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White v. City of Chicago

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

January 15, 2015



JOHN Z. LEE, District Judge.

Defendants Chicago Police Officer John O'Donnell ("Officer O'Donnell") and the City of Chicago move for summary judgment on Plaintiff Vonzell White's claims for unlawful arrest in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments and malicious prosecution in violation of Illinois law. This case involves allegations of civil rights violations stemming from an undercover operation leading to Plaintiff's arrest for the sale of heroin. Defendants argue that Officer O'Donnell had probable cause for seeking an arrest warrant and further argue that there is no genuine evidentiary dispute as to three material elements needed for Plaintiff to succeed at trial against the City of Chicago on the malicious prosecution claim: probable cause, malice, and "favorable termination."

Plaintiff opposes summary judgment and argues primarily that portions of his deposition testimony disputing the events recounted in the undercover report create genuine issues of material fact with respect to both of his claims. Plaintiff also argues the report is deficient because it does not offer information on the confidential informant's reliability. For the reasons provided herein, the Court grants Defendants' motion.

I. Factual Background

A. The Undercover Operation

The following facts are undisputed, except where otherwise noted. "Blue Knight, " a joint operation of the FBI and the Chicago Police Department begun in 2008, aimed to target certain high narcotics areas in the West Side of Chicago. Defs.' LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 6. Operation Blue Knight employed confidential informants who cooperated with law enforcement by supplying information, wearing video and audio recording equipment, and engaging in covert transactions with narcotics sellers. Id. ¶ 7. Many of the sellers targeted by Operation Blue Knight were members of the Traveling Vice Lords street gang. Id.

On July 31, 2010, FBI agents and Chicago police officers conducted a covert narcotics purchase involving a Confidential Informant ("C/I") nicknamed "Kangol." Id. ¶ 8. Officer O'Donnell was not involved in this July 31, 2010, narcotics purchase. Id. ¶ 9. Plaintiff and Vernon Chapman were involved in the sale, though Plaintiff disputes the extent of his role. Defendants argue that both Plaintiff and Chapman arrived at a bus shelter on Sacramento Boulevard and sold heroin to the C/I. Id. ¶ 10. Plaintiff remembers standing thirty feet away while the heroin sale was conducted; only Chapman had a conversation with the C/I. Pl.'s LR 56.1(b)(3) Stmt. ¶ 10. In either case, the C/I made the heroin purchase with pre-marked bills. Defs.' LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 10. Officer Lipsey, a surveillance officer for the covert narcotics purchase, prepared a Narcotics and Gang Investigation Supplementary Report ("NAGIS Report"), detailing the July 31, 2010, operation. Id. ¶¶ 11-12; see generally id. Ex. G (NAGIS Report).

The July 31, 2010, NAGIS Report identifies Plaintiff and Chapman as members of the Traveling Vice Lords street gang. Defs.' LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶ 13. Both Plaintiff and Chapman are listed as offenders who delivered the heroin to the C/I on July 31, 2010. Id. More specifically, the July 31, 2010, NAGIS Report details that the C/I, using an audio and video recording device, and armed with $300.00 in pre-marked bills, observed Plaintiff and Chapman approaching together in a van and, after exiting the van, walking southbound on Sacramento Boulevard approaching Chicago Avenue. Id. ¶ 14. Plaintiff and Chapman approached the C/I. Id. The three engaged in conversation behind the bus shelter, and then walked together to the C/I's vehicle. Id. Plaintiff and Chapman then turned back and began walking northbound on Sacramento Boulevard. Id. And the C/I entered his vehicle. Id.

After this, the C/I exited his vehicle and contacted Agent Cyprian to confirm a positive purchase of heroin. Id. Plaintiff and Chapman left the scene and drove away in their van. Id. Officers recovered the heroin from the C/I and inventoried it. Id. The C/I then positively identified both Plaintiff and Chapman from a photo array. Id. The NAGIS Report further details that the drugs bought by the C/I field tested positive for heroin. Id. Ex. G., pg. 3.

B. Judge Ford Issues an Arrest Warrant

After documenting criminal activity from Fall 2008 to Summer 2010, Operation Blue Knight moved into an arrest and prosecution phase during which certain targets were to be prosecuted in state court in Cook County and other targets were to be prosecuted in federal court. Defs.' LR 56.1(a)(3) Stmt. ¶¶ 16-17. Defendant Officer O'Donnell acted as the Operation Blue Knight case officer and sought to secure warrants for several targets, including Plaintiff. Id. ¶ 18. On November 10, 2010, Officer O'Donnell signed a criminal complaint against Plaintiff for delivery of a controlled substance based on the July 31, 2010, NAGIS Report. Id. ¶ 20.

On November 16, 2010, Officer O'Donnell and the Assistant States Attorney ("ASA") assigned to the case, Dan Fahlgren, appeared before Illinois Circuit Judge Nicholas Ford to secure arrest warrants for targets of Operation Blue Knight. Id. ¶ 21. Judge Ford placed Officer O'Donnell under oath. Id. ¶ 22. Officer O'Donnell then presented the criminal complaints to Judge Ford; as to Plaintiff, Officer O'Donnell gave a statement based on the contents of NAGIS Report. Id. ¶¶ 22-23. Fahlgren, though present, does not recall what in particular Officer O'Donnell communicated to Judge Ford. Id. ¶ 24. But Falhgren avers that the police reports would have constituted the information presented to Judge Ford. Id.

Fahlgren agrees that the July 31, 2010, NAGIS Report characterizes Plaintiff and Chapman as having committed the crime of delivery of a controlled substance. Id. ¶ 25. Fahlgren also avers that Officer O'Donnell did not need to prepare a sworn affidavit to secure an arrest warrant for Plaintiff, [1] and that at the time he and Officer O'Donnell sought the arrest warrant, they believed they had probable cause. Id. ¶¶ 26-27. Judge ...

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