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Townsend v. Anderson

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District

July 25, 2019

MICHAEL TOWNSEND, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
RICKY ANDERSON; DARRYL WARE; ROBIN BEAVERS; THE CITY OF CHICAGO, a Municipal Corporation; JAMES LEWANDOWSKI; BRIAN WARCHOL; and JASON MARTINO Defendants (The City of Chicago, James Lewandowski, Brian Warchol, and Jason Martino, Defendants-Appellees).

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 16L1968 The Honorable Judge Kathy Flanagan, Judge Presiding.

          Robert A. Langendorf, of Robert A. Langendorf, P.C., of for Chicago, for appellant.

          Edward N. Siskel, Corporation Counsel, of Chicago (Benna Ruth Solomon, Myriam Zreczny Kasper, and Sara K. Hornstra, Assistant Corporation Counsel, of counsel), for appellees.

          PUCINSKI JUSTICE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justice Mason concurred in the judgment and opinion. Justice Hyman dissented, with opinion.

          OPINION

          PUCINSKI JUSTICE.

         ¶ 1 Plaintiff Michael Townsend was injured in a car accident when the vehicle in which he was a passenger was struck by another vehicle driven by a man who had fled the scene of a traffic stop effectuated by several Chicago police officers. Townsend subsequently filed suit against the City of Chicago and the three of the City's police officers who involved in the traffic stop and subsequent apprehension of the fleeing driver: Brian Warchol, Jason Martino, and James Lewandowski (collectively "defendants"). Defendants, in turn, filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that they were immune from liability pursuant to the Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act (Tort Immunity Act) (745 ILCS 10/1-101 et seq. (West 2014)). The circuit court granted the motion, finding that defendants were immune from liability pursuant to section 4-106(b) of the Tort Immunity Act (745 ILCS 10/4-106(b) (West 2014)), a provision that immunizes public entities and their employees from liability for injuries inflicted by escaped or escaping prisoners. On appeal, Townsend argues that the circuit court erred in finding that his injuries were inflicted by an escaping prisoner and in granting defendants' motion for summary judgment. For the reasons explained herein, we affirm the judgment of the circuit court.

         ¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 On March 2, 2015, at approximately 6:30 p.m., Chicago police officers Pete Higgins and James Lewandowski effectuated a traffic stop on a red 2007 Toyota Solara near 1227 West Garfield Boulevard. At the time of the traffic stop, the vehicle contained four male occupants: Arieus Fitch, the driver; Darwin Walls, the front seat passenger; and Ricky Anderson and Cory Williams, the two backseat passengers. During the course of the traffic stop, after Fitch and Walls had exited the vehicle and were both handcuffed by the officers, Anderson slipped into the Solara's driver's seat and drove away from the scene. Several minutes later, Anderson struck another motor vehicle driven by Vernard Chapman near the intersection of Normal Boulevard and 63rd Street. Anderson and Williams were subsequently apprehended by Officers Warchol and Martino, who arrived at the scene of the crash shortly after the impact. Townsend, who was a passenger in Chapman's vehicle at the time of the crash, sustained a number of injuries as a result of the collision, including head, neck, back, shoulder, and hand pain.

         ¶ 4 Townsend subsequently filed suit against the City of Chicago and several of the City's police officers, alleging that the officers engaged in a wrongful and unsafe pursuit of Anderson, which caused Anderson to drive erratically and resulted in him striking Chapman's vehicle and injuring plaintiff. Specifically, in Townsend's second amended complaint, he included claims of willful and wanton conduct against Officers Lewandowski, Warchol, and Martino. Townsend also included a willful and wanton conduct claim against the City, citing the conduct of its employees in engaging in the unsafe pursuit.[1] In addition to the aforementioned defendants, Townsend also named several other individuals as defendants in his second amended complaint, including Anderson.[2]

         ¶ 5 Defendants, in turn, filed a written answer and an amendment thereto. In their amended answer, defendants invoked various provisions of the Tort Immunity Act, including section 4-106(b), which immunizes public entities and public employees from liability for "[a]ny injury inflicted by an escaped or escaping prisoner." 745 ILCS 10/4-106(b) (West 2014).

