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Brooks v. City of Aurora

August 30, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable David H. Coar


Michael Brooks has filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Illinois law against the City of Aurora and three of its police officers (Officers George Lill, Garrett Wrobel, and Douglas Rashkow), alleging, among other things, false arrest, false imprisonment, and excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The defendants have moved for summary judgment. For the reasons given below, their motion is GRANTED.


On June 18, 2008, around 5:45 p.m. Officers George Lill and Matthew Hix of the Aurora Police Department were conducting surveillance of the La Baguette Bakery at 930 N. Farnsworth Road in Aurora, Illinois for possible narcotics transactions. Beyond that, Brooks and the officers tell two very different stories about the events giving rise to this lawsuit. The court sets forth the relevant facts as it must construe them, namely in the light most favorable to Brooks, and it recounts Defendants' conflicting version of events where doing so facilitates understanding of the issues presented by this motion.

Officer Hix contends that, during the surveillance operation, he noticed a silver Crown Victoria with custom rims turning westbound onto Sheffer Road from Farnsworth Road while watching the flow of people in and out of the bakery. As the vehicle passed in front of them, Hix asked Lill, "Is that Michael Brooks?" The officers could recognize Brooks and the vehicle "almost immediately" because they would see both "pretty frequently." In particular, they knew Brooks from the Maple Terrace Apartments, an apartment complex operated by the Aurora Housing Authority, where Brooks was a resident and the officers were or had been members of the Community Oriented Policing Division. The vehicle turned into and traveled through the parking lot that the officers were watching. Lill observed the vehicle for 10-15 seconds, and both officers got a good look at the driver; they were "absolutely positive" it was Brooks.

That made Lill suspicious. He would usually see Brooks's wife, Vicky Pryor, driving the Crown Victoria; indeed, this was the first time he had ever seen Brooks driving it. So he ran a LEADS check on Brooks, which revealed that his driver's license had been suspended. At the same time, the officers received a general dispatch to respond to a burglary in progress, which they did. Afterwards, they went back to the parking lot where they had seen Brooks but were unable to find him. Lill filled out a traffic ticket for Brooks, filed a police report indicating that he had observed Brooks driving on a suspended license, and completed a synopsis sheet and affidavit summarizing the basis for his application for an arrest warrant for Brooks. After Lill's sergeant approved his paperwork, the warrant application was forwarded to the Kane County State's Attorney's Office. A judge issued a warrant for Brooks's arrest on a charge of driving on a suspended license. Lill did not appear in court in connection with the warrant application.

Brooks, however, denies that the officers observed or could have observed him driving the Crown Victoria on June 18. Brooks testified, both by affidavit and at his deposition, that the Crown Victoria had broken down earlier in June; specifically, the voltage regulator, a solenoid switch that forms part of the ignition system, was burnt out. Since the vehicle would not even start, it was marooned in the Maple Terrace parking lot on June 18. Brooks had been waiting to get paid so that he could purchase the needed part, and a receipt from Carquest Auto Parts in Aurora indicates that he purchased a new solenoid for a "1992 full size Ford" on June 19, 2008. Further, Jacqueline Foster, a resident of Maple Terrace Apartments, testified by deposition that Brooks's vehicle was inoperable at the time. She knew because Brooks's wife usually drove her to the grocery store. Theresa Aguda, another neighbor, also testified that the vehicle was disabled sometime in June 2008, although she could not recall whether it was disabled on June 18 in particular. Brooks, for his part, testified at his deposition that he took the bus to and from work on June 18. The bus normally dropped him home around 5:40, and to the best of his recollection, that is where he would have been (if not still on the bus) at the time Officers Lill and Hix claim he was driving the Crown Victoria. He was nowhere near the area of 930 N. Farnworth Avenue on June 18.

Roughly three weeks later, on July 9, 2008, Lill met with Officers Rashkow and Wrobel to discuss meeting up at the Maple Terrace Apartments to patrol and, if Brooks was present, to execute the arrest warrant. Maple Terrace was not part of Lill's assigned patrol; as Lill testified, he was assigned to District 2 at the time, whereas Maple Terrace is in District 8, where he had been previously assigned and had become quite familiar with Maple Terrace and its residents. Lill rode solo in his patrol car (Hix, his partner, was on vacation at the time; hence his ad hoc alliance with Rashkow and Wrobel) while Rashkow and Wrobel rode together in theirs.

