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Gregory Williams v. Jason Edwards

March 22, 2012

GREGORY WILLIAMS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JASON EDWARDS, KEITH CONNOLLY, AND THE CITY OF CHICAGO DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

On February 13, 2008, Plaintiff Gregory Williams was arrested by Defendants, City of Chicago Police Officers Jason Edwards and Keith Connolly (the "Officers"). The Officers found Williams in the driver's seat of a running car, pulled over to the side of the road. The car matched the description given by an anonymous 911 caller, who reported seeing two groups of black men with guns in two different vehicles circling the area of Thomas Street and Karlov Avenue. After the Officers ordered Williams and a passenger from the car at gunpoint and handcuffed them, another officer discovered a gun on the driver's side floor of the car.

Williams, then on parole for a felony drug conviction, was charged with unlawful possession of a weapon by a felon and cited for failure to produce a driver's license. Officer Edwards observed that Williams had been smoking marijuana and apparently seized marijuana in Williams's possession, but Edwards was not charged with a drug offense. Williams spent fourteen months in prison awaiting trial on the felon-in-possession charge. The trial court granted Williams's motion to quash and suppress evidence, concluding that the search incident to arrest that produced the gun was improper. The prosecutors then dismissed the charges, and this civil case followed.

In this civil action, Williams brings claims under 42 U.S.C § 1983 against the Officers and the City of Chicago (collectively, the "Defendants") for false arrest in violation of the Fourth Amendment and due process violations under the Fourteenth Amendment, and a state law indemnification claim against the City of Chicago pursuant to 745 ILCS 10/9-102. Defendants have moved for summary judgment. For the reasons below, their motion is granted.

BACKGROUND

At 10:30 p.m. on February 13, 2008, the Office of Emergency Management and Communications ("OEMC") received a call from an anonymous caller who reported seeing two vehicles circling the block in the vicinity of 1100 N. Keeler and 4200 W. Thomas. (Defs.' Joint 56.1 Statement of Undisputed Facts (hereinafter "Defs.' 56.1") ¶ 4.) The caller described the vehicles as a dark green four-door car with temporary plates and a dark green van, also with temporary plates. (Id.)In each vehicle, the caller reported seeing two black men with guns. (Id.) At 10:39 p.m., OEMC received a second call from an anonymous caller (whether this was the same individual who made the earlier call is not clear), reporting a suspicious automobile in the vicinity of 1100 N. Karlov and 4100 W. Thomas. (Id. ¶ 6.) The second caller mentioned two men in a green Chevy with temporary plates; the car was reportedly moving, but the caller did not specify in which direction. (Id.) The second caller gave no reason why he or she believed the automobile to be suspicious before hanging up. (Chicago Police Department Event Query No. 0804419766 (hereinafter "766 Event Query"), Attach. to Dunaj Aff., Ex. D to Defs.' 56.1.) The call for police services arising from the first caller's report was classified as Priority 1A, the highest priority call within the Chicago Police Department, indicating that immediate police response is required. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 7, 9.)

I. The Officers' Account

Officers Edwards and Connolly were filling their squad car with gas at a station at Chicago and Pulaski when they heard a "person with a gun" call on their police radio. (Id. ¶ 8.) Because they were a few blocks from Karlov and Thomas, and because dispatch issued a priority 1A call, the Officers drove to that area immediately and began circling the block in their squad car. (Id. ¶ 9.)

Near the intersection of Karlov and Augusta, the Officers spotted a car matching the 911 callers' descriptions: a green, four-door Chevy with temporary plates. (Id. ¶ 11.) According to the Officers, the car was pulled over to the curb and positioned in a manner that made it appear that the car had abruptly exited the flow of traffic rather than parked. (Edwards Dep., Ex. B to Defs.' 56.1, at 15-16, 63; Connolly Aff. ¶ 8, Ex. C to Defs.' 56.1.) The car's lights were off, but the engine was still running. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶¶ 11, 16.)

Officer Edwards positioned the squad car behind the Chevy, activated his emergency lights, and blared his siren briefly. (Edwards Dep. at 16.) Both Officers approached the vehicle with guns drawn. (Pl.'s Statement of Additional Facts (hereinafter "Pl.'s 56.1") ¶ 9.) The Officers contend that they ordered the car's occupants to show their hands, and that when the two male occupants complied, the Officers withdrew and reholstered their weapons. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶¶ 13, 13(a).) Officer Edwards approached the driver's side door and asked the occupant of the driver's seat, Williams, for his driver's license at the same time that he asked him to step out of the car. (Edwards Dep. at 28; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 11.) According to Edwards, Williams answered that he did not have a license and, after Williams exited the vehicle, Edwards turned Williams around and directed him to place his hand on the top of the vehicle while Edwards performed a pat-down search for weapons. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 14; Edwards Dep. at 28-29.) Edwards then instructed Williams to put his hands behind his back, and Edwards handcuffed him. (Edwards Dep. at 29.) Officer Connolly secured the occupant on the passenger side, William Baldwin. (Connolly Aff. ¶ 12.)