         ¶ 6 The parties then engaged in discovery. In their discovery depositions, Officers Higgins and Lewandowski testified that they were on patrol when they encountered the red Solara driving eastbound on 55th Street. Because it was dusk and the vehicle was operating without its headlights illuminated, the officers curbed the vehicle. Officer Higgins approached the driver's side of the vehicle, and Officer Lewandowski approached the front passenger's side of the vehicle. When Fitch, the driver of the Solara, was unable to produce a driver's license, Officer Higgins ordered him out of the vehicle and handcuffed him. Officer Lewandowski, in turn, noticed Walls, the front seat passenger, making furtive movements toward the floor of the vehicle and observed an opened container of alcohol near his person. As such, Officer Lewandowski ordered Walls out of the vehicle and began handcuffing him. At that point, Officer Higgins observed Anderson "jump[ ]" into the driver's seat and alerted his partner that Anderson "was getting in the front seat." When Officer Lewandowski looked over, Anderson was "already in the front seat and he was putting the car in gear and trying to take off while [Officer Higgins] was grabbing at him." Officer Higgins explained that he grabbed at Anderson because neither of the two backseat passengers was free to leave at that point. In response to Officer Higgins's efforts to "grab at him," Anderson said "something *** like [']why are you grabbing me.[']" Officer Higgins testified that Anderson was ultimately able to elude his efforts to restrain him and that he "dropped the car in gear and took off eastbound on 55th Street." Officer Higgins then relayed what had occurred over his radio, providing details about the fleeing car and the direction in which it was heading.

         ¶ 7 Shortly after making the radio broadcast, the officers' watch commander "gave a termination order," which Officer Anderson described as "an order from a supervisor saying not to pursue or not to chase a vehicle." Accordingly, Officers Anderson and Lewandowski did not immediately follow the Solara; rather, they remained at the scene where they had handcuffed Fitch and Walls. Approximately five minutes later, they heard a radio broadcast that Anderson and Williams were in custody. At that point, they relocated to the scene where Anderson and Williams had been detained by Officers Martino and Warchol after the Solara had struck another vehicle. The accident site was approximately two miles away from the scene of the initial traffic stop. Upon arriving at the scene, the officers confirmed that the two men in custody were the occupants of the fleeing car.

         ¶ 8 Neither Officer Anderson nor Officer Lewandowski had any firsthand knowledge as to whether Officers Martino and Warchol had been engaged in a "pursuit" of the Solara at the time of the accident. Officer Anderson explained that, if the officers were simply in the general area when they encountered the vehicle, there was no "pursuit." He emphasized that a pursuit termination order does not preclude officers from driving in a safe manner without their lights and sirens activated to the area in which a suspect was last seen and looking for him. He did not recall hearing sirens or observing flashing lights at the scene of the crash. Similarly, Officer Lewandowki explained that, pursuant to his understanding of department policy, whether a "pursuit" occurs "depends on the circumstances" and that officers who observe a vehicle matching a radio broadcast description may follow behind that vehicle in an effort to confirm the identity of the vehicle or the suspects without necessarily "pursuing" the vehicle.

