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Lester v. City of Chicago

decided: September 17, 1987.


Appeal from United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 83 C 3479 -- Marvin E. Aspen, Judge.

Posner, Flaum and Manion, Circuit Judges.

Author: Manion

MANION, Circuit Judge

Betty Lester sued Daniel Leahy and Ernest Cain, two Chicago police officers, under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983.*fn1 Mrs. Lester's complaint arose from her arrest for disorderly conduct at a Chicago police station in May, 1979. Mrs. Lester alleged that Leahy and Cain arrested her without probable cause and that Leahy and Cain used excessive force in arresting her. A jury found for Leahy and Cain on both the no probable cause and excessive force claims.

On appeal, Mrs. Lester contends that the trial court improperly instructed the jury on both her excessive force and no probable cause to arrest claims. Mrs. Lester also contends that insufficient evidence existed for the jury to find that Leahy and Cain had probable cause to arrest her. We affirm the jury's verdict on the no probable cause to arrest claim. However, we reverse and remand for a new trial on Mrs. Lester's excessive force claim.


In the late afternoon on May 25, 1979, Mrs. Lester received a telephone call from her father, Alfred Harmon. Mr. Harmon told Mrs. Lester he had been arrested and asked her to come to the Sixth District police station in Chicago to get him out. Mrs. Lester drove to the Sixth District station, arriving sometime between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m. At trial, the evidence revealed conflicting stories about what happened after Mrs. Lester arrived at the Sixth District station.

Mrs. Lester claims the facts were as follows. When she arrived at the Sixth District station one of the three officers at the front desk in the lobby, Sergeant Collins, told her to wait her turn to talk to the officers. Mrs. Lester waited, and then politely inquired about her father. Another officer at the desk, Sergeant Graffis, informed Mrs. Lester that the police did have her father in custody. Mrs. Lester inquired about the charge, and Sergeant Graffis informed her to ask the judge who signed the arrest warrant. The officers at the desk began to look at each other and smile.

According to Mrs. Lester, Sergeant Graffis' response to her inquiry about the charges against her father, and all the officers' behavior "shocked" and "amazed" her. Mrs. Lester, feeling the officers would not have treated her the same way if she were not black, told the officers, "You are white, prejudiced police officers." The officers stopped smiling, and someone (either Leahy or Cain) behind Mrs. Lester said, "Lady, if you don't shut up, we will arrest you." Mrs. Lester again began to speak to the officers at the front desk. Leahy and Cain grabbed Mrs. Lester and told her she was under arrest.

Mrs. Lester testified that after grabbing her, Leahy and Cain dragged her along the floor to the tactical office in the back of the station. Upon arriving at the tactical office, Leahy balled up his fist and drew back his arm as if to hit Mrs. Lester. Mrs. Lester did not recall if Leahy actually hit her. However, Mrs. Lester did state that Leahy kneed her in the back and handcuffed her tightly. Cain then obtained another pair of handcuffs. To secure Mrs. Lester, he fastened one end of those handcuffs to the handcuffs Leahy had already placed on Mrs. Lester, and fastened the other end of the handcuffs to a radiator in the tactical office.

Leahy's and Cain's evidence revealed a significantly different course of events. Leahy and Cain testified that they saw and heard Mrs. Lester shouting at the officers at the front desks, disrupting the activities at the police station. Leahy saw Mrs. Lester push other people out of her way to get to the front desk.*fn2 Other civilians in the area shied away from and wanted nothing to do with Mrs. Lester and her antics. According to Cain, "It didn't seem to me that anything was getting done other than Mrs. Lester hollering and screaming at the desk men." After Mrs. Lester ignored repeated warnings by various officers to claim down or face arrest, Leahy and Cain arrested her.

After Leahy and Cain told Mrs. Lester she was under arrest, she ran from them and grabbed onto a pole near the front desk. Leahy, Cain, and other officers pried her hands from the pole and Leahy and Cain walked her toward a door leading to a hallway that led to the back of the station. Mrs. Lester broke from Leahy and Cain and grabbed hold of the doorjamb. Leahy and Cain freed Mrs. Lester from the doorjamb and continued walking her down the hallway toward the tactical office. Mrs. Lester refused to walk under her own power down the hallway, despite Leahy's and Cain's requests and their efforts to support her.

After arriving at the tactical office, Cain handcuffed Mrs. Lester, who was struggling the entire time. After Chain handcuffed Mrs. Lester, she began jumping around and kicking chairs and tables. Because he feared Mrs. Lester might injure herself if not further restrained, Cain obtained another pair of handcuffs and used them to secure Mrs. Lester to the radiator. Both Leahy and Cain denied ever hitting, kicking, or kneeing Mrs. Lester. Leahy and Cain also denied drawing back their fists as if to hit Mrs. Lester.

Mrs. Lester claimed that she suffered bruises to the back of her leg when Leahy and Cain dragged her down the hallway. She also claimed that the tight handcuffs scratched and bruised her wrists. Mrs. Lester stated that she was sore for two weeks after her arrest.



Mrs. Lester contends the district court improperly instructed the jury on her excessive force claim. The district court gave three instructions on excessive force:

A person can be subject to an unlawful seizure under the Fourth Amendment if he or she is subjected to "unreasonable force," as that phrase is defined in these instructions, while being arrested by a law enforcement officer, even if such ...

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