remained in jail until she was released on bond on August 29, 1980.

Following a preliminary hearing on August 29, 1980, the court found probable cause to believe that the plaintiff had committed the offense charged, and, on October 2, 1980, the grand jury returned a bill of indictment against the plaintiff on the charge of forgery. On December 10, 1980, the charge was dismissed with prejudice upon motion by the State's Attorney in a judgment stating that "the State's witnesses indicate that [the plaintiff] did not perpetrate the crime charged." The plaintiff subsequently sought and obtained an order to expunge all records of her arrest on the criminal charge.

On April 13, 1981, the plaintiff brought the instant action for violation of her civil rights under section 1983, alleging that her arrest and detention were effected without probable cause and that the procedures by which the warrant was obtained did not comply with Illinois statutory requirements. The plaintiff sought damages for injury to her reputation, mental and physical pain and suffering, and money paid in posting bond for which she was not fully reimbursed.

At trial, commenced June 11, 1984, defendant Catto testified that his investigation of the forgery incident had begun with a security photograph taken at the time the Public Aid warrant was cashed at the Centreville Market. The photograph depicted a woman and an elderly man, Fred Williams, who had accompanied his niece, Kathy Jones, and the woman in the photograph to the store at his niece's request. Kathy Jones had informed Williams that her companion, identified as Lelia Johnson, had lost her Public Aid identification card and needed assistance in cashing a Public Aid warrant. At the store the woman presented the warrant for payment, and when payment was refused, Williams co-signed the warrant and it was cashed. Upon learning subsequently that the warrant was stolen and had been returned, Williams voluntarily made restitution to the market. Williams did not know the identity of the woman in question.

In attempting to identify the woman in the photograph, defendant Catto learned that Williams' niece, who might have supplied that information, had moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana. Attempts to locate her were unsuccessful. Defendant Catto also questioned employees of the Centreville Market. None of them except Mickey Garcia were able to identify the person in the photograph. Mickey Garcia told the defendant that the woman was a sister of Kevin Johnson, a former employee of the store, but defendant Catto never learned the name of Kevin Johnson's sister.

On June 19, 1980, defendant Catto took the photograph to the Public Aid office where a caseworker, Evelyn Walker, identified the woman in the photograph as Mildred Johnson. Another caseworker also stated that she believed that the photograph was of Mildred Johnson. Defendant Catto was advised that Mildred Johnson had moved to Joliet, Illinois, in April 1980, but that her mother, Irene Johnson, lived in the Centreville area. Defendant Catto interviewed Irene Johnson, who told him she did not know the woman in the photograph but did not believe it was her daughter. She also stated that her daughter had a friend named Kathy who might have been involved with a male in cashing forged Public Aid warrants.

Defendant Catto then traveled to Joliet to talk to Mildred Johnson, who denied having committed the forgery. She told him that she had lived in the Centreville area and had gone to the Centreville Market to cash checks, but that she had since moved to Joliet and had cashed the Public Aid warrant issued to her in May at a currency exchange in that area. Defendant Catto was able to verify that Mildred Johnson had cashed her check in the Joliet area in May.

Defendant Catto continued his investigation with the assistance of law enforcement officials from the Centreville area. He enlisted the aid of Sylvester McWhorter, a detective with the Centreville police department, Robert Felton, chief of police of the Alorton police department, and Harvey Jones, a security officer of Centreville Township. Although the officers could not identify the woman in the photograph, they introduced him to local residents known to them who they thought might be able to make an identification.

Defendant Catto testified that on July 31, 1980, he met with Jessie Banner, a resident of Alorton, Illinois, who routinely socialized in the area of the Centreville Market and knew most of the people who patronized the store. Catto showed Banner the photograph taken at the time the check was cashed and asked him if he knew the woman in the photograph. According to Catto, Banner identified the woman as Pearlie Roddy from St. Louis, Missouri, and stated that he had known her a long time, although he did not know her address.

On the basis of this identification by Banner, a criminal complaint was prepared charging the plaintiff with forgery, and, on August 6, 1980, a warrant was issued for the plaintiff's arrest. Defendant Catto entered the information he had regarding the plaintiff into the computer used by police agencies to disseminate such information in the area. Catto then continued his investigation, seeking other individuals who might know the woman in the photograph.

On August 8, 1980, defendant Catto met with Robert Bell, a resident of East St. Louis who, like Banner and another companion, John Holmes, frequented the area of the Centreville Market. Catto testified that Bell, too, identified the woman in the photograph as Pearlie Roddy and further provided Catto with the plaintiff's address in St. Louis. On August 20, 1980, defendant Catto arrested the plaintiff at her home in St. Louis, and she was taken to a police station in St. Louis where Catto interviewed her. He then returned to the Belleville area where he continued his investigation by interviewing John Holmes on August 26, 1980. Catto testified that John ...

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