         ¶ 9 In their discovery depositions, Officers Warchol and Martino testified that they were on patrol in the same general vicinity of the aforementioned traffic stop when they heard a radio dispatch message relaying that a vehicle that had been stopped by another unit had fled from the scene. A short time later, the officers observed a vehicle matching the description of the red Solara from the dispatch message. According to Officer Warchol, the vehicle was driving eastbound on Garfield Boulevard at a "high rate of speed." Neither officer, however, was able to estimate the rate of speed at which the Solara was traveling. At the time of the sighting, the officers were stopped at a red light on an unknown "north-south street." When the light changed, Officer Warchol, the driver of the patrol vehicle, turned onto Garfield and traveled east. By that time, however, the Solara had turned southbound onto another street, and the officers lost sight of the vehicle. Officer Warchol contacted dispatch about the sighting and relayed the direction in which the vehicle was traveling. After losing sight of the vehicle, the officers continued driving around the area. Officer Warchol could not recall if he activated his vehicle's lights and sirens, but he testified that it was not his standard practice to "automatically throw [his] lights and sirens" on. Officer Warchol testified that, at the time they were looking for the vehicle, he was not driving in excess of the speed limit. Officer Martino estimated that they were actually traveling "at or below" the posted speed limit because they were looking down intersections to see if they could spot the Solara. During their search, the officers "happened upon" the accident site. The officers did not observe the actual collision. When they arrived at the scene, the Solara was unoccupied. Eyewitnesses informed them that Anderson and Walls had fled on foot eastbound on 63rd Street. Officers Warchol and Martino ultimately apprehended the two men, who had boarded a Chicago Transit Authority bus located several blocks away. Other officers arrived at the accident scene shortly thereafter.

         ¶ 10 Both officers denied that they were engaged in a "pursuit" of the Solara prior to the accident. Officer Warchol emphasized that "there's a difference between following somebody and pursuing somebody." According to Officer Warchol, a pursuit occurs when an officer follows a vehicle that is not complying with the officer's active efforts to curb the vehicle. In this case, however, he and his partner lost sight of the vehicle shortly after encountering it. They then came upon the accident site after driving around the area in which they had last seen the Solara. Officer Martino, in turn, emphasized that their conduct was not in contravention of their department's pursuit termination policy, explaining that a termination order does not preclude officers from being "diligent" and "touring the area" in an effort to observe a suspect vehicle and its occupants.

         ¶ 11 An incident report completed by law enforcement personnel following the arrest of Anderson and Williams reveals that cannabis was recovered from Williams's pants pocket. Officers also recovered a loaded, unregistered, .45-caliber handgun. Anderson and Fitch were both subsequently charged with traffic offenses, and Williams was charged with possession of a controlled substance. Walls, in turn, was ultimately released without charges.

         ¶ 12 Various lay witnesses were also deposed during the discovery process and provided details about the events that transpired on the evening of March 2, 2015. Charles Johnson testified that he was traveling east on 55th Street that evening when he observed a red car that had been curbed by a police truck. Shortly thereafter, he saw the red car "barreling down" behind him. As the red car tried to maneuver around him, the car sideswiped the passenger side of his vehicle. Johnson estimated that the vehicle was traveling approximately 60 miles per hour. Approximately 40 seconds to 1 minute later, Johnson observed a police truck drive past him and travel in the same direction of the red vehicle. He did not know if the truck that was following the car was the same one that he observed at the traffic stop, but he testified that the truck appeared to be the same model as the police truck he had seen earlier. He estimated that the police truck was traveling at approximately 45 to 50 miles per hour. Johnson did not recall whether the police truck's lights and sirens were activated. After he was sideswiped, Johnson pulled into a nearby gas station, called 911, and reported what had occurred.

         ¶ 13 During his discovery deposition, Townsend recalled that he and his friend Vernard Chapman were traveling south on Normal when he felt an impact and heard a "boom" as a red car struck the rear passenger side of Chapman's vehicle. The red car then continued on and hit a parked car and a light pole. Townsend, who was sitting in the front passenger seat of Chapman's car at the time of the impact, hit his head on the door frame. He did not recall observing any police vehicles prior to the accident but testified that one "zoomed up *** right after the accident." He estimated that the police car arrived two to three seconds after the impact. Townsend did not recall whether the police car had its lights and sirens activated. Shortly after that police car arrived at the scene, "quite a few" other police cars arrived at the crash site.

         ¶ 14 Darryl Ware, owner of the parked car damaged by the Solara, talked to a police officer who was in the area shortly after the accident. He was told that his car was ...


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