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Sanders v. City of Chicago Heights

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

August 19, 2016

CITY OF CHICAGO HEIGHTS, et al., Defendants.



         On July 8, 2016, Plaintiff Rodell Sanders moved to exclude certain expert testimony of Defendant City of Chicago Heights’ and individual Defendant Chicago Heights Police Officers’ police practices expert John J. Ryan pursuant to the Federal Rules of Evidence and Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharms., Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 113 S.Ct. 2786, 125 L.Ed.2d 469 (1993). For the following reasons, the Court, in its discretion, grants in part and denies in part Sanders’ Daubert motion.[1]


         After being incarcerated for approximately 20 years, on July 22, 2014, a Circuit Court of Cook County jury acquitted Sanders on all criminal counts involving the 1993 murder of Philip Atkins and shooting of Stacy Armstrong. Originally, a Circuit Court of Cook County jury convicted Sanders of murder and attempted murder in January 1995. Thereafter, Sanders filed a successful post-conviction petition brought under the Illinois Post-Conviction Hearing Act, 725 ILCS 5/122-1, et seq., in which the Circuit Court judge granted him a new trial based on defense counsel’s constitutionally ineffective assistance of counsel in violation of the Sixth Amendment. The Illinois Appellate Court, First District, affirmed the Circuit Court, and the State retried Sanders in July 2014, at which time the jury acquitted him. The present civil rights lawsuit followed.

         At the time of the December 1993 murder and resultant criminal investigation, Sanders was a high ranking member of the Gangster Disciples street gang in Chicago’s south suburbs, which includes Chicago Heights. On December 14, 1993, Atkins was working at the Old Country Buffet restaurant in Matteson, Illinois, where Armstrong picked him up after he had finished work. From there, Atkins and Armstrong, who were dating, drove to a friend’s house in Harvey, Illinois, a suburb near Chicago Heights. Around 2:00 a.m. on December 15, 1993, Atkins and Armstrong were in Armstrong’s vehicle, which was parked in an alley near 1437 Portland Avenue in Chicago Heights. At that time, several males approached the vehicle and ordered Atkins and Armstrong out of the car at gunpoint. The men then escorted Armstrong and Atkins to a dark, secluded garage. Inside the garage, the men questioned Atkins about his gang affiliation, after which he revealed that he was a member of the Mickey Cobras - a rival gang of the Gangster Disciples. One of the men then shot both Atkins and Armstrong, killing Atkins. Armstrong survived.

         Defendants Jeffrey Bohlen and Robert Pinnow were the lead detectives on the Atkins murder investigation. On the night of the shooting, Defendants Bohlen and Pinnow spoke to Armstrong about the crime while she was in the hospital. Armstrong did not identify any of the perpetrators at that time. On December 28, 1993, Defendants Bohlen and Pinnow re-interviewed Armstrong and during this interview, Armstrong informed them that four men were involved in the crime. She further explained that one person took Atkins out of the car at gunpoint and brought him into the alley and that the same person then took her down the alley to the garage. Armstrong referred to this person as Offender #1 and was only able to describe Offender #1 as a black male. Also, Armstrong provided a description of the second offender or Offender #2, who was the shooter, as about five feet, five inches to seven inches tall, with a medium build, and that he was wearing a black hooded shirt with black pants. She described the shooter as being about sixteen-years-old. Armstrong described Offender #3, the person who ordered the shooting, to Defendant Officers Bohlen and Pinnow. More specifically, Armstrong described Offender #3 as a black male, who was six feet tall with a thin build, a mustache, and additional facial hair. She also told the officers that Offender #3 was the leader of the group. Armstrong informed the officers that the fourth perpetrator acted as a lookout, although she could only identify this individual as male.

         A few days after the hospital released Armstrong, she viewed a photographic array at her home on December 31, 1993. Defendant Officers Bohlen and Pinnow included Sanders in the photographic array that Armstrong viewed. Armstrong then identified Sanders from the photographic array as Offender #3 - the offender who ordered the shooting. Armstrong, however, had previously described Offender #3 as being six feet tall and thin, whereas Sanders was short and stocky at that time. It is undisputed that Sanders’ photograph in the array did not have a height indicator in it and that a photograph of his shoulder appeared next to the photograph of him facing the camera. Evidence in the record also indicates that Sanders’ photo had a different background than the other photographs in the array and that Sanders’ photograph was a Polaroid rather than a police mug shot.

         On January 14, 1994, Armstrong went to the Chicago Heights Police Department to view a physical lineup conducted by Defendant Pinnow and another detective. Upon arriving at the police department, Defendant Bohlen told Armstrong that they had someone in custody for the Atkins murder. The parties dispute whether Defendant Bohlen informed Armstrong of Sanders’ name - either when she was viewing the photographic array or at the live lineup. Armstrong identified Sanders from the physical lineup. Chicago Heights Police then arrested Sanders, after which Defendants Bohlen and Pinnow interrogated him.

