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Fields v. City of Chicago

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

February 6, 2014

NATHSON FIELDS, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

MATTHEW F. KENNELLY, District Judge.

This case concerns Nathson Fields's prosecution, conviction, incarceration, and subsequent acquittal for the 1984 murders of Talman Hickman and Jerome Smith. Fields has sued the City of Chicago and a number of Chicago police officers, at least some of whom are now retired, as well as two former Cook County prosecutors and the County. Fields asserts claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of due process, failure to intervene, and conspiracy, and state law claims for malicious prosecution, intentional infliction of emotional distress, conspiracy, and indemnification.

The City of Chicago and the remaining police officer defendants[1] have moved for summary judgment on Fields's claims against them. Fields has moved for partial summary judgment as to liability on a part of his claim that defendants violated his due process rights. For the reasons stated below, the Court grants defendants' motion for summary judgment in part and denies it in part and denies Fields's motion for partial summary judgment.

Background

The Court first provides an overview of the background for Fields's claims and then will discuss the facts as necessary in the Discussion section of this decision.

On April 28, 1984, Hickman and Smith were shot to death outside of a public housing complex in Chicago. Both men belonged to the Black Gangster Goon Squad, a street gang that was a rival of the El Rukn street gang. Witnesses reported seeing two masked men approach Hickman and Smith from behind and shoot them in the back of their heads. An investigation by the Chicago Police Department ensued, but no arrests were made. Several eyewitnesses to the shooting were interviewed; none of them identified Fields as a shooter.

In the meantime, federal law enforcement authorities, together with Chicago police and other local law enforcement agencies, were conducting a wide-ranging investigation of the El Rukn gang, of which Fields allegedly was a member. In the course of that investigation, law enforcement identified an El Rukn "safe house" near Cleveland, Ohio and raided it in May 1985. There they arrested, among others, an El Rukn member named Anthony Sumner. Fields contends that Sumner had fled there along with El Rukn member Earl Hawkins after murdering Joe White and Dee Eggers Vaughn during a drug-related robbery in Chicago. Fields alleges that certain of the defendants in this case induced Sumner to falsely implicate him in both the Smith/Hickman and White/Vaughn murders and to fabricate a story that he had confessed to Smith/Hickman murders.

Fields also contends that in May 1985, certain of the defendants induced Randy Langston and Gerald Morris, who had witnessed the Smith/Hickman murders, to falsely identify Fields as one of the perpetrators. Fields alleges that certain of the defendants induced Randy Langston, Eric Langston, Gerald Morris, and perhaps others to falsely identify him in a lineup as one of the perpetrators. Fields was charged with the Smith/Hickman murders in June 1985, along with Earl Hawkins and George Carter, though the charges against Carter were dropped just before trial.

According to Fields, the defendants concealed their fabrication of the inculpatory evidence, including the identifications; concealed information containing leads that pointed toward other possible perpetrators and away from Fields; and failed to memorialize exculpatory information and information otherwise helpful to the defense. He points to, among other things, a Chicago Police Department "street file" containing information of this sort that, despite his repeated requests, was never produced in connection with the criminal case and did not surface until discovery in the present civil case.

Fields and Hawkins went to trial in June 1986 before Cook County Circuit Judge Thomas Maloney. The prosecution sought a death sentence. Both defendants waived a jury for both the guilt phase of the trial. Fields was represented by an attorney named Jack Smeeton, and Hawkins was represented by William Swano. Before the trial, Swano, dealing with an intermediary named Robert McGee, offered to pay Maloney $10, 000 to fix the case. McGee reported that Maloney agreed, and Swano delivered the bribe to McGee after the first day of the trial. Two days later, McGee contacted Swano and said he wanted to give the money back because the case was going too well for the prosecution. Swano told McGee to keep the money and wait for the defense to put on its case. He then told Hawkins that the fix might not go through and that the judge was concerned that federal law enforcement was watching him. The next day, Swano spoke to Maloney, telling him he should live up to his bargain. Maloney told Swano, "We'll see." After closing arguments, Maloney took the case under advisement. Later that day, McGee told Swano that Maloney would not go through with the deal, and the next morning, the bribe money was returned to Swano. Maloney entered a guilty finding as to both Hawkins and Fields later that day. See generally People v. Hawkins, 181 Ill.2d 41, 46-48, 690 N.E.2d 999, 1001-02 (1998).

Both Fields and Hawkins waived their right to a jury for purposes of determining their statutory eligibility for the death penalty but insisted on a jury for the remainder of the penalty phase of the trial. During the penalty phase, Randy Langston, who had testified for the prosecution during the guilt phase of the trial, testified that defendant O'Callaghan, a Chicago police officer, had induced him to falsely identify Fields as one of the perpetrators. Eric Langston testified that O'Callaghan had induced him to do the same. During the penalty phase, prosecutors also offered testimony by Anthony Sumner implicating Fields in the White/Vaughn murders.

The jury found no mitigating circumstances sufficient to preclude imposition of a death sentence. Maloney then sentenced both Fields and Hawkins to death. In February 1990, the Illinois Supreme Court affirmed Fields's conviction and sentence. See People v. Fields, 135 Ill.2d 18, 552 N.E.2d 791 (1990).

