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Gordon Randy Steidl v. City of Paris

December 8, 2010

GORDON RANDY STEIDL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF PARIS, ET AL., DEFENDANTS. HERBERT WHITLOCK, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF PARIS, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Harold A. Baker United States District Judge

E-FILED Wednesday, 08 December, 2010 03:27:22 PM

Clerk, U.S. District Court, ILCD

ORDER ON ALL PENDING MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

These combined cases are before the court after remand from the Seventh Circuit to facilitate the parties' desire to attempt mediation and for a reasoned decision on all nine pending motions for summary judgment; there are five in Whitlock and four in Steidl.*fn1 In each motion the respective defendants claim judgment as a matter of law mainly on the questions of absolute immunity or qualified immunity. The defendant Marlow, and the others, also raise the question of insufficient evidence to find them liable. The court heretofore granted Marlow's summary judgment motion [Whitlock 169] in part and denied it in part in the order [Whitlock 367] that was vacated to facilitate mediation proceedings before Magistrate Judge David G. Bernthal. The court will reinstate that vacated order in this order. In the same vein, the court denied Edgar County's motion for summary judgment [Steidl 363,Whitlock 170] in the order [Steidl 460, Whitlock 366] that was vacated to facilitate mediation. The court adheres to that ruling and will reinstate the vacated order in this order.

There is no need to rehearse the underlying claims in these cases. They are succinctly and clearly summarized in the first paragraph of the Court of Appeals decision on the questions of immunity in the early stages of the litigation. See Steidl v. Fermon, 494 F.3d 623 (7th Cir. 2007).*fn2

As an initial matter the court will address the question of the parties' submission of agreed and disputed facts in the cases. The hundreds of pages on file in support and opposition to the motions are rife with the conflicting contentions of the parties about the interpretations to be placed upon the actions, statements and motivations of the actors in this tragedy. The agreed facts are not case dispositive. Far from it. The disputed material is voluminous, to understate the quantity. The court's jury deliberation room is filled with the deposition transcripts, exhibits, and documents provided by the parties in support of and opposition to the motions. The submissions contain thousands of pages of conflicting testimony and statements and would require credibility and weight decisions by the court in deciding what and whom to believe, a territory forbidden to the court.

For brief example, Herrington and Rienbolt were the State's primary witnesses to the crime. At the time, Herrington was a full-fledged alcoholic who rode around town on a bicycle because he had lost his driver's license. Did Ray, Parrish, and Eckerty isolate Herrington, provide him with alcohol, coerce him, and tell him what to say in his testimony? They deny it but Herrington has said they did all these things. Moreover, McFatridge allegedly helped Herrington get back his driver's license in exchange for Herrington's testimony. Was the witness Rienbolt -- an alcoholic and drug addict who experienced blackouts -- so easily manipulated and suggestible that she caved in to threats that she herself would be prosecuted for the murders? There is all sorts of evidence that Rienbolt was an unbelievable witness who would say anything and that Ray, Parrish, and Eckerty knew it and made use of her condition to secure her testimony. There is evidence that McFatridge was involved with Ray, Parrish and Eckerty in their investigation to fabricate the evidence against Steidl and Whitlock in their cases. To what extent is clearly at issue. Did McFatridge aid, abet, direct and encourage Ray, Parrish and Eckerty in their work? There is evidence that at one point he was in the hallway outside the room where Rienbolt was being questioned, and told Ray, Parrish, and Eckerty how to coerce Rienbolt into fabricating her story. The court is unable to conclude one way or the other without making credibility judgments and is left to wonder about a possible motive for McFatridge to silence Steidl for his telling the FBI shortly before the murders about McFatridge's alleged activities that, at best, were incompatible with his position as Edgar County State's Attorney.

Further, as to the ISP officials Brueggemann, Parker, Carper, Fermon and Kaupas, were they aware of the way the case against Steidl and Whitlock was prepared and prosecuted by McFatridge, Ray, Parrish and Eckerty? When were they aware and to what extent? Did they wittingly suppress any further investigation and, because it was "too politically sensitive" regarding the suspect Morgan (a campaign contributor to then-Governor George Ryan's campaign); fail to disclose evidence of the plaintiffs' innocence that had never before been disclosed? According to witness Callahan, a former Illinois State Police investigator, he presented to the current ISP defendants numerous documents and investigatory files filled with evidence of wrongdoing. There is evidence which, if it is believed, could lead a trier of fact to conclude that the ISP officials were witting participants in the conduct that led to Steidl's and Whitlock's continued imprisonment following their wrongful conviction.

On the flip side of this coin, the defendants contend that the Rhoads murder case is still open and that Steidl and Whitlock are still suspects. One person interviewed is alleged to have stated that Whitlock and another man came to her house early that morning; Whitlock smelled of smoke, was covered in blood, and seemed disoriented. The other man explained that they'd been hunting rabbits. Steidl allegedly told someone several days before the murders that something big was going down soon. At around the time of the murders, which occurred in the predawn hours on a Sunday morning, Steidl brought a woman back to his apartment. At one point, Steidl left her at the apartment to mail unemployment paperwork. These are just two examples of evidence that does not depend on the compromised testimony of the two primary witnesses.

Consequently, the court finds that there are material issues of fact present that preclude judgment as a matter of law for any of the parties in these cases.

JOINT MOTIONS BY EDGAR COUNTY AND MCFATRIDGE STEIDL [373] WHITLOCK [176]

From the Supreme Court's decisions in Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U. S. 409 (1976) to Van de Kamp v. Goldstein, 129 S. Ct. 855 (2009), it is clear that a state prosecutor acting in his capacity as an advocate for the state enjoys absolute immunity for his conduct even if what he does is an outright denial of a person's constitutional rights. So the defendant McFatridge from the time he went before a judge on February 19, 1987 to secure warrants for Steidl's and Whitlock's arrest until he stepped down as State's Attorney on December 31, 2001, was absolutely immune from liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. However, before February 19, 1987, McFatridge, acting in an investigative capacity, enjoyed only qualified immunity, as long as his conduct did not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known. Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982).

The movants rely on Spiegel v. Rabinovitz, 121 F.3d 251 (7th Cir. 1997), for the proposition that McFatridge prior to February 19, 1987 was acting in a quasi-judicial role and evaluating evidence to use against Steidl and Whitlock. The reliance is misplaced. As Spiegel observed about Imbler:

When determining which type of immunity a [prosecutor] enjoys, we look to the nature of the function that the [prosecutor] was performing in the particular case. If a [prosecutor's] function was quasi-judicial, the [prosecutor] enjoys absolute immunity. If the function was ...


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