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Bramlett v. Champaign Police Dep't

September 20, 2006

EMANUEL V. BRAMLETT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CHAMPAIGN POLICE DEPARTMENT, OFFICER GREGORY MANZANA, OFFICER JAMES BEDNARZ, OFFICER THOMAS PETRILLI, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael P. McCUSKEY Chief U.S. District Judge

OPINION

On October 5, 2005, Plaintiff Emanuel Bramlett filed a pro se complaint against Defendants Champaign Police Department, Officer Gregory Manzana, Officer James Bednarz, and Officer James Petrilli pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that he was falsely arrested and subjected to excessive force in connection with his arrest on the charge of aggravated battery on October 26, 2003. On July 26, 2006, Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (#38), and the matter is now fully briefed. For the reasons that follow, the Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

FACTS

On the night of October 25, 2003, Plaintiff Emanuel Bramlett attended a party at the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity house in Champaign, Illinois. Bramlett was not a member of the fraternity, but Bramlett testified at his ensuing criminal trial that there was an open invitation to the party. Bramlett arrived at the party between 11:30 p.m. on October 25, 2003, and 12:15 a.m. on October 26, 2003. When Bramlett arrived, there were approximately 200 to 300 people outside. People were located in the street, in the front yard of the house, and on the porch. There were approximately 150 people inside the house. The majority of these people was located on the first floor of the house. There were 10 to 15 people located on the staircase leading to the second floor where the bedrooms were located.

Bramlett proceeded to the second floor where he tried to start a conversation with a woman who was going into one of the bedrooms. After the woman left, Bramlett began playing with a dog which was in a cage in the hallway on the second floor. A man approached Bramlett and told him to "step down." A fight ensued between Bramlett and the man. According to Bramlett, the man punched Bramlett although Bramlett is not sure where the punch landed. When Bramlett began defending himself, he was attacked by a group of between 10 and 15 people. These people began punching and kicking Bramlett. The fight led to Bramlett tumbling down the staircase. The fight continued out onto the porch. Bramlett was on the floor of the porch being kicked and punched by the group of people, and Bramlett attempted to get them off of him.

Officers Bednarz and Petrilli of the Champaign Police Department were dispatched to the party at approximately 1:00 a.m. on October 26, 2003. Officer Bednarz was initially asked to block the street with his car due to the large number of people in the area. Bednarz and Petrilli initially tried to monitor the crowd. After the officers had been there approximately 30 minutes, Bednarz heard breaking glass and turned his attention to the front porch of the house. Bednarz and Petrilli then approached the house. Bednarz saw 10 to 15 people involved in a fight coming out the front door of the house. Bednarz went up the stairs of the porch and identified himself, but the fight continued. Bednarz testified he saw Bramlett on his back on the ground outside of the door kicking at people around him. Bednarz discharged pepper spray into the crowd. After the pepper spray was discharged, those involved in the fight began backing away from each other.

As soon as the punching and kicking stopped, Bramlett was picked up off the ground by Officers Bednarz and Petrilli. Bramlett acknowledges that the police needed to break up the fight. Initially, Bramlett did not realize it was police who had picked him up. Bramlett pleaded with the officers, asking them what was happening. Bednarz testified Bramlett started pulling away from the officers, and Bednarz could feel Bramlett's arms tightening under his clothing. Bednarz then advised Petrilli to handcuff Bramlett. Bednarz further indicated Bramlett was not responding to their commands and would pull his arms in the opposite way the officers were directing them. Petrilli also testified that Bramlett was verbally and physically resistant. Bramlett admits he may have struggled in the first few seconds after being picked up off the porch.

Officer Manzana had been on patrol at the time. Manzana parked his car and approached the house where he observed Officers Bednarz and Petrilli. Manzana testified that he observed Bramlett backing away from Bednarz and Petrilli and keeping his arms from them. Manzana assisted Bednarz and Petrilli in handcuffing Bramlett. Manzana testified that Bramlett was yelling and flailing his arms. After he was handcuffed, Bramlett was taken down the stairs from the porch and towards the police squad car.

