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Xavier Hopkins, Marcus Simms v. Officer M. O'brien

September 30, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer


On the evening of July 3, 2009, Plaintiffs Xavier Hopkins, Marcus Simms, Donya Jackson, and Jontavius Pruitt were traveling in Chicago in Xavier Hopkins' vehicle. Defendant Matthew O'Brien, a uniformed Chicago police officer, pulled them over, and, together with other officers, handcuffed the Plaintiffs to one another in a chain while the officers performed a patdown search of Plaintiff's bodies and a search of the vehicle. Plaintiffs have sued Officer O'Brien and the City (under a statutory indemnification theory), alleging that O'Brien lacked probable cause or reasonable suspicion for the stop and that the detention, seizure, and search of the Plaintiffs and the vehicle violated their constitutional rights. Defendants have moved for summary judgment. For the reasons explained here, the motion is denied.


On the evening of July 3, 2009, Plaintiffs Xavier Hopkins, Marcus Simms, Donya Jackson, and Jontavius Pruitt were traveling in Chicago in Hopkins's vehicle. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 5.) The men are friends who met through Jackson; Hopkins, Pruitt, and Jackson were all visiting from out of town and staying with Simms. (Pl.' Supp. 56.1 ¶¶ 1, 2.) Hopkins was at the wheel, and he and the others, as well as one additional passenger, Rico Boyd, were on their way to pick up Boyd's identification at the home of Boyd's cousin. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶¶ 6-8; Simms Dep., Ex. A to Defs.' 56.1, at 16.) Defendant Matthew O'Brien, a Chicago police officer, was on duty and in uniform, working in a marked squad car. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 9.) O'Brien testified that he was at an intersection when he observed Hopkins's vehicle cross the intersection in front of him. (Id. ¶¶ 10, 11.) O'Brien recalls that the driver was speeding and that the vehicle's windows were tinted. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶¶ 12, 14.) Plaintiffs deny that the car was moving faster than the speed limit and, although they admit that the vehicle's windows, except for the windshield, were tinted, they deny that O'Brien could have seen this; Plaintiffs Simms and Hopkins testified that the car was moving slowly, and Plaintiffs Pruitt, Hopkins, and Jackson all testified that the windows were down. (Pls.' Resp. ¶¶ 12, 13, citing Simms Dep. at 20; Pruitt Dep., Exhibit B to Defs.' 56.1, at 49; Hopkins Dep., Ex. C to Defs.' 56.1, at 23, 26; Jackson Dep., Ex. D to Defs.' 56.1 , at 21.)

O'Brien turned onto the street on which Plaintiffs were traveling and activated his overhead "Mars" lights. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶¶ 18, 20.) Hopkins pulled over, and O'Brien exited his vehicle and approached Hopkins's vehicle. (Id. ¶¶ 21, 26.) By this time, according to O'Brien, at least three of the windows in Hopkins's vehicle had been rolled down. (Id. ¶ 27, citing O'Brien Dep., Ex. E to Defs.' 56.1, at 9.) Plaintiff Simms testified that Hopkins rolled his window down as O'Brien approached, but Plaintiffs Pruitt, Hopkins, and Jackson denied this. (Simms Dep. at 22; Pruitt Dep. at 49-50; Hopkins Dep. at 23; Jackson Dep. at 21.) At O'Brien's request, Hopkins handed over his driver's license. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 29.) O'Brien testified that, as he looked inside Hopkins's car, he observed cups of what he believed to be alcoholic beverages. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 23.) Plaintiffs admit that there was alcohol in a backpack in the trunk (inaccessible from the passenger compartment, according to Plaintiffs) (Pls.' Supp. 56.1 ¶ 8, citing Simms Dep. at 17-18; Pruitt Dep. at 25; Hopkins Dep. at 22, 23), but they all deny that O'Brien observed any cups in the passenger compartment of the vehicle. (Pls.' Supp. 56.1 ¶ 5, citing Simms Dep. at 18; Pruitt Dep. at 23-24; Hopkins Dep. at 29-30; Jackson Dep. at 19.) Plaintiffs maintain that when O'Brien approached Hopkins's window, Hopkins and the others asked numerous times why they had been pulled over, but O'Brien refused to answer. (Pls.' Supp. 56.1 ¶¶ 9, 10, citing Hopkins Dep. at 32-33; Pruitt Dep. at 31.) O'Brien says that he did answer the question, explaining that he had pulled Hopkins over for speeding and for tinted windows. (O'Brien Dep. at 22.)