Shortly after 9 p.m., Lill pulled in to the Maple Terrace parking lot and saw Brooks sitting in a chair near the sidewalk, in the company of a couple other people. Lill ran another LEADS check on Brooks to determine whether the arrest warrant was still valid, which it was. He informed Rashkow and Wrobel that Brooks was at Maple Terrace, and they immediately made their way over "for officer safety reasons." Lill parked in the east parking lot, approached Brooks, and asked him to step over to the side to talk. They walked about twenty feet and began to talk. The parties agree that Lill asked Brooks whether he knew that his driver's license was suspended and that Brooks said yes. They also agree that Lill asked Brooks whether he knew that there was a warrant out for his arrest, that Brooks said he did not know, and that Brooks asked what the warrant was for. When Lill told him, Brooks denied that he had been driving on June 18. What happened after that is a matter of considerable dispute.

Brooks's version of events, as he told it at his deposition, goes as follows. He explained to Lill that his vehicle was inoperable and that Lill could not have seen him on June 18. Lill responded by telling Brooks that he was under arrest. Brooks said "okay;" he just wanted to go tell his wife that they were headed to the police station and ask her to bring his wallet and ID down to the station for him. Brooks "backtracked" or "back pedaled" away from Lill, towards his window, to call to his wife. At some point, Lill said something to the effect of, "[n]o, you're not going nowhere," or "you're not talking to nobody;" Brooks's testimony sometimes suggests this happened before he began to back away, but at other times Brooks clearly says it happened after he began to back away. In any event, when Lill asked him why he was walking away after being told that he was under arrest, Brooks said, "I'm walking because I want to know what the reason was." Brooks took a couple of steps backwards, turned around, and then Lill "came up behind" him. At that point, Brooks had turned back around, and Lill grabbed at Brooks's arm or wrist, attempting to get control of him. Lill again told Brooks he was under arrest and sprayed him in the face with "mace." (More precisely, it was oleoresin capsicum, more commonly known as pepper spray). Brooks threw up his arms in an effort to protect himself from the spray. Lill told him to get down, and Brooks went down, voluntarily, falling over a lawn chair. When he was on the ground, someone-Brooks thinks it was Officer Rashkow-sprayed him again. Brooks contends that the officers never called for an ambulance or procured any other assistance in ameliorating the effects of the pepper spray before transporting him to the police station.

Foster and Aguda both testified that the incident was laced with racial obscenities from Lill. Foster testified that as Lill initially approached Brooks, he said "I got you nigger" and then grabbed Brooks, slung him down, and sprayed him. Aguda testified that Lill approached Brooks and said, "You fucking nigger, you trying to run, you trying to get away from us." Brooks then yelled up to his wife to come down with his wallet and ID.

The parties have submitted identical copies of a video-only recording of part of the incident. There is no dispute that the recording was made with a video camera mounted on the dashboard of Rashkow and Wrobel's squad car that activated automatically when they turned on their lights and siren. As the squad car begins to turn into Maple Terrace, the video shows Brooks running backwards away from Lill. Brooks's arms are up and flailing, and Lill is attempting to grab hold of them. Lill catches up to Brooks (who has been moving backwards and thus facing Lill the whole time) and Brooks puts his arms straight out to the sides at shoulder height. As the squad car continues turning at this point-it had stopped to allow a bicycle to pass-there is a two-second interval during which the incident is not captured. Rashkow arrives on the scene just as the video resumes. At that point, Lill has his left arm fully extended with his left hand on Brooks's chest. At arm's length, he sprays Brooks in the face with pepper spray for one or two seconds. Still standing, Brooks bends over and tries to wipe his face with his shirt. Lill sprays him again, from a couple of feet away (nearly the entire width of the sidewalk), for no more than one second. This time, Brooks goes down, falling over a lawn chair. Lill and Rashkow handcuff Brooks while he is laying on his stomach, conduct a search of his person, and sit him upright on the ground. He remains there for the rest of the video, which lasts approximately five minutes from this point. The officers allow one of the other individuals present to wipe the pepper spray from Brooks's eyes and face with a towel.

Brooks was arrested and charged with driving on a suspended license and resisting a peace officer. He was transported to the Aurora Police Department, booked, and bonded out after spending the night in jail. ...

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