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Coleman v. Wiencek

April 13, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Matthew F. Kennelly, District Judge


Dorothy Coleman, the administrator of the estate of her late brother Johnnie Russell, has sued the City of Aurora, Aurora police officer Jeffrey Wiencek, and Provena Hospitals. She alleges that Wiencek and Aurora used excessive force that caused Russell's death in violation of his federal constitutional rights. She also asserts wrongful death claims against all the defendants.

The Court previously denied Provena Hospitals' motion for summary judgment. Aurora and Wiencek have also moved for summary judgment. For the following reasons, the Court denies the motion.


On a motion for summary judgment, the Court draws "all reasonable inferences from undisputed facts in favor of the nonmoving party and [views] the disputed evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Harney v. Speedway Super-America, LLC, 526 F.3d 1099, 1104 (7th Cir. 2008).

Russell was admitted to the emergency department of Provena Mercy Medical Center (Provena) in Aurora on November 17, 2006. Coleman alleges that Russell suffered from Dilantin toxicity, altered mental stability, paranoid personality, and other medical conditions. Provena personnel evaluated him and recommended him for placement in the psychiatric ward.

Early the next morning, a nurse discovered that Russell was in possession of a handgun. Officer Liz Robinson, who was stationed at Provena that same morning, was preparing to leave the hospital when a member of the hospital's security staff approached her concerning Russell. The security officer described Russell as an uncooperative, combative patient. Robinson radioed Aurora Police Department (APD) dispatch to inform them that she was detained at the hospital due to a combative patient on the fifth floor. Robinson testified that in the elevator on her way up to the fifth floor, she heard a transmission on the security guard's radio saying that the patient possibly had a gun. She got on her police radio and asked the dispatcher to send other officers and a supervisor to the hospital to assist her.

When Robinson reached the fifth floor, a nurse informed her that he had gone into Russell's room, Room 532, to give him medication. The nurse fled the room when Russell pointed a small, silver handgun at him. Robinson walked towards Room 532 with her weapon drawn. She stood with her back against the wall to the left of the room's doorframe. Because the door was completely open, she was able to peer into the room with her back against the wall by just breaking the plane of the doorframe with the right side of her face.

Robinson testified that when she looked into the room, Russell was facing the door and standing a few feet into the room, no more than ten feet away from her. She noticed that Russell had a roommate in the room with him, and that at least one oxygen tank was also in the room. When Russell saw her, he raised a silver, short double barrel handgun in his right hand and pointed it at her face. She immediately moved her head out of the doorway and took cover in the room next to Russell's room. She stood in a corner at the doorway of that room and had visibility of the doorway of Room 532, so she could see Russell if he walked out of his room.

Robinson testified that she had a conversation with Russell, although she could not see him as they were talking because he was inside his room. She stated that Russell told her to shoot him and said that if she did not shoot him, he would shoot her. He repeated these statements several times before the backup officers that Robinson had requested arrived. Robinson assured Russell that she was there to help him and that she did not want to harm him.

Once Russell stopped yelling and sounded calm, Robinson looked into his room a second time. She testified that he was standing in the same spot and that when he saw her, he dropped the gun to his right side and then put it behind his back. She moved back to the other room and continued talking to him. Robinson testified that eventually, Russell pushed the door shut. She continued to talk to him through the closed door to keep him calm until Sergeant Sibon arrived and tapped her on the shoulder. Sibon talked to Russell and convinced him to let his roommate out of the room. Two sergeants (including Sibon) and other officers arrived on the scene and evacuated others from the fifth floor. A standoff between Russell and the APD followed for the next several hours.

At or about 8:45 a.m., Officer Shireen Long arrived to serve as a hostage negotiator. Sibon instructed Long to speak with Robinson before speaking with Russell. Long also asked to speak with medical personnel familiar with Russell's condition. They informed her that Russell "was taking Halidol for depression and that he had some mental issues." Long Dep. 23. Long was then positioned just outside the door to Room 532, while another officer stood nearby protecting her with a shield. Sibon instructed Long to communicate with Russell, but told her that she was not to open the door or enter the room under any circumstances.

Once Long began communicating with Russell through the door, she believed him to be delusional because he was incoherent and emotionally unstable. He would joke and make fun of her, talk about himself, or talk to himself. And he repeatedly said that he would kill Long and anyone who came through the door.

Lieutenant Paul Nelson arrived to the hospital with the APD's "Special Response Team" (SRT). Long informed the SRT that Russell was delusional and emotionally unstable and had threatened to kill her and others. The SRT reconfigured the hallways, placed Long twelve to fourteen feet away from the door to Russell's room, and created a barrier. Nelson placed Officers Kevin Triplett, Jefferey Wiencek and Robert Hillgoth in a hallway approximately eight to ten feet away from the door to Room 532 behind a ballistics blanket that hung from the ceiling. Though the blanket did not cover the entire width of the hallway (it left a gap of at least eighteen inches), it is designed to protect against most handgun rounds hitting the blanket. Hillgoth was armed with a less-than- lethal, ...

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