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Brown v. City of Chicago

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

September 26, 2019

ARTHUR BROWN, Plaintiff,
CITY OF CHICAGO, former Chicago Police Officers; Special Representative for JOSEPH CAMPBELL, Special Representative for DAVID KUTZ, and Special Representative for JOSEPH FINE, Former Assistant State's Attorney JOEL WHITEHOUSE, and other as-yet unidentified employees of the City of Chicago, Defendants.


          REBECCA R. PALLMEYER United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Arthur Brown was convicted of one count of arson and two counts of murder in 1990. The trial court later granted Mr. Brown a new trial after another individual confessed to committing the crime, but Plaintiff was retried and convicted again in 2008. Years later, in a post-conviction petition, Brown challenged perjurious testimony presented at his second trial and contended that defense counsel had rendered ineffective assistance. Acknowledging evidentiary issues that undermined the integrity of the convictions, the State determined, in the interest of justice, to drop all charges against Brown. Incarcerated for nearly thirty years, he was finally released from prison on November 14, 2017.

         Within a year of his release, Brown filed this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Illinois law against the City of Chicago; former Chicago Police Officers Joseph Campbell, David Kutz, and Joseph Fine; former Assistant State's Attorney Joel Whitehouse; and other unidentified City employees. Plaintiff alleges that in order to secure his conviction, the Individual Defendants fabricated evidence against him and that Defendants Fine, Campbell, and Whitehouse engaged in physical and psychological abuse to coerce his confession. In addition to asserting constitutional claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for evidence fabrication, compulsory self-incrimination, and malicious prosecution, Plaintiff brings claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1985, alleging that the Individual Defendants conspired to deprive him of his constitutional rights, and 42 U.S.C. § 1986, alleging that the Individual Defendants failed to intervene to stop the unconstitutional acts against him. Plaintiff also brings claims under Illinois law against the Individual Defendants for malicious prosecution, intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”), and civil conspiracy. Finally, Plaintiff contends that the City of Chicago is liable for the officers’ conduct in violation of federal law under Monell v. Dep't of Social Servs. of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (1978), and for the officers’ state law violations under principles of respondeat superior, and state-law indemnification. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the City of Chicago moves to dismiss the IIED and federal malicious-prosecution claims entirely, as well as the constitutional claims to the extent they seek damages from Plaintiff’s 1990 trial and convictions. For the reasons stated below, Defendant's motion to dismiss is granted in part and denied in part.


         The amended complaint alleges the following facts. During the early morning of May 28, 1988, fire broke out at Magic Video, located on the South Side of Chicago. (Second Amended Complaint [70] ¶ 14.) As fire engulfed the building, Kiert Phophairat and Pismai Panichkarn were asleep in the Thai restaurant located next door to Magic Video, [1] and both died of smoke inhalation. (Id.) Two officers arrived on the scene shortly after fire had begun and interviewed an eyewitness, who had observed four black males-none of whom resembled Plaintiff-near or inside Magic Video around the time that the fire began. (Id. ¶ 17.) The eyewitness had also seen a white Ford Bronco parked nearby; this vehicle also lacked any connection to Mr. Brown. (Id. ¶ 18.)

         Defendant Campbell soon concluded that the fire was an arson. (Id. ¶ 20.) Police officers collected physical evidence at the scene, but nothing connected to Brown. (Id. ¶ 21.) Brown’s only connection to Magic Video was some minor repair work he had performed there as part of his general contracting business (Id. ¶¶ 13–14), including, as Plaintiff testified at his first trial, in the early morning hours on the day of the fire, see People v. Brown, 253 Ill.App.3d 165, 170, 624 N.E.2d 1378, 1383 (1st Dist. 1993). Chicago Police Officer Defendants nevertheless concluded in just a few hours that Mr. Brown had helped to start the fire, and arrested him later that day. (Id. ¶¶ 22, 25.)

         Upon his arrest, Plaintiff was taken to Area One headquarters, where Defendants Fine and Campbell placed Mr. Brown in a small, windowless room and chained him to the wall in a standing position. (Id. ¶ 26.) For more than seven hours, Mr. Brown remained in that room, which was so hot that the detectives themselves could not remain inside the room to interrogate him for a significant amount of time without taking a break. (Id.) During this detention, in response to questions from Defendants Fine and Campbell, Plaintiff insisted that he did not know about and had nothing to do with the Magic Video fire. (Id. ¶ 27.) After several hours, Defendant Fine entered the holding room, cursed at Mr. Brown, and grabbed him by the neck, choking him and slamming his head and back against the wall several times; Plaintiff lost consciousness as a result of the assault. (Id. ¶ 32.)

         After the beating had ended, Defendants Fine and Campbell returned to present papers to Mr. Brown. Fine and Campbell promised that if Brown signed the papers, he would be released from the holding cell and not beaten again. (Id. ¶ 33.) Brown, whose reading and writing skills were limited, alleges that he was neither told what the papers said nor given an opportunity to read them. (Id.) Out of fear, Brown signed the papers, using a signature that differed from his normal handwriting to signal that he did not agree with their content. (Id. ¶¶ 33–34.) These papers, as Mr. Brown would later learn, were his seven-page “confession, ” which was drafted by Defendant Whitehouse and included fabrications by Defendants Whitehouse, Fine, and Campbell, as well as handwritten edits by which Campbell intended to establish that Brown's participation in creating the statement was voluntary. (Id. ¶¶ 34–35.)