Officer O'Brien ordered Plaintiffs out of the vehicle. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 31.) More officers arrived on the scene and, at O'Brien's direction, handcuffed Plaintiffs and Boyd to one another, forming a human chain around the rear of the vehicle. (Id. ¶ 33; Pls.' Supp. 56.1 ¶¶ 17, 18, citing Hopkins Dep. at 38; Simms Dep. Supplemental Pages, Ex. 4 to Pls.' Response, at 30.) Plaintiff Hopkins was on one end; his right hand was cuffed to someone, though his left hand was free. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 36.) O'Brien explained that the practice of cuffing the detainees together is for the purpose of officer safety, but Plaintiffs deny the practice was necessary in this instance, noting that O'Brien acknowledged he had no reason to believe they had weapons. (Pls.' Resp. ¶ 35, citing O'Brien Dep. Supplemental Pages, Ex. 5 to Pls.' Resp., at 57.) The officers performed pat-downs of all of the Plaintiffs, but found no weapons or drugs on them or on Boyd. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 37; O'Brien Dep. at 35.) O'Brien did not personally handcuff Plaintiffs Jackson or Simms, he did not perform patdown searches on Plaintiffs Simms or Pruitt, and Plaintiff Jackson does not recall who patted him down. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶¶ 34, 38, 39.) It is undisputed, however, that O'Brien was involved in the traffic stop. Hopkins recalled that O'Brien removed things from Hopkins's pockets and placed them on the roof of the car. According to Hopkins, O'Brien "was the most assertive, . . . He gave most of the orders and did most of the talking." (Pls.' Supp. 56.1 ¶¶ 13, 14, citing Hopkins Dep. at 34.)

O'Brien testified that he smelled alcohol on the breath of one or more of the Plaintiffs, and Plaintiff Pruitt recalled that O'Brien said so at the time. (Id. ¶¶ 40, 41.) Plaintiffs deny, however, that they had been drinking and deny that O'Brien actually did smell alcohol on any of them. (Pls.' 56.1 Response ¶ 40, citing Simms Dep. at 15, Pruitt Dep. at 21, Hopkins Dep. at 19.)

The officers did not have a search or arrest warrant and did not ask for consent to search the vehicle. (Pls.' Supp. 56.1 ¶¶ 25, 26, citing Simms Dep. at 32, O'Brien Dep. at 40.) O'Brien nevertheless searched Hopkins's vehicle. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 42.) O'Brien testified that he had probable cause for the search based on his observation of "open alcohol in containers inside the vehicle." (Pls.' Supp. 56.1 ¶ 27, citing O'Brien Dep. at 40.) O'Brien testified that he recovered a bottle of alcohol and four cups from the floor of the rear passenger compartment. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 48.) Plaintiffs deny this, citing their deposition testimony that none of them had been drinking. (Pls.' Resp. ¶ 48.)

O'Brien denies searching the car trunk, but Plaintiffs insist he did search the car trunk, as well as the passenger compartment. Id. ¶¶ 46, 47.) Simms specifically recalled that O'Brien took the keys from the ignition and opened the car trunk. (Pls.' Supp. 56.1, citing Simms Dep. Supplemental Pages at 35.) Hopkins contends he was five to six feet away while O'Brien searched the trunk of the car, and Simms estimates he was just a foot and a half from O'Brien during the vehicle search. (Pls.' Resp. ¶¶ 43-45.) Plaintiffs assert that O'Brien found Simms's bag in the trunk of Hopkins's car, discovered two bottles of liquor in that bag, and threw the bottles to the ground. (Id. ¶¶ 29, 30, citing Pruitt Dep. at 38-39, Hopkins Dep at 43-45, Jackson Dep. at 29, Simms Dep. Supplemental Pages at 35.)