Based on Edwards's experience making hundreds of marijuana arrests, Edwards observed that Williams was under the influence of marijuana. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 62.) According to Edwards, Williams eyes were glossy and red, and Williams was laughing and "very nonchalant about the stop." (Edwards Dep. at 63.) Edwards reports that during this encounter, Williams admitted that "he was high as hell." (Id. at 63.) In his discovery responses, Williams confirmed that he consumed marijuana before he was stopped. (Pl.'s Answers to Def. Edwards' First Set of Interrogatories to Pl., Ex. G to Defs.' 56.1, ¶ 15.)

At the time the Officers were securing Williams and Baldwin outside the vehicle, Officer Jose Alvarez and his partner, who were dispatched to respond to the "person with gun" call, arrived at the scene. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶¶ 15-16.) According to Alvarez, while the Defendant Officers' attention was directed toward the car's occupants, Alvarez "leaned into the open front door on the driver's side and immediately saw a gun on the floor. The gun was plainly visible on the floor in the front towards the center but on the driver's side." (Alvarez Aff., Ex. E to Defs.' 56.1, ¶ 6.) Defendant Connolly did not see Alvarez recover the gun (Connolly Aff. ¶ 14), but Edwards testified at the suppression hearing that he saw Alvarez recover the gun from underneath the front seat. (Aug. 13, 2008 Hr'g Tr., Ex. E to Pl.'s Mem. of Law Against Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J., at 6.) When he discovered the firearm, Alvarez announced, "I got it." (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 18.) According to Edwards, Williams then made a statement that the gun was his or that he would take responsibility for the gun. (Edwards Dep. at 34-35.)

Williams and Baldwin were transported in a squad car to the Eleventh District station. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 23.) The entire incident took approximately five to ten minutes. (Id. ¶ 24.) Edwards testified that at the station, Williams again made an incriminating statement, explaining, "I got that gun cause I got a lot of people that don't like me." (Id. ¶ 25.)

II. Williams's Account

Williams gives a slightly different version of the events that day. According to Williams, he had taken the bus to the 1000 block of Karlov to purchase "weed" from a dealer named "Frog." (Williams Dep., Ex. F to Defs.' 56.1, at 36-38.) After purchasing twenty-six bags of marijuana for $200, Williams went into a corner store at Karlov and Augusta to purchase cigars in order to roll the marijuana into "blunts." (Id. at 39-41.) Upon exiting the corner store, he saw Baldwin, whom Williams knows as "Ty," sitting in the passenger seat of a Chevy Lumina parked on Karlov. (Id. at 41-44.) Williams had met Baldwin in 2007 and knew him to be "the man" or "head honcho" in the area, of high rank in the Unknown Vice Lords gang. (Id. at 30-31.) Baldwin recognized Williams and the two struck up a conversation, during which Williams asked Baldwin whether he could smoke his blunt in Baldwin's car because it was cold outside. (Id. at 49.) Baldwin agreed and Williams got in the driver's seat. (Id.) Williams does not remember whether the car was running. (Id. at 50.)

Minutes later, Williams saw Officers Edwards and Connolly in the car's side mirror, running towards the car with guns drawn. (Id. at 52.) At first, Williams did not realize that they were police officers; he thought that someone had put a "hit" on Baldwin. (Id. at 53, 57-58.) Fearing that he would be caught in the crossfire, his initial reaction was to throw his hands up. (Id. at 52-53.) Williams denies that the Officers yelled at him to show his hands. (Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 13.) Instead, according to Williams, once he realized that Edwards and Connolly were police officers, he kept his hands where the police could see them because, he explained, "I got too many guns in my face, and I don't need no accidents to happen, so I didn't move." (Williams Dep. at 62.) Williams asserts that within seconds, approximately twenty police officers arrived at the scene. (Id. at 56-57.)

Williams claims that Officer Edwards opened the driver side door and, as he pulled Williams from the car, assisted by another uniformed officer (not Officer Connolly), demanded that Williams produce his driver's license. (Id. at 62-63; Pl.'s 56.1 ¶ 11.) After Connolly pulled Baldwin from the car, the Officers walked both suspects to the back of the car where Edwards performed pat-down searches and handcuffed them. (Id. at 63-64.) Williams admits that he informed Edwards that he was in possession of marijuana and that Edwards removed and confiscated the bags of marijuana in Williams's coat pocket. (Id. at 64, 71-72.)

While secured at the back of the Chevy, Williams recalls seeing officers search the car. (Id. at 67.) Williams claims that he was unaware that the search produced a gun until he was told this by Officer Connolly at the station; he only learned that the gun was found under the driver's seat upon reading the police report. (Id. at 79-80, 85.) He denies taking responsibility for the gun at the scene (Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 20), and asserts that he in fact denied the gun was his at the station. (Williams Dep. at 81.) Viewed in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff, as the court must do at this stage, the court infers that Williams's statement admitted only the possession of the marijuana, and that he took no responsibility for the gun.

III. The Charges

On February 14, 2008, a criminal court judge found probable cause to detain Williams on charges of gun possession by a convicted felon and failure to produce a driver's license. (Defs.' 56.1 ¶ 65.) As a parolee and having been convicted previously of a felony drug violation, Williams was prohibited from possessing a gun. (Id. ¶ 63.) As for the license, the Officers had issued a traffic citation for Williams's failure to produce a driver's license. (Citation, Ex. F-1 to Defs.' 56.1.) Williams denies that the Officers issued him a citation and claims that the ticket is fabricated evidence ...


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