Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, First Division
PRISCILLA PRICE, Independent Administrator of the Estate of Niko Husband, Deceased, Plaintiff-Appellant,
THE CITY OF CHICAGO, a Municipal Corporation, and MARCO PROANO, Defendants-Appellees.
from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 11 L 10162
Honorable Elizabeth M. Budzinski Judge Presiding
JUSTICE SIMON delivered the judgment of the court, with
opinion. Justices Harris and Mikva concurred in the judgment
1 Niko Husband was shot and killed by Chicago police officer
Marco Proano. This case was filed by the administrator of
Husband's estate seeking damages for wrongful death.
Officer Proano and the City of Chicago countered that the
shooting was justified under Illinois law. The jury returned
a general verdict against the defendants, and in favor of
plaintiff, for $3.5 million. The jury also answered two
2 The first special interrogatory asked whether Officer
Proano "reasonably believe[d] that Niko Husband's
actions placed him or his fellow officers in imminent threat
of death or serious bodily harm" when he shot Husband.
The jury answered "Yes." The second special
interrogatory asked whether Officer Proano's
"conduct in shooting Niko Husband [was] willful and
3 he jury answered "Yes." Finding that the answer
to the first special interrogatory controlled the verdict,
the trial court entered a judgment of no liability in favor
of defendants. We reverse.
5 On July 17, 2011, nineteen-year-old Niko Husband went to a
dance party at 80th Street and Ashland Avenue with his
friends. The organizers of the event rented a fraternal lodge
and provided security. Attendees were patted down by security
as they entered the party. There was no alcohol served. A
disc jockey played music and everyone was dancing. But the
party ended abruptly when police arrived and announced to the
crowd that the party was over.
6 Chicago Police Officer Marco Proano and his team had
received a radio call that a man with an AK-47 was running
towards 80th Street and Ashland Avenue-the same location as
the dance party. The radio call identified the suspect with
the AK-47 as a black male with dreadlocks wearing a white
shirt and white or khaki shorts. The officers approached the
party and told the security guards that they were looking for
a man with an AK-47. The security guards told the officers
that the suspect was not inside because they patted down
everyone prior to entry. The police ended the party and
searched partygoers as they exited.
7 As Husband exited the party, he was positioned immediately
behind and had his arms around a female friend, Keoni
Jackson. Husband was wearing a bright green T-shirt and blue
jeans. Officer Proano testified that he knew Husband did not
meet the description of the suspect from the radio call.
However, in Officer Proano's judgment and the judgment of
other officers, Jackson appeared distressed or panicked by
Husband's contact. The officers instructed Husband to
take his arms off Jackson and to let her go. Husband did not
obey the order. Officer Whigham testified that Husband shoved
him and refused to let go of Jackson. Officers threw both
Husband and Jackson against the wall and started to
forcefully separate them. A struggle ensued.
8 Officer Proano testified that when he put his arm between
Husband and Jackson, he felt a gun around Husband's waist
area and then placed his left hand directly on the gun.
Husband's T-shirt was covering the gun. Officer Proano
testified that he could not pull the weapon from
Husband's waistband due to the struggle but yelled out
"gun, gun, gun, he's got a gun" to alert his
fellow officers. Officer Whigham used his Taser three or four
times on Husband causing him to the fall to the floor on his
back. At this time, Officers Proano, Whigham, and Piper were
directly involved in the struggle with four other officers
surrounding them in close proximity.
9 Crouched over Husband, the three officers attempted to gain
control of his arms to prevent Husband from reaching into his
waistband. Officers testified that Husband flailed violently
and uncontrollably. The officers were unable to subdue
10 Officer Proano testified that he saw Husband prop himself
up with his elbows and reach into his waistband. Officer
Proano testified that Husband then pulled out a gun and
pointed it at Officer Piper, so he shot Husband three times
in the chest. All three officers involved in the struggle
testified that they believed Husband was going to shoot
Officer Piper before being shot by Officer Proano. Husband
died within seconds.
11 The testimony of officers described the scene as chaotic
and difficult to control. Officer Proano testified that the
number of people at the scene was in the hundreds. As the
struggle between Husband and the officers intensified, so did
the officers' concerns about crowd control. Officers
described being surrounded by the crowd and even believed
that the crowd might try to get involved in the struggle with
12 The issue of whether Husband actually had a gun was hotly
contested by plaintiff at trial. The three officers
attempting to subdue Husband claim that they saw him pull a
gun and point it at Officer Piper. The other four officers on
the scene did not see Husband with a weapon. Jackson and
Husband's friend testified that he did not have a gun and
that they did not see a gun in Husband's waistband as he
danced at the party with his shirt off.
13 Plaintiff questioned the chain of custody of the gun that
Husband was accused of possessing the night he died. After
Husband was shot, Officer Piper claims to have taken the gun
from Husband's hand and made contact with his sergeant,
Phillip Orlando. Officer Piper told Sergeant Orlando that
Husband had "just pointed a gun at me." Sergeant
Orlando testified that he saw Officer Piper holding a gun and
took the gun from him because he wanted Officer Piper to have
some time to relax. Sergeant Orlando did not see the
14 Sergeant Orlando then testified that he placed the gun
taken from Officer Piper on the driver seat of his vehicle.
Sergeant Orlando ordered Officer Proano to stay with the
vehicle. Seeing the gun sitting on the driver's seat,
Officer Proano testified that he picked up and put the gun in
his waistband because he was afraid someone might break into
the car and take the gun. Officer Proano testified that he
gave the weapon to a police forensic investigator about an
15 The recovered gun was a semi-automatic with a single round
in the chamber. No physical evidence tied the gun to Husband.
The only evidence that Husband had a gun was the testimony of
the three officers who attempted to subdue him. A postmortem
examination revealed that Husband did not have any drugs or
alcohol in his system at the time of the shooting. An
internal police investigation of the shooting did not
contradict, nor did it confirm, the accounts of whether
Husband pointed a gun at a police officer.
16 Plaintiff, as the administrator of Husband's estate,
filed this wrongful death case. Plaintiff presented expert
testimony analyzing the police officers' conduct in an
attempt to demonstrate that the officers' actions were
inconsistent with Husband having a gun. The expert testimony
also covered the way in which the police officers handled the
weapon taken from Husband immediately ...