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Jones v. Connors

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

September 26, 2013

RAMON JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
Chicago Police Officers KEVIN M. CONNORS, Star #15151, and ARMANDO CAZARES, Star #8680, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

RUBEN CASTILLO, Chief District Judge.

Plaintiff Ramon Jones brought this cause of action against Chicago Police Officers Kevin M. Connors and Armando Cazares (collectively, "Defendants") for excessive force and failure to intervene in violation of 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983. (R. 43, Second Am. Compl.) On October 26, 2012, after a four-day trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Defendants. (R. 91, Entered Judgment.) Jones now moves for a new trial pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a). (R. 95, Pl.'s Mot. New Trial.) For the reasons set forth below, Jones's motion is denied.

FACTS[1]

Jones filed his suit on November 18, 2011. (R. 1, Compl.) The suit stemmed from events that occurred on December 16, 2009. At approximately 8:30 a.m., Jones was at a gas station at 71st Street and Halsted Street in Chicago, and Defendants got out of their squadrol in the gas station parking lot to question Jones. Jones started to leave the gas station, and Connors began to chase him. During the chase, Connors fell and injured himself. After Connors fell, Cazares took off after Jones. The cause of Connors's fall and what happened next were hotly contested at trial.

Jones testified that Connors fell because he tripped over a curb, or perhaps his own feet. Jones testified that he looked back over his shoulder and saw that someone was chasing him, but he did not know who it was. He testified that he was in a dangerous area and he had money in his pocket, so he ran from whoever was pursuing him. He testified that he ran until he reached the 7000 block of South Peoria Street, where he encountered Cazares. Once Jones heard Cazares identify himself as the police, he stopped, raised his hands, and got on his knees. Jones testified that Cazares tackled him, stomped on his back, and used "super pressure" in tightening handcuffs around his wrists. Shortly thereafter, Connors arrived at the scene. According to Jones, Connors yelled racial slurs at him and stomped on and kicked his face.

Defendants told a very different version of the events of Jones's arrest. They testified that Connors said "stop, police, " as he chased Jones, but Jones kept running. Connors testified that Jones heard him identify himself as a police officer, knew he was a police officer, and was purposely running away. He testified that he fell because Jones turned and struck or pushed him in the chest. Cazares testified that he saw Connors fall after Jones stuck his arm towards Connors's chest and thought that Jones had pushed Connors. After Connors fell, Cazares began to chase Jones. Upon encountering Jones at the 7000 block of South Peoria Street, Cazares identified himself as a police officer. He testified that Jones stopped running and turned around but continued to move backwards away from him. According to Cazares, Jones did not get down on his knees when Cazares ordered him to, and Cazares had to pull him to the ground. Jones struggled to get up, despite Cazares's orders to stay still and on the ground, so Cazares put a foot on Jones's back to hold him down while Cazares radioed his location to Connors.

Connors testified that upon receiving Cazares's location and driving to the 7000 block of South Peoria Street, he found Cazares in an altercation with Jones, who was resisting arrest and attempting to get up. He testified that Cazares had placed his foot in the upper part of Jones's back to keep him from getting up. Connors then placed his knee on Jones's back to gain control of his arms and wrists, and Defendants handcuffed Jones. Defendants testified that they used only such force as was necessary to restrain Jones and prevent him from escaping. According to Defendants' testimony, neither of them used any slurs, nor did they kick or stomp on Jones.

An eyewitnesses, Ibi Cole, lived across the street from where the arrest occurred and observed it from her windows. She testified that she saw Jones lying on the ground submissively when Cazares stomped on his back. She testified that she then called 911 and was on the phone with the dispatcher when Connors arrived and stomped on Jones's face. She screamed in shock, and the recording of her 911 call was played at trial.

In addition, both parties relied extensively on surveillance video recording from the gas station, stills from that recording, photographs Cole and her sister took of the arrest scene, and photographs of Jones at the police station after his arrest.

ANALYSIS

Under Rule 59, the Court may grant a new trial after a jury trial "for any reason for which a new trial has heretofore been granted in an action at law in federal court." Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(a)(1)(A). A new trial should be granted "only when the record shows that the jury's verdict resulted in a miscarriage of justice or where the verdict, on the record, cries out to be overturned or shocks [the Court's] conscience." Latino v. Kaizer, 58 F.3d 310, 315 (7th Cir. 1995). Jones argues that a new trial is warranted because the jury's verdict was against the manifest weight of the evidence and because of evidentiary errors at the trial. (R. 95, Pl.'s Mot. New Trial.) The Court addresses each of these arguments in turn.

I. Whether the jury's verdict was against the manifest weight of the evidence

A court can grant a motion for a new trial if it finds that the jury verdict was against the manifest weight of the evidence. Mejia v. Cook Cnty., Ill., 650 F.3d 631, 633 (7th Cir. 2011). In ruling on such a motion, a court "may consider the credibility of witnesses, the weight of the evidence, and anything else which justice requires." Bob Willow Motors, Inc. v. Gen. Motors Corp., 872 F.2d 788, 798 (7th Cir. 1989). "The district court, however, cannot grant a new trial just because it believes the jury got it wrong." Whitehead v. Bond, 680 F.3d 919, 928 (7th Cir. 2012). Instead, the district court must afford some deference to the jury's conclusions. Mejia, 650 F.3d at 633 n.1. "Jury verdicts deserve particular deference in cases with simple issues but highly disputed facts." Moore ex rel. Estate of Grady v. Tuelja, 546 F.3d 423, 427 (7th Cir. 2008) (quoting Latino, 58 F.3d at 314) (internal quotation marks omitted). "A court will set aside a verdict as contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence only if no rational jury could have rendered the verdict." Whitehead, 680 F.3d at 928 (internal alterations and citations omitted).

In his cursory argument that the jury's verdict was against the manifest weight of the evidence, Jones asserts that Defendants' "categorical denial of striking and stomping was unequivocally and overwhelmingly contradicted by disinterested eyewitness testimony." (R. 95, Pl.'s Mot. New Trial at 1.) Jones further states that the surveillance video that was introduced into evidence demonstrated that Defendants' version of the events at the gas station was a lie and undermined their credibility. ( Id. at 1-2.) Finally, Jones contends that "the excited utterance of Ibi Cole captured on a 911 recording should, on its own, be enough to outweigh all the false and self[-]serving testimony offered by the defendants." ( Id. at 2.) Aside from these conclusory assertions ...


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