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Mutter v. Sanders

May 4, 2009

GENE A. MUTTER AND LEONARD M. RICE, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
GLENN SANDERS, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS A CONSERVATION OFFICER FOR THE ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES; AND MATT LENTZ, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS A CONSERVATION OFFICER FOR THE ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard Mills United States District Judge

OPINION

RICHARD MILLS, U.S. District Judge

On the evening of November 8, 2005, an all-white deer*fn1 was shot and killed outside Pittsfield in Pike County, Illinois.

This is illegal in Illinois.

The Plaintiffs were criminally charged, tried at bench and acquitted.

All-white whitetail deer are protected by Illinois law and it is unlawful to knowingly hunt, shoot, pursue, lure, kill, destroy, capture, gig or spear, trap or ensnare, or harass an all-white deer, or attempt to do so. See 520 ILCS 5/2.24; 520 ILCS 5/1.2o. Defendants Glenn Sanders, a Conservation Police Sergeant, and Conservation Police Officer Matt Lentz investigated the killing for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Plaintiffs Gene A. Mutter and Leonard "Mark" Rice were arrested and cited for illegally transporting bows, unlawful taking of protected wildlife, and wanton waste of wildlife.

Following a bench trial in State court, Mutter and Rice were found not guilty of the offenses of illegal taking of an all-white deer and killing protected wildlife without retrieving it. The Pike County State's Attorney dismissed the charge of possession of an uncased bow in a vehicle.

I. INTRODUCTION

The Plaintiffs filed this suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Sanders and Lentz, alleging that one or both of the Defendants violated their rights under the Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, by subjecting them to unlawful interrogation, detention, arrest and deprivation of property. They also assert two state law claims for false arrest and imprisonment and malicious prosecution.

The Defendants contend that they are entitled to summary judgment for several reasons: (1) Lentz was not personally involved in the complained-of constitutional violations*fn2 ; (2) the Plaintiffs have not asserted a constitutional violation relating to their "unlawful interrogation" claim; (3) Sanders had probable cause for the Plaintiffs' arrest and detention; (4) the Plaintiffs' property was lawfully seized; (5) Mutter's vehicle was lawfully searched; and (6) the Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity because their alleged conduct was not clearly established to be violative of the Plaintiffs' constitutional rights. The Defendants also assert that they are entitled to summary judgment on the Plaintiffs' state law claims.

II. BACKGROUND

On November 8, 2005, Timothy Light was hunting in an area near Pittsfield, Illinois, where an all-white deer was shot. Light observed the shooting from a nearby deer stand and reported the incident to his outfitter, Gearold Smith, who forwarded information to law enforcement directly and through his son Todd Smith. Soon after Light reported the shooting to him, Gearold Smith observed a vehicle which generally matched the description given to him by Light. The truck was less than one mile away from the field where the deer was shot. Mutter is the owner of a 2006 black, Ford F-250, extended cab, diesel pick-up truck with cab lights. Mutter and Rice occupied that truck on that evening.

The truck was parked in front of a residence on Dutton Street. Sanders observed through the vehicle's windows two bows that appeared to be uncased or not otherwise rendered inoperable. Before approaching the house, Sanders observed mud on the tires and sides of the vehicle. Mutter told Sanders that he and Rice had spent the afternoon and evening deer hunting, and later rode around looking for deer.

The Plaintiffs, who are both from Pennsylvania, stated that they traveled back into Pittsfield by going by the "ag building." The building that houses what was previously called the U.S. Department of Agriculture, now the U.S. Farm Services Agency, is located on the west side of Pittsfield, just south of the field where the deer was shot. According to Rice, however, he and Mutter had driven by the "ag building" on the east side of Pittsfield en route to their hunt site. They did not pass the "ag building" on the way back from the hunt. The Plaintiffs claim that they drove directly from the hunt site to the residence on Dutton Street, where they rented the basement along with two other hunters. Sanders testified that when asked how they "got into town," the Plaintiffs told him they went by the "ag building," which Sanders understood to be the building on the west side of Pittsfield, near the area where the white deer was shot.

The Plaintiffs allege that the Illinois State Police inquired about a number of things, including the ownership of the truck. The troopers indicated that the truck was involved in a crime and that a conservation officer was en route. Trooper Stambaugh stated that although he was aware that a .22 rifle had been used in the shooting of the white deer, he could not locate such a rifle. He did not find a muzzle loader. The troopers also found antlers from Mutter's deer kill the previous day. Sanders arrived at the Dutton Street residence about twenty minutes after the troopers.

Upon Sanders's entry into the basement, the atmosphere dramatically changed. Sanders told Mutter, "You come upstairs with me," and both Plaintiffs submitted to his authority. The Plaintiffs allege that Sanders told each Plaintiff that the other had confessed to having a rifle, though neither had a gun. Sanders claimed that he had found blood on the inside tailgate during the search. It retained some moisture. Mutter advised Sanders that he had shot a deer the day before.

Following the interrogation, Sanders searched Mutter's truck. According to Sanders, when he initially arrived at the location, by using his flashlight he noticed a spotlight, which is not illegal in Illinois, on the passenger side on the floor board. He claimed to see two unlocked bows in plain view in the back seat. Sanders found no guns in the truck.

Following the search and a telephone call from Lentz, Sanders formally placed Mutter and Rice under arrest for the three offenses. The Plaintiffs were handcuffed and transported ...


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