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Steidl v. City of Paris

March 31, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Harold A. Baker United States District Judge


On May 27, 2005, the plaintiff, Gordon Randy Steidl ("Steidl"), filed a thirty-eight page complaint asserting eleven federal and state law claims for relief. Four of those claims allege violations of Steidl's constitutional rights; he brings those claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which forms the basis for this court's jurisdiction.*fn1

Steidl names as defendants a number of law enforcement officials, including police chief Gene Ray ("Ray") and detective James Parrish ("Parrish") from the City of Paris police department, former Illinois State Police officer Jack Eckerty ("Eckerty"), former Edgar County State's Attorney Michael McFatridge ("McFatridge"), and Illinois State Police employees Steven M. Fermon ("Fermon"), Diane Carper ("Carper"), Charles E. Brueggemann ("Brueggemann"), Andre Parker ("Parker") and Kenneth Kaupus ("Kaupus"). The City of Paris ("the City") and Edgar County ("the County") are also named as defendants. Steidl asserts his federal claims against the individual defendants in Counts I, II, and III, and his federal claim against the City in Count IV.


The court is familiar with the general allegations of this case. In 1987, Steidl and co-defendant Herb Whitlock were convicted of the murder of Edgar County, Illinois residents Dyke and Karen Rhoads. Steidl was initially sentenced to death, but in 1999, after pursuing a direct appeal and post-conviction petition, Steidl was resentenced to life imprisonment. In June 2003, Steidl's federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus was granted; the court ordered that Steidl be released or retried because his "acquittal was reasonably probable if the jury had heard all of the evidence." Steidl v. Walls, 267 F. Supp. 2d 919, 940 (C.D. Ill. 2003). The Illinois Attorney General's office declined to retry the case after her investigation led to the conclusion that evidence favorable to the defense had never been disclosed to Steidl's counsel. Steidl was released from prison in May 2004.

Six motions are now pending: a motion to dismiss by defendants Fermon, Carper, Brueggemann, Parker and Kaupus (collectively, "the ISP defendants") [#51]; a motion to dismiss by McFatridge [#56]; a motion to dismiss by the County [#57]; and a motion to dismiss by Ray, Parrish and Eckerty [#59]. The ISP defendants have also filed a motion for leave to file a reply memorandum supporting their motion to dismiss [#74] and a motion to cite additional authority [#75].

Steidl has filed a separate response to each motion to dismiss.*fn2


In ruling on a motion to dismiss, a court must accept the plaintiff's well-pled allegations as true and draw reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Perkins v. Silverstein, 939 F.2d 463, 466 (7th Cir. 1991). Dismissal should be granted only if it appears that the plaintiff cannot prove any set of facts supporting his claim that would entitle him to relief. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957).

Steidl's claims allege wrongful conduct in the investigation and prosecution of the Rhoads murders and his continued imprisonment throughout his appeals and post-conviction review. Steidl's first three claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 allege violations of the Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Specifically, Steidl claims he was deprived of due process when he was falsely arrested, deprived of a fair trial, wrongfully convicted, imprisoned, and deprived of access to the courts.

I. McFatridge's motion to dismiss

McFatridge was the County's State's Attorney when Dyke and Karen Rhoads were murdered. Steidl alleges that Ray, Parrish, McFatridge and Eckerty*fn3 spent three days interrogating Darrell Herrington ("Herrington"), an individual of highly questionable veracity. Herrington, whom Steidl calls "the town drunk," admitted that he'd been drinking hard liquor nearly nonstop since noon on the day of the murders and, by the time the bars closed, Herrington was stumbling drunk and lapsing into unconsciousness. Herrington initially stated that two men, named Jim and Ed, committed the murders. After three days of interrogation by Ray, Parrish, McFatridge and Eckerty, Herrington identified Steidl and Whitlock as the murderers. Herrington later underwent a polygraph test. The examiner concluded the results were consistent with "not telling the truth." Herrington's statement did not provide the probable cause needed to arrest Steidl and Whitlock. Steidl alleges that Ray, Parrish, McFatridge and Eckerty continued to ply Herrington with rewards, liquor and even hypnosis in order to elicit the false testimony needed to arrest Steidl and Whitlock.

When Herrington failed to provide the men with the "evidence" they were looking for, they turned their attention to Deborah Rienbolt ("Rienbolt"), another individual of dubious veracity. Rienbolt, whom Parrish had coerced into becoming an informant on a prior occasion, was a known alcoholic and drug addict on felony probation. Rienbolt was originally accused of committing or participated in the murders, but after continued harassment and coercion (including physical force), Rienbolt provided the investigators with a knife that belonged to her husband; Rienbolt stated that Whitlock had used that knife in the murder.*fn4 Several other witnesses were coerced and manipulated into giving false statements corroborating portions of Rienbolt's testimony. The statements of Rienbolt and the other individuals were reduced to official police reports. Information from the witnesses' statements that contradicted physical and other evidence were suppressed from the official police reports. Rienbolt was given a promise of leniency, relocation expenses, drug treatment, and other rewards, and a threat that she would be charged with capital murder if her testimony at trial was inconsistent with her statement. The coercion and circumstances leading to the fabricated testimony, the existence of inconsistent physical and other evidence, and the deal made with Rienbolt were not divulged to Steidl.

McFatridge argues that the claims against him must be dismissed because he is immune from suit arising from his duties as the County's prosecutor. When a prosecutor's function is judicial or quasi-judicial, he is entitled to absolute immunity; if the function is administrative or investigatory, he is entitled to qualified immunity. Spiegel v Rabinovitz, 121 F.3d 251, 257-58 (7th Cir. 1997).

A. Absolute immunity "The actions of a prosecutor are not absolutely immune merely because they are performed by a prosecutor." Buckley v. Fitzsimmons, 509 U.S. 259, 273 (1993). Rather, the court's inquiry focuses on the conduct giving rise to the alleged constitutional violation. Buckley, 509 U.S. at 273.

"There is a difference between the advocate's role in evaluating evidence and interviewing witnesses as he prepares for trial, on the one hand, and the detective's role in searching for the clues and corroboration that might give him probable cause to recommend that a suspect be arrested, on the other hand. When a prosecutor performs the investigative functions normally performed by a detective or police officer, it is neither ...

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