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Gomez v. Kruger

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

July 24, 2019

Nicholas Gomez, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
K. Kruger (Star no. 17501), et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Elaine E. Bucklo United States District Judge.

         Plaintiffs Jesus “Mike” Castrejon (“Castrejon”), Omar Nazario (“Nazario”), Edwin Mercado (“Mercado”), Osmar Rodriguez (“Rodriguez”), and Nicholas Gomez (“Gomez”) have sued a group of twelve Chicago police officers (“defendants, ” “the officers”) and the City of Chicago.[1] The suit arises in connection with plaintiffs' arrest by defendants during an altercation in Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood. Plaintiffs allege several violations of their civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as various causes of action under Illinois law. Defendants have moved for partial summary judgment with respect to certain of the claims asserted by plaintiffs Castrejon and Nazario. For the reasons discussed below, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         I.

         On the evening of June 16, 2011, Rodriguez, Nazario, and Gomez were working at a barbershop. Rodriguez witnessed two individuals, whom he believed to be gang members, standing in front of the barbershop and flashing gang signs at passing cars. He asked the gang members to leave, and when they refused, he asked one of his fellow barbers to call the police.

         Between five and ten minutes later, two Chicago police officers arrived on the scene. Although the putative gang members soon left, other officers continued to arrive on the scene until about thirty officers were present. Plaintiffs claim that the officers began lining up and putting on gloves. Castrejon, one of the barbershop's customers, stepped outside to see what was going on. He testified that it looked like the police were “ready for war” and that he feared for his life. Pls.' L.R. 56(b)(3)(C) Stmt. ¶ 7. At Rodriguez's suggestion, Castrejon began to record the events on his cell phone.

         The video, which lasts approximately fifty-three seconds, shows several police officers standing outside of the barbershop. See Defs'. Ex. E, Castrejon Cell Phone Recording. The officers appear to be speaking with one another and with civilians. Castrejon can be heard commenting on events as he pans his cell phone around the scene. During the recording, he makes several references to Rodney King, the motorist whose beating in 1991 by Los Angeles police officers was captured on video, ultimately leading to the criminal conviction of certain of the officers for violating King's constitutional rights. As discussed more fully below, the parties dispute precisely what Castrejon said and what his references to Rodney King meant. According to plaintiffs, Castrejon said, “It's going to be some Rodney King.” Pls.' Resp. Br. at 2. They claim that Castrejon was expressing concern about impending police brutality. According to defendants, Castrejon said, “[L]et's see some Rodney King shit up in here!” See Defs.' Reply Br. at 4. They contend that Castrejon was seeking to instigate a confrontation with the police.

         It is undisputed that Sergeant Karl Kruger (“Kruger”) and other officers informed Castrejon that he did not have their permission to record them. It is also undisputed that Castrejon nonetheless continued to record. Near the end of the video, Kruger can be heard telling Castrejon to put the phone away. Kruger then says to Castrejon, “You put your hands on me, motherfucker? You put your fucking hands on me?” Defs.' Ex. E; see also Defs.' Ex. B, Trial Tr. at 91:17-19 (Kruger testifying that these statements were made by him). A scuffle ensues, and the recording abruptly ends.

         According to plaintiffs, Kruger at this point “launched at Castrejon and pinned him against the window of the barbershop and smacked Castrejon's phone while another officer plowed Castrejon in the ribs.” Pls.' L.R. 56.1(b)(3)(C) Stmt. ¶ 10. Defendants deny that Kruger “launched” at Castrejon or smacked his phone, or that anyone “plowed” Castrejon in the ribs. They say that Kruger pushed Castrejon against the window after Castrejon grabbed Kruger's wrist and punched Kruger in the chest. Defs.' Resp. to Pls.' 56. Stmt. ¶¶ 10, 35.

         Once the altercation broke out between Kruger and Castrejon, a full-blown melee ensued. Sergeant William Grassi (“Grassi”) told the officers to “Get everybody!” and the officers converged on the barbershop and began arresting people. In addition to Castrejon, several other plaintiffs claim that the officers used excessive force in arresting them. As relevant here, Nazario alleges that the officers dragged him from the foyer of the barbershop and proceeded to kick him in the face and head, strike him with a baton on his back and neck, and shoot him twice in the buttocks with a taser gun. Pls.' Resp. Br. at 3; Pls.' L.R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 14-16. Defendants deny these allegations and claim that Nazario was arrested because he rushed at a group of officers and tried to punch Sergeant Grassi. Defs.' Resp. to Pls.' L.R. 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 14-16.

         Eventually, all of the plaintiffs were placed under arrest. All were charged with resisting/obstructing a peace officer; and all except Castrejon were charged with mob action. Nazario and Castrejon were additionally charged with aggravated battery; and Castrejon was charged with violating Illinois' eavesdropping statute based on his recording of the officers without their consent. All of the resisting/obstructing and mob action charges were ultimately dropped. After a preliminary hearing, a state court found probable cause for the eavesdropping charge against Castrejon and the aggravated battery charges against both Castrejon and Nazario. See Preliminary Hr'g Trans., Defs.' Ex. I at 21:22. The eavesdropping charge was later dropped, and in November 2016, Castrejon and Nazario were tried and acquitted on the aggravated-battery charges.

         Plaintiffs' complaint asserts nine causes of action. Four of these allege violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983: excessive force (Count I); failure to intervene (Count II); unlawful seizure/false arrest (Count III); and illegal pretrial detention (Count IV). The remaining claims arise under Illinois state law: assault (Count V); battery (Count VI); malicious prosecution (Count VII); indemnification (Count VIII); and conspiracy (Count IX).[2]

         Defendants move for summary judgment as to Castrejon's § 1983 claims for failure to intervene, false arrest, and illegal pretrial detention, and well as Castrejon's and Nazario's conspiracy claim. The motion is granted as to Castrejon's § 1983 claims and denied without prejudice as to the conspiracy claim.

         II.

         A. Castrejon's Claims for False Arrest, Failure to Intervene, and Illegal Pretrial Detention

         Castrejon's claims for failure to intervene (Count II), false arrest (Count III) and illegal pretrial detention (Count IV) are interrelated: the false-arrest claim alleges that Castrejon was arrested without probable cause for eavesdropping; his failure-to-intervene claim alleges that defendants failed to prevent the false arrest, 3d Am. Compl. ¶ 50; and his illegal-pretrial-detention claim alleges that he was wrongly detained based on the false arrest, id. ¶ 57. Thus, the parties' briefing proceeds on the assumption that if Castrejon's false arrest-claim fails, his failure-to-intervene and illegal-pretrial-detention claims fail as well. See Defs.' Br. at 7-8; Pls.' Resp. Br. at 7 n.2.

         “To prevail on a false-arrest claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must show that there was no probable cause for his arrest.” Neita v. City of Chicago, 830 F.3d 494, 497 (7th Cir. 2016). ‚ÄúProbable cause to arrest exists if the totality of the circumstances known to the officer at the time of the arrest would warrant a reasonable person in believing that the arrestee had committed, was ...


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