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Horton v. City of Rockford

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

August 6, 2019

JOHN HORTON, Plaintiff,
CITY OF ROCKFORD, et al., Defendants.


          Harry D. Leinenweber, Judge United States District Court.

         Plaintiff John Horton brings this suit against the City of Rockford and various past and current Rockford police officers. Horton alleges that Rockford police officers abused him and violated his rights while he was in custody, which led to Horton falsely confessing to, and being wrongly convicted of, armed robbery and murder. Defendants move to dismiss Horton's Amended Complaint. For the reasons stated herein, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. No. 101) is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On September 19, 1993, a masked gunman entered a McDonald's restaurant in Rockford, Illinois. The man shot and killed a customer in the restaurant before demanding that the manager on duty turn over the contents of the restaurant's safe. Within several days of the shooting, Horton heard that Rockford police officers were looking into him as a suspect. (Am. Compl. ¶ 39, Dkt. No. 88.) At the time, Horton was 17 years old and a student in the 11th grade. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 12, 40.) On his own accord, Horton went to the Winnebago County Public Safety Building in an attempt to clarify the situation. (Am. Compl. ¶ 39.)

         According to the Amended Complaint, Rockford police officers detained and interrogated Horton for approximately ten hours even though they knew he was a minor. (Am. Compl. ¶ 41.) These officers used various improper tactics such as manipulating, physically threatening, and isolating Horton, and denying him proper nutrition and sleep, in order to coerce Horton into signing a false confession. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 41, 46, 51.) These officers then went on to fabricate evidence, lie in their police reports regarding Horton's confession, and conceal a great deal of exculpatory evidence from the prosecutors and Horton's defense attorneys, in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 70-76, 83.)

         In 1995, Horton was tried for the McDonald's murder and armed robbery. (Am. Compl. ¶ 85.) His false confession was the primary evidence introduced against him at trial. (Am. Compl. ¶ 86.) A jury convicted Horton, and he was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. (Am. Compl. ¶ 88.) Soon after Horton's conviction, another man named Clifton English contacted Horton's attorneys and confessed that English committed the crimes for which Horton had been convicted. (Am. Compl. ¶ 89.) Over the next 18 years, English attempted several times to bring his confession to the attention of the appropriate authority who might be able to exonerate Horton. (Am. Compl. ¶ 93.) Ultimately, in October 2016, the Illinois Appellate Court reversed Horton's conviction and remanded the case for a new trial. (Am. Compl. ¶ 96.) By the time Horton's conviction was reversed, he had spent more than 23 years of his life in prison. (Am. Compl. ¶ 117.) The special prosecutor appointed to review the case eventually decided to drop all charges against Horton. (Am. Compl. ¶ 97.)

         Plaintiff brought suit against the City of Rockford and the following past and current Rockford police officers: Paul Ardunio, James Barton, the Estate of Howard Forrester, Rich Gambini, Daniel Gray, Greg Hanson, Dominic Iasparro, Steve Johnson, Clint Kellett, the Estate of Gregory Lindmark, Charles McDonald, Russell Nelson, Steven Olson, Anthony Piccirilli, Steve Pirages, Sam Pobjecky, John Pozzi, Robert Redmond, Mark Schmidt, Bruce Scott, Dan Scott, and Paul Triolo. To adopt the nomenclature Plaintiff uses in his Amended Complaint, the Court will refer to the individual Defendants collectively as the “Defendant Officers.” Horton alleges 11 counts in his Amended Complaint:

Count I: coercion of a false confession in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments;
Count II: deprivation of liberty without probable cause in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments;
Count III: deprivation of due process and right to a fair trial in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment;
Count IV: failure to intervene in ongoing violations of Horton's constitutional rights;
Count V: conspiracy to deprive Horton of his constitutional rights;
Count VI: Monnell policy and practice claim against the City of Rockford;
Count VII: intentional infliction of emotional distress under ...

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