In 1987, while Fields's direct appeal was pending in the Illinois courts, Hawkins began cooperating with the authorities, including federal law enforcement. One of the matters he reported to the authorities was the bribery of Maloney, who was later indicted on federal charges. Eventually a deal was negotiated to remove Hawkins from death row in return for his testimony against other El Rukn members.

In 1991, Anthony Sumner told certain of the defendant police officers and a federal prosecutor who was investigating the El Rukns that he and Hawkins had committed the Vaughn/White murders and that his claim of Fields's involvement was fabricated. In January 1992, Sumner provided a signed statement to that effect to Chicago police and Cook County prosecutors.

In April 1993, former Judge Maloney was convicted on federal charges of conspiracy, racketeering, extortion, and obstruction of justice. Fields, who was still on death row, filed a petition for post-conviction relief. A state court judge granted Fields's petition in January 1996, ordering a new trial on the ground that Maloney's corrupt conduct prevented Fields from receiving a fair trial. Cook County prosecutors appealed, and the Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the grant of post-conviction relief in January 1998. See People v. Hawkins, supra .

Fields's retrial was delayed for a number of years, evidently due in significant part to interlocutory appeals by the prosecution of unfavorable rulings. Fields remained in custody until 2003, when he was released on bond.

Fields was retried for the Hickman/Smith murders in 2009. In the interim, Sumner had died. The authorities made a deal with Hawkins to dismiss the Smith/Hickman murder charges against him and not to prosecute him for the Vaughn/White murders, in return for his cooperation against Fields. Hawkins testified for the prosecution against Fields' at his retrial on the Smith/Hickman case. At this trial, the prosecution's theory was that George Carter, another El Rukn, had done the shooting along with Fields. Randy Langston, who by this time had recanted his recantation, again testified against Fields. The state trial judge, Vincent Gaughan, found that both Hawkins and Langston lacked credibility. He acquitted Fields of the murder charges. Fields's application for a certificate of innocence is currently pending in state court.

Fields has asserted three claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. First, he contends that defendants violated his due process rights by, among other things, fabricating evidence, engaging in suggestive identification procedures, and withholding exculpatory evidence in violation of Brady v. Maryland and its progeny. This claim includes an allegation that the City maintained a policy of failure to disclose exculpatory evidence in criminal cases. Second, Fields alleges that certain defendants failed to intervene to protect his constitutional rights. Third, Fields claims that the individual defendants conspired to frame him for the Smith/Hickman murders. In addition, Fields asserts claims under Illinois law for malicious prosecution, intentional infliction of emotional distress, civil conspiracy, respondeat superior, and indemnification.

Discussion

Both sides have filed summary judgment motions. Fields's summary judgment motion concerns the aforementioned "street file, " the non-production of which is part of the basis for his due process claim. Fields contends that he has proven all of the elements of a Brady violation with regard to the street file. It is unclear whether Fields seeks summary judgment just against the City or also against other defendants.

In their motion for summary judgment, defendants argue, first, that they are entitled to summary judgment on the part of Fields's due process claim that concerns his 1986 conviction on the ground that, given the Maloney bribe, Fields cannot prove the outcome of the trial would have differed absent the alleged constitutional violation. Second, defendants seek summary judgment on Fields's due process claim insofar as it relates to his second trial, on the ground that his acquittal precludes him from showing the requisite prejudice. Third, defendants contend there is no evidence that any individual defendant withheld the street file that Fields contends was never produced. Fourth, each individual defendant argues that Fields cannot prove the requisite personal involvement in the purported due process violations. Fifth, the individual defendants argue that Fields cannot show the predicate for a claim of failure to intervene. Sixth, they argue that his federal conspiracy claim is deficient because there is no evidence of a conspiratorial agreement. Seventh, the City argues that Fields cannot show that it had a policy or practice that caused a constitutional violation. Eighth, the individual defendants argue that Fields cannot show sufficient involvement on their part to render them liable for malicious prosecution, and they also argue that probable cause existed for the prosecution of Fields. Ninth, the defendants seek summary judgment on Fields's other state law claims on grounds parallel to certain of their arguments on the federal claims.

Summary judgment is proper if the moving party shows that there is no genuine dispute about any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Conversely, summary judgment is inappropriate "if a material issue of fact exists that would allow a reasonable jury to find in favor of the non-moving party." Spurling v. C & M Fine Pack, Inc., ___ F.3d ___, No 13-1708, 2014 WL 107968, at *3 (7th Cir. 2014).

A. Due process claim (Count 1)

Fields' due process claim is assessed, at least for the most part, under the now-familiar rubric of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), and its progeny.[2] There are "three basic elements: (1) the evidence at issue is favorable to the accused, either being exculpatory or impeaching; (2) the evidence must have been suppressed by the government, either willfully or inadvertently; and (3) there is a reasonable probability that prejudice ensued-in other words, materiality.'" Carvajal v. Dominguez, 542 F.3d 561, 566-67 (7th Cir. 2008). And as one of the Supreme Court cases relied upon by defendants holds, the ...


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