Officer Bednarz testified Bramlett did not cooperate when he was being led to the squad car. Manzana walked on the left side of Bramlett, and Bednarz walked on the right side of Bramlett. Bednarz testified that the officers had to "tug him" and "lift up on his arms." Bramlett had difficulties walking across the lawn to the squad car, and fell down once. Manzana testified that Bramlett's eyes were bloodshot and alcohol could be smelled on his breath. Petrilli testified similarly. Bednarz testified that while Bramlett was being walked to the car he heard Officer Manzana say, "He spit on me." Bednarz testified that he then saw Manzana pushing Bramlett's face away from Manzana. Manzana testified that he pushed Bramlett's face away so he could not spit on him again. Bramlett testified that while being walked to the car, Officer Manzana punched him in the left eye. Bramlett is not sure whether Manzana used a closed fist or not. Manzana then stepped away from Bramlett and returned to the porch where he spoke with Jason Carter, a resident of the house. According to Manzana, Carter informed him that Bramlett had been found in an upstairs bedroom of the house and refused to leave when asked.

When the officers and Bramlett reached the squad car, Bramlett was searched for weapons. Officers had to physically spread Bramlett's legs to accomplish this. Petrilli testified Bramlett did not cooperate with the patdown and was difficult to get in the squad car. Bramlett testified Officers Bednarz and Petrilli pushed him into the squad car. Officer Bednarz testified that Bramlett was uncooperative when they put him in the car, and Bednarz had to force Bramlett into the car by putting his hand down on Bramlett's head.

While he was in the squad car being transported to the jail, Bramlett complained that his handcuffs were too tight and that his eyes were burning from the pepper spray discharge. It took approximately 5 to 10 minutes for Bramlett to arrive at the Champaign County Jail. Once Bramlett arrived at the jail, his handcuffs were removed. Bramlett did not request medical treatment at the jail, nor did he seek medical attention after his release. After the events of the night of October 25, 2006, Bramlett suffered a fat lip, a cut on his nose, and a black eye. Bramlett was charged with aggravated battery based upon the allegation that he spit on Officer Manzana while being escorted to the squad car. Bramlett's first trial on this charge resulted in a hung jury. On retrial, Bramlett was acquitted of the charge.

ANALYSIS

Summary judgment is granted "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must decide, based on the evidence of record, whether there is any material dispute of fact that requires a trial. Waldridge v. American Hoechst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 920 (7th Cir. 1994). In reaching this decision, the court must consider the evidence in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 158-59 (1970). The burden of establishing that no genuine issue of material fact exists rests with the movant. Jakubiec v. Cities Serv. Co., 844 F.2d 470, 473 (7th Cir. 1988). Furthermore, this court is to construe pro se filings liberally. Anderson v. Hardman, 241 F.3d 544, 545 (7th Cir. 2001).

Bramlett's first claim under § 1983 is that there was not sufficient probable cause to support his arrest on October 26, 2003. In their motion for summary judgment, Defendants raise the defense of qualified immunity. Government officials are shielded from liability insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly-established constitutional rights of which a reasonable person should have known. See Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). "Whether a defendant is entitled to a qualified immunity defense depends on the objective legal reasonableness of the defendant's actions assessed in light of clearly established law." Kelley v. Myler, 149 F.3d 641, 648 (7th Cir. 1998). In this context, an officer is entitled to qualified immunity if a reasonable officer could have believed he had probable cause for the arrest. Sornberger v. City of Knoxville, 434 F.3d 1006, 1014 (7th Cir. 2006). "Probable cause exists if the totality of the facts and circumstances known to a reasonable arresting officer would support the belief that the suspect has committed or is committing a crime." Lawrence v. Kenosha County, 391 ...


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