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Alexander v. Villages of Round Lake Park

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

May 16, 2018

Quendalyne Alexander Plaintiff,
Villages of Round Lake Park and Round Lake, Municipal Corporations, Officer Matthew Lyons, Commander Anthony Colon, and Officer Brandon Gullifor, Defendants.


          Elaine E. Bucklo United States District Judge.

         In the early morning hours of March 7, 2015, officers Matthew Lyons and Anthony Colon of the Village of Round Lake Park police department responded to a 911 call reporting that a woman had jumped from a window and was lying in the snow. The officers arrived at the scene and found the woman, later identified as Natasha Alexander, unconscious and bleeding. Plaintiff-Natasha's cousin-was in a car parked in the driveway of plaintiff's sister's house, a few doors down from where Natasha lay. Officer Colon spoke briefly with plaintiff, then asked her to get into Officer Lyons's squad car to get out of the cold. Plaintiff got into the car, and Officer Lyons pulled off, leaving Officer Colon at the scene.

         As Officer Lyons transported plaintiff to the police station, an argument erupted in the squad car, prompting Officer Lyons to pull over into the parking lot of a nearby restaurant and call for backup. Officer Colon and Officer Brandon Gullifor of the Village of Round Lake Police Department arrived at the scene, and together the officers removed plaintiff from the car and handcuffed her. Later, she pled guilty to domestic battery of Natasha and battery of Officer Lyons. Plaintiff brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that the officers used excessive force during her arrest.

         Before me are defendants' motions for summary judgment, which argue that on the undisputed record, the force they used was reasonable under the circumstances; and that even if the force the officers used was excessive, they are entitled to qualified immunity. For the reasons that follow, I conclude that even when all factual disputes are resolved in plaintiff's favor, the record would not allow a reasonable jury to find that defendants violated plaintiff's constitutional rights, and I grant summary judgment on that basis.


         Although the parties present starkly different accounts of the events culminating in the challenged use of force, I assume the facts are as plaintiff recounts them wherever the record reasonably allows. On the night in question, plaintiff was at her sister's house for a birthday celebration when her cousin Natasha arrived in a “rageful” state. Pl.'s Dep., DN 55-1 at 44, 51. Plaintiff tried to calm Natasha down, but matters escalated, and plaintiff pushed Natasha onto a couch. Natasha “charged at” plaintiff, “busting” plaintiff's nose. Id. at 55, 66. Plaintiff went to the bathroom to tend to her nose, then left the house and sat in a car in the driveway. Id. at 57, 65-66. As she sat in the car, Officer Colon approached and asked, “why was [Natasha] hiding in the bushes?” Id. at 71. Plaintiff saw Natasha talking to police outside the house. Id. at 70. Natasha was sitting on the curb and shaking her head, and she “didn't look like herself” but was not bleeding and did not look injured. Id. at 72, 74. Officer Colon asked plaintiff to step inside his car “[b]ecause it [was] cold outside, and [he] want[ed] to talk to [her].” Id. at 73, 75. Plaintiff agreed to get in the back of the squad car. Id. at 74, 82. Officer Lyons immediately pulled off. Id. at 76.

         Plaintiff testified that she told Officer Lyons that she wanted to call her sister to tell her where she was being taken. Officer Lyons then “flipped out” and started screaming that she could not use her “f***ing cell phone in [his] car.” Officer Lyons pulled over, “smashed the door open, ” and told plaintiff to “step the f*ck out” of his car. Plaintiff remained “completely calm” but refused to get out. Id. at 87-88. Officer Lyons was trying to “snatch” plaintiff out of the car when Officers Colon and Gullifor arrived. Id. at 89. The officers continued to tell plaintiff to get out of the car. Plaintiff refused to get out, but she remained calm and did not yell, swear, or kick at the officers. Id. 89-90, 97.

         Plaintiff testified that the officers then forced her out of the car and “slammed” her to the ground, injuring her face, elbow, and knee. Id. at 94, 141-143. As plaintiff lay on the ground, the officers put their knees on her back and pulled at her arms. Id. at 96-98. She told the officers they were hurting her, but they did not stop, so she “just played dead.” Id. at 96. Sometime later, plaintiff was taken to the hospital in an ambulance, but she refused medical care after seeing Officer Lyons laughing and joking with hospital staff. Id. at 105. She told a doctor, “[j]ust send me home. Send me home or take me to jail.” Id. at 109, 111.

         A portion of plaintiff's arrest was captured by the “dash cam” device in Officer Gullifor's squad car. The video recording begins as officer Gullifor pulls up behind Officer Lyons's parked squad car in the parking lot of The Pizza Place restaurant, where Officer Lyons had pulled over. See Exh. D to Round Lake Park Def.'s L.R. 56.1 Stmt.; Pl.'s Dep. at 27. Officer Gulliver then approaches Officer Lyons's vehicle on foot, where one officer can be seen standing off to the side of the vehicle, while another officer not visible on screen can be heard arguing with plaintiff. Plaintiff can be seen and heard screaming obscenities at the unseen officer from within the vehicle. The officer tells her, “I'm about two seconds away from cuffing you.” Plaintiff responds, “cuff me, cuff me motherf***er, ” and continues to scream obscenities. The standing officer then opens the rear passenger's side door, and plaintiff yells “get your motherf***ing hands off me.” An officer tells her, “you gotta get cuffed, ” and she screams “don't f***ing touch me” then begins kicking the officer at the rear passenger door while continuing to scream. The officers can be heard to shout “stop resisting!” multiple times as plaintiff continues to swear and kick. The audio then cuts out as the video shows the officers pull plaintiff out of the car and onto the ground.

         Most of what occurs next is outside the range of the video camera. Still, two of the officers can be seen to struggle with plaintiff on the ground for approximately fifteen seconds. Thereafter, the two officers stand up while the third remains outside the camera's view. Several minutes go by, during which time an ambulance arrives. (The ambulance cannot be seen on the video, but its flashing lights can be seen in reflection off of the squad car). The officers then spend several minutes struggling to get plaintiff back into the squad car as she stands at the open rear passenger door, then sits partially inside, screaming obscenities at the officers.[1] Finally, the officers get plaintiff into the car and drive away.

         Plaintiff was charged with multiple felony offenses based on the events of March 7, 2015. She ultimately pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of battery, admitting that she kicked Officer Lyons, and a misdemeanor charge of domestic battery, admitting that she struck Natasha.


         Summary judgment is appropriate when the pleadings, depositions, admissions, and other evidence of record show that “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). I must consider the record as a whole and construe all facts in the light most favorable to plaintiff. Payne v. Pauley, 337 F.3d 767 (7th Cir. 2003). The Supreme Court has added a caveat, however, that the non-movant's version should not be credited when it is clearly contradicted by a video recording capturing events that is in the record. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380-81 (2007).

         Defendants argue that the dash cam recordings, together with plaintiff's guilty pleas and her admissions in conjunction with those pleas, establish as a matter of law that the force the officers used in the course of her arrest was reasonable. Plaintiff does not dispute that the dash cam footage “partially depict[s] some of the events in question, ” but she insists that it does not discredit her version ...

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