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Cahill v. Dart

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

December 2, 2016

THOMAS DART in his official capacity, C. MARTINEZ, E.N. NIEVES, K.P. LAYTON, A. CHEW, Defendants.


          JOHN Z. LEE United States District Judge.

         Before the Court are Plaintiff Daniel Cahill's Objections to the March 4, 2016, Report and Recommendation of Magistrate Judge Cox regarding his motion to sanction Defendants for destruction of evidence [103]. Although Judge Cox recommended granting the motion, Cahill contends that the sanction she proposed is inadequate. For the reasons given below, the Court agrees and adopts a modified version of the Report and Recommendation.


         Cahill's claims in this case-which include state claims for false arrest and malicious prosecution and a federal claim for violation of the Fourth Amendment- are based on the Defendants' accusations that he possessed cocaine at a County lockup. Cahill was initially arrested on December 15, 2011, by Defendants Martinez and Nieves, police officers with the Cook County Sheriff's Office, for driving on a suspended license. The officers then transported him to the lockup in Maywood for processing. Everyone agrees that they arrived there at approximately 9:00 p.m.

         But the parties sharply disagree over what happened while Cahill was at the lockup. Defendant Layton testified in a deposition for this case that he patted Cahill down shortly after he was brought in and that, during the patdown, he saw Cahill drop a small, tissue-wrapped, white package to the floor. Layton Dep. at 96-97 [115]. Layton explains that he then took Cahill to another part of the lockup for photos and fingerprinting, leaving the package lying on the floor. Id. at 103-04. After that, Layton brought Cahill back to where the package still lay and searched him again. Id. at 107-08. Only after this search did Layton pick up the package he says he had seen Cahill drop earlier. Id. at 100. He looked inside and then brought it to Martinez. Id. at 112.

         Martinez confronted Cahill with the suspected cocaine. Resp. Mot. Sanctions, Def.'s Ex. B, “Martinez Dep.” at 50:2. Cahill initially denied that it was his but, according to Martinez, confessed upon being told that surveillance cameras would have captured him dropping it. Id. at 50:4-50:15.

         Cahill denies dropping the package, denies that he was in possession of cocaine at any time while at the lockup, and denies that he ever said otherwise. Compl. ¶¶ 7-13. In Cahill's telling, he expressed relief when Martinez brought up the cameras, believing that the video footage would prove his innocence.

         Based on the officers' accounts of what happened at the lockup, Cahill was charged with felony possession of cocaine. His criminal defense attorney, Robert Schrimple, acted quickly after the arrest to obtain all video footage of his client's time at the lockup. He sent a subpoena to the Cook County Sheriff's Office in Maywood, see Mot. Santions, Pl.'s Ex. F, Subpoena, and also provided a copy to the County's legal department, Hr. Tr. at 130:7-130:10.

         Lieutenant Don Milazzo, who was in charge of the Maywood lockup at the time, also took some action to preserve the video. On January 10, 2012, a few days before the video was scheduled to be destroyed, he completed a “Request for Hold of Video Surveillance, ” seeking the preservation of “all video of Prisoner Daniel Cahill who arrived in the Maywood 24 Hr. L/U at 2100 hrs [9:00 p.m.] ¶ 15 Dec. 2011, and left the facility at 0740 hrs on 16 Dec. 2011.” Reply Br., Pl.'s Ex. C, “Request for Hold.” Milazzo does not recall why he completed the hold request, see Hr. Tr. at 50:8-50:10, and he concedes that he never followed up to confirm that his hold request had been honored, id. at 52:7-52:10.

         Schrimple did follow up after serving his subpoena-many times-but no one in the Sheriff's Office or legal department could give him any information. Id. at 130:15-132:13. Then, in mid-February, a lawyer for the County sent him a letter representing that the video from the time Cahill was at the Maywood lockup was no longer in existence. Mot. Sanctions, Pl.'s Ex. G, “Feb. 14 Letter.” The lawyer explained that “all video had been destroyed by the time the Sheriff's Office was able to determine the video was under the control of the Cook County Facilities Management Department.” Id.

         But it turned out that some video of Cahill from the lockup that night still existed after all. Officer Martinez had submitted a request on December 16, 2011, for video of Cahill discarding the cocaine, which he said happened at “approximately 2120-2140 hrs [9:20 p.m. to 9:40 p.m]. See Resp. Mot. Sanctions, Def.'s Ex. C, “Martinez Request.” In response to this request, James Collins, a technician from the Facilities Department, transferred some video onto his laptop computer and then onto a DVD. Martinez picked up the DVD and, at some point, turned it over to the State's Attorney's office.

         The video Martinez sent the prosecutor covers from 9:16 p.m. to 9:24 p.m. Mot. Sanctions, Pl.'s Ex. A, “Video.” It does not show Cahill dropping anything. Instead, when the video begins, the small white package is already on the floor, and Cahill is nowhere to be seen. Fifteen seconds in, Cahill is brought across the room from somewhere off camera and placed right next to the package. He seems to be completely oblivious to its presence. Layton then thoroughly searches him while both men ignore the package. Upon completion of the search, Layton kicks the package, picks it up, and opens it before leaving the room with it.

         After viewing this video, the Assistant Cook County State's Attorney handling the case concluded that the state would not be able to prove the charges against Cahill. The charges were dismissed, and Cahill brought this lawsuit.

         In his Motion for Sanctions for Spoliation of Evidence [74], Cahill argues that Defendants had a duty to preserve the video footage from his time in the lockup and intentionally failed to do so because the video would have proven his innocence. He was prejudiced by the destruction of the evidence because, he contends, the full video would have shown that someone other than him dropped the cocaine. (Apparently other arrestees had been through that area of the lockup shortly before him.) The motion proposes sanctions ranging from default judgment to an adverse ...

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