         In the meantime, Germaine Haslett was also a member of the Gangster Disciples in the south suburbs and, during the relevant time period, held a lower rank in the gang than Sanders. On January 14, 1994, Defendants Pinnow and Bohlen arrested Germaine Haslett pursuant to an outstanding warrant and then interrogated him. At the time of his arrest, Haslett was with Sanders at a dry cleaners in Chicago Heights where Defendant Pinnow worked as a security officer. There is no dispute that during the interrogation, Haslett told Defendants Pinnow and Bohlen that he was involved in the Atkins murder.

         The parties, however, dispute whether Defendants Bohlen and Pinnow directed Haslett to implicate Sanders in the Atkins murder. There is also disputed evidence in the record that Defendants Pinnow and Bohlen threatened to make Haslett’s life miserable if he refused to implicate Sanders and promised Haslett a reduced sentence if he did implicate Sanders. Pursuant to a plea agreement that he made with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, Haslett received a reduced sentence of twelve years in the Atkins murder for testifying against Sanders. Also, he was promised that he would not serve his term in an Illinois prison. The parties dispute whether Haslett was paid money or conferred any other benefits in connection with his testimony against Sanders at the 1995 criminal trial.

         II. Ryan’s Qualifications

         Defendants’ expert rebuttal witness, John J. Ryan, has a Bachelor of Science Degree in the Administration of Justice from Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island and a Master of Science Degree in the Administration of Justice from Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island. Also, Ryan has a Juris Doctor Degree from Suffolk University Law School in Boston, Massachusetts. From 1993 until 2002, Ryan served as an adjunct faculty member in the Administration of Justice Program at Salve Regina University teaching graduate courses on Constitutional Issues in Law Enforcement; Police Misconduct/Civil Liability; Managing Police Organizations; Contemporary Issues in the Justice Field; Juvenile Justice; Mental Health Law; and Business Crime. Prior to 2002, Ryan was a Police Captain for the Providence Police Department in Providence, Rhode Island, where he served for twenty years. Ryan is currently the co-director of the Legal and Liability Risk Management Institute along with James Alsup, G. Patrick Gallagher, and Lou Reiter. As part of the Legal and Liability Risk Management Institute, Ryan conducts training for law enforcement agencies and jails.

         Since 2000, Ryan has written several manuals for use by police officers, two of which are used by Rhode Island Law Enforcement agencies, namely, Rhode Island Law Enforcement Officers’ Guide to Criminal Procedure (2000) and Rhode Island Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, A Guide to Investigations and Hearings (2000). The Public Agency Training Council distributes Ryan’s other manuals used in conjunction with training programs for public employees. These manuals include: Legal and Liability Issues in the Public Schools (2001); Policy Development for Public Safety Agencies (2002); Civil Liability and Risk Management for Law Enforcement Agencies (2003); Use of Force (2004); Administrative Investigations In Law Enforcement Agencies (2004); Legal and Liability Issues for Hostage Negotiators (2005); Public Safety Media Relations (2005); Arrest Search and Seizure (2005); and Law and Best Practices for Successful Police Operations, 12 High Risk Critical Tasks That Impact Law Enforcement Operations and Create Exposure to Liability Litigation (2007, 2010, 2013). Ryan has provided police practices expert opinions and testimony in several federal cases, including M.H. v. Cnty. of Alameda, 62 F.Supp.3d 1049, 1071 (N.D. Cal. 2014); Grant v. Winik, 948 F.Supp.2d 480, 489 (E.D. Pa. 2013); Crowell v. Kirkpatrick, 667 F.Supp.2d 391, 407 (D. Vt. 2009); and Atwood v. Town of Ellington, 468 F.Supp.2d 340, 358 (D. Conn. 2007).

         III. Ryan’s Expert Opinions

         In forming his opinions, Ryan relied upon (1) court documents in the present proceedings, including the original complaint and amended complaints; (2) the parties’ discovery, such as answers to interrogatories, depositions, and deposition exhibits; (3) the 2014 criminal trial transcript; and (4) Dr. Geoffrey Loftus’ and Dr. William Gaut’s expert reports. Defendants offer Ryan’s expert opinion in rebuttal to Sanders’ police practices witness Dr. Gaut, who was the subject of two of Defendants’ Daubert motions. In general, Defendants offer Ryan’s testimony to rebut Dr. Gaut’s opinion that certain aspects of the Atkins murder investigation violated generally accepted police practices.

         In his Daubert motion, Sanders does not seek to exclude Ryan’s expert opinion in its entirety. Instead, he delineates the exact expert opinions he is challenging, including Ryan’s opinion that “prior to bringing criminal charges, the investigators and the State’s Attorney received a confession from Haslett in which he implicated himself in this crime. It is well known in law enforcement that when a subject implicates him or herself in ...

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