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Force v. City of Chicago

August 16, 2010


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


Plaintiff Timothy Force has sued the City of Chicago and Chicago police officers Eddie Garrett, John Williamson, Leo Crotty, Anna McLean, and Ronald Carlson. He asserts claims against the officers for false arrest, excessive force, and malicious prosecution, and against the City under the doctrine of respondeat superior on the state law claim, indemnification of the officers under Illinois statute, and Monell liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Court severed the Monell claim. Defendants have moved for summary judgment on all other claims except the excessive force claim (and the indemnification claim to the extent it concerns the excessive force claim). For the reasons stated below, the Court grants the motion in part and denies it in part.


On the evening of November 8, 2008, Julio Villalta, an employee at the Circuit City electronics store at 1030 W. North Avenue in Chicago, saw Force enter the store and walk to the compact disc (CD) department. Villalta has testified that he saw Force tear the wrapper off at least one CD and place the CD in his coat pocket. Villalta reported this to a store manager, Jay Nelson. Nelson monitored Force for a few minutes and then directed Villalta to assist Force with purchasing a stack of DVDs that Force had picked out. In the meantime, Nelson called the police. Force denies placing a Circuit City CD in his pocket. He claims that the CD in his pocket was one that belonged to his wife that he had with him before he entered the store. Force also denies unwrapping a CD but admits he tore the wrapper off one DVD so he could read its release date.

Force attempted to purchase the stack of DVDs using what turned out to be his wife's credit card. The cashier told him that he was not authorized to use the card. He says he asked the cashier to call his home (which was across the street) and that his wife would okay his use of the card. Force also says he told Nelson that he had unwrapped a DVD, and he says he offered to pay for it. He says that Nelson replied, "Okay, that's fine."

Meanwhile, officers Williamson and Garrett were dispatched to the Circuit City store to respond to a "disturbance" there. Nelson told Williamson, the first officer to arrive, that Force had been seen tearing the wrappers off CDs and putting a CD in his coat pocket. There is evidence that Nelson told Williamson that he was willing to let Force go if Force returned or paid for the CD.

Williamson approached Force at the counter. Force cannot recall the particulars of their conversation. Williamson testified that he asked to search Force for the CD and that Force refused. Force denies this. There is evidence that Williamson told Force that the store manager would let him go if he returned or paid for the CD. Williamson did not tell Force that he was under arrest and did not take him into custody.

Garrett arrived at the store while Williamson and Force were talking. Nelson did not speak to Garrett but rather simply pointed at Force. Garrett then approached Force from behind. According to Force, a man behind him (who turned out to be Garrett) grabbed and bear-hugged him without warning and without advising that he was a police officer. Force says he did nothing to provoke or justify this. Garrett claims he saw Force strike Williamson. Williamson claims that Force grabbed his hand and pushed it into his chest and that Garrett then grabbed Force from behind and tried to put Force onto the counter. There are inconsistencies between the accounts of Garrett and Williamson.

Nelson, Villalta, and Garrett all testified that Force then attempted to jump over the counter. Force denies this. Nelson claims Force used his hand to push off of Williamson while trying to jump over the counter. Force denies making contact with Williamson, unless it was the result of being swung onto the counter by Garrett.

Williamson and Garrett then took Force to the ground and attempted to handcuff him. After they had handcuffed Force, Williamson announced that Force was under arrest, and the officers brought Force back to his feet. Nelson and Villalta stated that they saw Force struggling with the officers and screaming profanity at them while they tried to arrest him. Garrett testified that Force stomped on his feet numerous times during or after the arrest. Force denies struggling, using profanity, or stomping on Garrett's feet. Force does not deny screaming, and he admits to squirming "maybe a little bit" during the arrest.

After the arrest, Williamson searched Force and recovered a CD and a CD jewel case. Nelson looked up the CD and confirmed that it belonged to Circuit City and had not been purchased. No charge of theft or attempted theft was ever made against Force, however -- perhaps because he had not taken or attempted to take the CD (or any other Circuit City property) from the store, or perhaps because it was unclear whether the CD might have already belonged to Force as he claimed.

Meanwhile, officers Carlson and McLean arrived at the store in response to a dispatch. They took over the custody of Force and transported him to the police station. At the police station, both Williamson and Garrett signed complaints of battery against Force. Williamson alleged that Force struck him in the chest, and Garrett alleged that Force stomped on his feet. Garrett also signed a complaint against Force for resisting arrest. Villalta testified that he could not recall signing a criminal complaint. The record includes, however, a complaint against Force, purportedly signed by Villalta, for criminal damage to property. Neither Carlson nor McLean made any complaints against Force or filled out any paperwork regarding the arrest.

Captain Crotty, the watch commander at the police station that evening, approved probable cause on all four complaints. Before doing so, Crotty reviewed the arrest report and interviewed Williamson and Garrett. Williamson and Garrett told Crotty that Force had struck Williamson and stomped on Garrett's feet. Williamson and Garrett also told Crotty that Force had ripped off the cover to a CD and placed it in his pocket. Crotty then interviewed Force and asked him about what happened at the store. Force told Crotty that he had not done anything wrong and did not understand why he had been arrested. Force also said something about his wife's credit card, which Crotty did not understand.

Williamson attended the first court hearing on Force's case. At the second hearing, all four charges against Force were stricken with leave to reinstate ("SOL'd," in state court parlance) because no officer appeared. Although Williamson says he had requested notification of the second court hearing, notification was sent only to Garrett, who testified that he did not receive it because he was on vacation. Crotty had no records showing that Garrett was on vacation on ...

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