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12/30/88 Karen Veach, v. Alfred L. Cross

December 30, 1988





532 N.E.2d 1069, 178 Ill. App. 3d 102, 127 Ill. Dec. 240 1988.IL.1948

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Coles County; the Hon. William J. Sunderman, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE GREEN delivered the opinion of the court. KNECHT and SPITZ, JJ., concur.


On September 25, 1981, plaintiff Karen Veach filed a complaint in the circuit court of Cook County against various defendants including the City of Mattoon (City) and its chief of police, Raymond Senteney (chief). The case was transferred to the circuit court of Coles County where, on December 7, 1982, an 11-count amended complaint was filed. On this appeal we are only concerned with count VII, which is against both the City and the chief in his representative capacity, count IX, against the chief in his representative capacity, and count X, against the City. A jury trial was held as to those counts and judgments were entered (1) on January 27, 1988, on verdicts directed in favor of defendants as to counts IX and X; and (2) on a verdict without direction in favor of defendants as to counts VII. Final judgments have been entered as to other counts. Plaintiff has appealed the judgments as to counts VII, IX, and X. We affirm.

This suit arises from an occurrence in and near Mattoon in Coles County. On September 28, 1979, plaintiff left the parking lot of the Mattoon Holiday Inn in a vehicle driven by a friend, Alfred Cross, Jr. They were chased by a Mattoon police squad car driven by Officer Joe Plummer and later by another Mattoon officer in another squad car. During the chase, the vehicle in which plaintiff was a passenger crashed into a ditch, causing the injury to plaintiff.

Count VII alleged the City and the chief were guilty of negligence which was a proximate cause of plaintiff's injuries in that each (1) "[carelessly] and negligently failed to timely, properly, and adequately identify himself as a peace officer"; (2) drove at a dangerous rate of speed; (3) negligently used force in trying to stop the vehicle; and (4) used unsafe methods in making the chase. The conduct alleged apparently is intended to refer to that of Officer Plummer, who was an employee of the City. Counts IX and X were brought pursuant to Federal civil rights legislation (42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1982)) and alleged violations of plaintiff's fourteenth amendment rights. Count IX alleged the chief, operating under color of State law, recklessly and wantonly engaged in the conduct described in count VII. Count X alleged the conduct previously described as a proximate cause of plaintiff's injury resulted from the City's failure to establish adequate rules and regulations and provide adequate training for and supervision of its officers.

Plaintiff's most serious contention on appeal is that the circuit court erred in refusing to admit into evidence an evidence deposition of Robert DiGrazia concerning his expert opinion as to accepted standards of care to be exercised by police officers in chasing and taking criminals into custody. She also contends the court erred in (1) directing verdicts as to counts IX and X; (2) ruling on motions in limine ; (3) removing a juror during the course of trial; and (4) permitting the introduction of (a) documentary evidence concerning the bad character of Cross, and (b) a police report. Plaintiff maintains the errors were so gross that their cumulative effect denied her due process. The issues concerning the refusal to admit the evidence deposition and the direction of verdicts involve intricate legal questions, but, as we will explain, the other questions raised do not concern serious matters. Any error which could have occurred falls far short of depriving plaintiff of due process.

Discussion of the evidence at trial concerning the occurrence is a necessary preface to an understanding of the issues raised. Most of the testimonial evidence in that regard came from plaintiff and Plummer. They differed sharply. According to plaintiff, she drove to the Holiday Inn to get Cross. As he came through the parking lot towards the vehicle, an officer in a police car pulled beside her and spoke to her, and, as Cross walked in front of the police car, the officer spoke to him but did not attempt to restrain him. She said Cross then entered her car on the driver's side, and she moved to the passenger side. According to Plummer's testimony, he drove by that car and saw Cross and an unidentified person in the vehicle.

Plaintiff testified that Cross drove from the lot into a subdivision, driving in excess of the speed limit, but she saw no police cars following. She stated Cross drove south on a rural road called Odd Fellows Road, whereupon she heard a noise like a firecracker, and Cross accelerated the vehicle's speed to 80 to 85 miles per hour. She testified she then heard repeated bangs like gunfire, and their vehicle then skidded into the ditch. According to plaintiff, pursuing officers then approached with guns drawn, one of whom ordered her to search Cross to see if Cross had a gun. She said another officer then put a gun to her head and told her she should obey the other officer.

Plummer testified that, prior to seeing Cross in the parking lot, he had information Cross was wanted on felony warrants. Plummer said that upon seeing Cross he turned his vehicle around while radioing to headquarters for confirmation as to the warrants. Plummer said that, when the department confirmed the existence of the warrants, he drove after Cross, attempting to catch up with him. According to Plummer, he lost sight of the Cross vehicle momentarily but then saw the car at a stoplight with its lights out. Plummer stated he then activated his red lights and siren and pulled beside Cross, who had driven into a subdivision, whereupon Cross sped off through the subdivision onto a rural road driving at a speed in excess of 90 miles per hour. Plummer testified he followed the Cross car but at a slower speed and eventually came to a "T" intersection where the Cross car had been driven into a ditch. Plummer admitted he had drawn his gun at that point but said he did so because he knew Cross had carried weapons in the past and thought he might be armed.

Other law enforcement officers presented some testimony concerning the episode of the chase. Mattoon police officer Cain stated he was on patrol in the area of the chase and, when he heard Plummer's transmission about his pursuit, he activated his lights and siren and attempted to catch up with Plummer. Cain testified he was able to follow the vehicles driven by Cross and Plummer after they entered the subdivision and until the crash. He said he fired no shots and heard none coming from Plummer's vehicle. Coles County deputy sheriffs Arthur Beier and Mark Petrus testified they also heard Plummer's transmission and arrived at the scene after the crash. Both stated they drew their weapons until assured they no longer needed that protection.

We consider first the ruling in regard to admission of the DiGrazia evidence deposition. His testimony indicated he was a consultant in criminal Justice with considerable experience, expertise and prestige in regard to such matters. The substance of the opinion to which he testified was that, assuming the correctness of plaintiff's testimony, the conduct of the police officers of the City in (1) not arresting Cross at the scene; (2) then engaging in a high speed chase of the Cross vehicle; and (3) firing shots did not meet accepted standards of police work. The record does not contain a transcript of the pretrial proceedings during which the trial court initially ruled on the defendants' original motion to preclude admission of the ...

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