         Defendant Officers fabricated other evidence, as well: Defendants Fine and Campbell concocted an encounter at the police station in which one of Magic Video's co-owners, Michael Harper, accused Mr. Brown of participating in the crime. No. such confrontation ever happened; Defendants Fine and Campbell made up this story-which was presented by the State at Plaintiff’s trial-as way to explain what prompted Plaintiff to “confess.” (Id. ¶ 36.) In addition, the Defendant Police Officers coerced Cecil Hingston, an attendant at a gas station near Magic Video, into saying that he had sold a gas can to two black males in a white Ford Bronco on the morning of the fire. (Id. ¶ 37.) Mr. Hingston recanted in a 2002 affidavit, asserting that he had been coerced into making the statement. See People v. Brown, 2015 IL App. (1st) 131293-U, No. 1-13-1293, 2015 WL 4512038, at *3 (1st Dist. July 24, 2015) (reversing dismissal of post-conviction petition). Finally, the Defendant Officers invented a friendship between Plaintiff and Mr. Harper and an agreement in which Mr. Harper would provide Plaintiff with x-rated videotapes in exchange for Mr. Brown's help in starting the fire. (Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 38–39.) This evidence was also presented by the State at trial against Plaintiff (id. ¶ 42) and Mr. Harper, see Brown, 253 Ill.App.3d at 170, 624 N.E.2d at 1383.

         Plaintiff alleges, further, that Defendant Officers failed to interview any of Plaintiff’s family members or coworkers to determine his whereabouts at the time of the fire. (Second Am. Compl. ¶ 40.) They also ignored the statements of an eyewitness, taken by other Chicago Police Officers, that identified four individuals involved in the fire-none of whom were Plaintiff. (Id.)

         The arson and murder charges against Plaintiff proceeded to a jury trial in April 1990. (Id. ¶ 42–43.) Police presented evidence including Plaintiff’s confession, the fabricated encounter between Plaintiff and Mr. Harper, and the testimony of Mr. Hingston. (Id. ¶ 42.) The jury convicted Mr. Brown of two counts of murder and one count of arson; he was sentenced to natural life in prison without the possibility of parole. (Id. ¶ 42–43.) After another individual, James Bell, confessed to starting the Magic Video fire to get back at Plaintiff-who Mr. Bell mistakenly believed to be the owner of the video store-for an unpaid debt, Plaintiff was granted a new trial in 2005. See Brown, 2015 WL 4512038, at *2–3. Mr. Bell, who was serving a life sentence for armed robbery, was the sole defense witness in Plaintiff’s second trial. Id. at *2. But after the State presented evidence similar to what was presented at the first trial, [2] with the fabricated confession once again playing a central role, Plaintiff was convicted for a second time in August 2008. (Second Am. Compl. ¶ 44–45.)

         In post-conviction proceedings, Plaintiff challenged Defendants Campbell’s and Fine’s testimony at the second trial and contended that defense counsel had rendered ineffective assistance for not challenging the admission of Mr. Hingston’s testimony from his first trial or presenting Mr. Hingston’s 2002 affidavit. Brown, 2015 WL 4512038, at *4–5. In October 2017, the Circuit Court of Cook County granted Plaintiff's Petition for Post-Conviction Relief and vacated his convictions, see People v. Brown, No. 88 CR 0860503 (Cook Cty. Cir. Ct., Oct. 3, 2017). On November 14, 2017, the State's Attorney's Office determined that it was in the interest of justice to drop all charges against him, citing evidentiary concerns that raised questions about the integrity of his convictions. Megan Crepeau, Man in Prison for 29 Years Freed after Cook County Prosecutors Drop Charges (Nov. 15, 2017), (last visited September 21, 2019). He was released from prison later that day. (Second Am. Compl. ¶ 47.) In addition, the Circuit Court granted Plaintiff a Certificate of Innocence on February 13, 2018. (Id.) Plaintiff filed this action on October 22, 2018 after being held in custody for nearly thirty years. (Id. ¶ 1.)

         The practices that wrongly sent Mr. Brown to prison were not, Plaintiff asserts, an isolated occurrence. Rather, he asserts, they are consistent with policies and practices of the City of Chicago and Chicago Police Department (“CPD”). (Id. ¶ 48.) For many years prior to Plaintiff’s arrest, Plaintiff alleges, CPD systematically coerced suspects and witnesses, fabricated inculpatory evidence, and withheld and destroyed exculpatory evidence. (Id. ¶ 49.) Such practices were so entrenched within CPD as to constitute de facto policies of the department, resulting in wrongful charges and convictions Plaintiff and dozens of other victims. (Id. ΒΆ 50.) The City failed to implement measures that ...

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