According to Plaintiffs, O'Brien threatened to charge them with driving under the influence of alcohol, warning them that it would be Plaintiffs' word against his and that fighting a DUI charge would cost $10,000. (Pls.' Supp. 56.1 ¶ 22, citing Hopkins Dep. at 39, Jackson Dep. at 30, and Simms Dep. Supplemental Pages at 36.) Plaintiff Jackson told Defendants he was a criminal justice major and that he had "read about this stuff in our books all the time about how corrupt Chicago police officers are." (Jackson Dep. at 31.) Plaintiffs assert that O'Brien responded with a statement to the effect that "Johnny Cochran's dead and Obama can't save your asses." (Pls.' Resp. ¶ 49.) O'Brien denies having made such a statement. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 50.)

According to Officer Brien and to Marcus Simmons, the traffic stop lasted 20 minutes, (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 58) , but Plaintiff Pruitt recalled that the encounter lasted at least half an hour. (Pls.' Supp. 56.1 ¶ 32, citing Pruitt Dep. at 43.) Plaintiffs contend that they were not free to leave during the encounter. Plaintiff Pruitt noted that the car was "kind of barricaded" by police cars. (Pruitt Dep. at 28.) Hopkins testified that he "definitely couldn't leave" because he was handcuffed to other persons. (Hopkins Dep. at 65.) Jackson testified that he did not feel free to leave from the time that O'Brien approached Hopkins until the time the police left. (Jackson Dep. at 40.) Simms, similarly, did not feel free to leave from the time that Officer O'Brien approached Hopkins until the handcuffs were removed. (Simms Dep. Supplemental Pages at 47.)

The parties agree that at the conclusion of the search, the officers removed handcuffs from Plaintiffs, and they were at that point free to leave. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 57; Pls.' Resp. ¶ 51.) Officer O'Brien told Plaintiffs they were pulled over for tinted windows and an expired City sticker, and he issued tickets for the tinted windows and sticker violation to Plaintiff Hopkins. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶¶ 52, 53.) Plaintiffs admit these things, and admit, further, that Plaintiff Hopkins's car was registered to a Chicago address and did not have a City sticker. (Pls.' Resp., ¶¶ 52-55). They deny, however, that Officer O'Brien in fact pulled them over for these reasons, citing their testimony that the windows were rolled down and that, as Plaintiff Simms testified, "the city sticker is on the windshield. So, I mean, you can't possibly see that it's expired from behind us." (Simms Dep. at 40.)

Officer O'Brien did not prepare a police report. (Pls.' Supp. 56.1 ¶ 33, citing O'Brien Dep. Supplemental Pages at 17.) The vehicle was not damaged, and none of the Plaintiffs suffered any physical injury as a result of the incident. (Id. ¶¶ 60, 61.) They proceeded with their plans for the evening, went downtown to a bar and restaurant and watched fireworks, though Pruitt testified that he was "still kind of distraught" and Jackson testified that "[e]veryone [felt] still kind of shaken up, like, wow."). (Id. ¶ 62; Pruitt Dep. at 44; Jackson Dep. at 37.)

Hopkins paid the ticket for the tinted windows; the episode did not result in any financial losses for the other Plaintiffs. (Id. ¶¶ 56, 59.) Pruitt testified that he felt "mistreated, violated, and abused" by the officers' conduct, and acknowledged that he suffered harm "more so mentally than physically." (Id. ¶¶ 64, 64.) Simms testified that the episode was "degrading and unwarranted," and that he was damaged by "racial slurs" and because his "feelings were hurt by what he said." (Id. ¶¶ 66, 67.) Jackson testified that he suffered the harm of a "bad taste in my mouth about police officers in general," (Id. ...

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