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James Wells v. Jeff Coker

September 20, 2011

JAMES WELLS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JEFF COKER, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, AND CITY OF SPRINGFIELD, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sue E. Myerscough, United States District Judge

Tuesday, 20 September, 2011 09:46:12 AM

Clerk, U.S. District Court, ILCD

OPINION

This cause is before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment (d/e 153) filed by Defendants Jeff Coker and the City of Springfield.

On January 1, 2008, Plaintiff James Wells was shot three times by Defendant Jeff Coker, a Springfield police officer. In July 2010, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint containing the following three counts: (1) an action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Officer Coker alleging Officer Coker used excessive force; (2) a state law battery claim alleging Officer Coker's conduct was willful and wanton; and (3) a municipal liability claim against the City of Springfield alleging that the City's longstanding policy of using covert-style foot patrol in certain neighborhoods on New Year's Eve during the period of celebratory shooting was defective, deficient, inadequate, careless, and unsound. See Monell v. Department of Social Services of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978) (a local government is responsible under § 1983 "when execution of a government's policy or custom . . . inflicts the injury that the government as an entity is responsible").

Defendants now move for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

I. FACTS

On January 1, 2008, Plaintiff stepped onto the back porch of his house, looked around to ensure no one else was present, and shot his Colt 9 millimeter in the air in celebration of the New Year. Plaintiff pointed his weapon at an approximately 45 degree angle from ground level and fired it five or six times.

Plaintiff and Defendants disagree about the remaining facts. Plaintiff contends that while Plaintiff was in the act of firing his gun into the air in celebration of the New Year, Officer Coker, without first announcing his presence, shot Plaintiff "twice in the side of the chest, through his arm and once shattering his hip." See Plaintiff's Additional Material Facts of the Case ¶ 6. Plaintiff denies ever turning his body or pointing his gun in the direction of where he subsequently learned that Officer Coker and another officer were standing.

In contrast, Defendants contend that Officer Coker, who was approximately 20 feet away from Plaintiff, yelled "Springfield Police. Drop the gun." Plaintiff then turned his body toward Officer Coker. "During this turning movement, the gun held in [Plaintiff's] hand became pointed directly at Officer Coker." See Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Fact ¶ 25. Officer Coker, fearing for his life and personal safety, discharged his weapon three times at Plaintiff.

These facts would typically present the classic "genuine issue of material fact" that would preclude summary judgment. In this case, however, additional circumstances call into question whether Plaintiff can now dispute whether he pointed the gun at Officer Coker.

Specifically, in January 2008, Plaintiff was charged in state court with reckless discharge of a firearm, a Class 4 felony, under 720 ILCS 5/24-1.5(a), (c). See People v. Wells, Sangamon County case No. 08-CF-0078. The Information alleged that Plaintiff endangered the bodily safety of an individual by recklessly discharging a firearm in the air multiple times in a residential neighborhood while celebrating New Year's Eve. Id.

On August 11, 2009, the State filed an additional count charging Plaintiff with reckless conduct, a Class A misdemeanor under 720 ILCS 5/12-5(a)(1), (b). Count II provided as follows:

And the said State's Attorney in and for the County and State aforesaid, in the name and by the authority of the People of the State of Illinois, aforesaid, gives the Court to further understand and be informed that one JAMES WELLS of said County and State, on or about the 1st day of January in the year Two Thousand and Eight, and within the County of Sangamon and State of Illinois, committed the offense of RECKLESS CONDUCT, in that said defendant endangered the bodily safety of individuals in that, while acting in a reckless manner, he discharged a firearm in the air multiple times in a residential neighborhood while celebrating New Year's Eve and then pointed the firearm at Officer Coker of [the] Springfield Police Department. (Emphasis added.)

On the same day Count II was filed, Plaintiff pleaded guilty to Count II and the State dismissed Count I pursuant to the plea agreement. At the plea hearing, the following exchange took place between the Court and Plaintiff:

THE COURT: All right, in Count II, Mr. Wells, you're charged with the offense of Reckless Conduct. It's alleged that on or about the 1st day of January, 2008, within Sangamon County, that you endangered the bodily safety of individuals in that, while acting in a reckless manner, you discharged a firearm in the air multiple times in a residential neighborhood while celebrating New Year's Eve and then pointed the firearm at Officer Jeff Coker of the Springfield Police Department.

As charged, it's a Class A misdemeanor punishable up to a year in jail, $2,500 fine, and you could be sentenced to probation, conditional discharge or periodic imprisonment.

Do you understand the charge in Count II and all the possible penalties for a ...


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