Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Sixth Division
PAMELA WRIGHT-YOUNG, Independent Administrator of the Estate of Tyrone Lawson, Deceased, Plaintiff-Appellee,
CHICAGO STATE UNIVERSITY; RONNIE WATSON, Individually and as Chief of Police at Chicago State University; and THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE CITY OF CHICAGO, Defendants(The Board of Education of the City of Chicago, Defendant-Appellant).
from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 14 L 488 Honorable
Thomas J. Lipscomb, Judge Presiding.
G. Vincent, Steven M. Puiszis, and Carson R. Griffis, of
Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP, of Chicago, for appellant.
Michael W. Rathsack, Martin S. Dolan, Karen Munoz, and John
M. Carmody, of Chicago, for appellee.
PRESIDING JUSTICE MIKVA delivered the judgment of the court,
with opinion. Justices Pierce and Walker concurred in the
judgment and opinion.
1 Tyrone Lawson, the 17-year-old son of plaintiff Pamela
Wright-Young, was fatally shot outside a high school
basketball game. Ms. Wright-Young, as the administrator of
her son's estate, brought this wrongful death and
survival action against the Board of Education of the City of
Chicago (Board) and the chief of police and student services
for Chicago State University (CSU), whose Jones Convocation
Center (JCC arena) was the venue where the basketball game
was held. Throughout the pendency of the case, the trial
court rejected various statutory immunities asserted by the
Board. The case was tried and a jury-concluding that the
Board was liable but Mr. Watson was not-awarded Ms.
Wright-Young damages in the amount of $3.5 million. The Board
2 We conclude that the trial court erroneously rejected the
Board's claim of absolute immunity with respect to most
of the theories of liability presented at trial, as those
theories all related to the Board's failure to provide
adequate police protection services. Absolute immunity did
not apply, however, to Ms. Wright-Young's theory that the
Board failed to communicate prior acts of violence at
Board-sponsored sporting events to CSU, which was directly
responsible for the parking lot where Tyrone was killed.
Because this remaining claim is not defeated by any of the
Board's other arguments, we affirm the jury's verdict
under the general verdict rule.
3 I. BACKGROUND
4 A. Ms. Wright-Young's Allegations
5 In her complaint, Ms. Wright-Young alleged that the
basketball game held on January 16, 2013, between Morgan Park
High School (Morgan Park) and Simeon High School (Simeon) was
a "highly publicized" game between two "bitter
rivals" that was expected to be especially well-attended
because Simeon's star player was considered a top college
recruit. Due to a capacity crowd, a number of individuals,
including Ms. Wright-Young's son Tyrone, were unable to
purchase tickets and congregated outside of the arena during
6 Ms. Wright-Young alleged that "prior known violence
between the rival schools, " including "an incident
involving a stabbing at a football game *** in September of
2012 where three students were injured, " created a
"strong foreseeability of gang violence underpinning the
event." According to Ms. Wright-Young, the Board chose
CSU as a neutral location to host the game, "advertised
and invited students from both [high schools], among others,
and created the illusion they would be providing adequate
security for all invitees."
7 Ms. Wright-Young further alleged that immediately following
the game there was "a panic situation, " with
various fights breaking out as spectators began to spill out
into the front and back parking lots of the JCC arena.
According to Ms. Wright-Young, during this chaos two men
approached Tyrone and some friends he was standing with and
opened fire. Tyrone attempted to flee but was shot multiple
times and died of his injuries. The two men were arrested and
charged with first degree murder.
8 Ms. Wright-Young brought a variety of claims against the
Board and against Mr. Watson, alleging various actions that
she claimed contributed to her son's murder.
9 B. The Board's Immunity Arguments
10 The Board moved to dismiss the claims against it on the
basis that it was immune from suit under section 4-102 of the
Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity
Act (Tort Immunity Act or Act) (745 ILCS 10/4-102 (West
2012)), which provides absolute immunity for a local public
entity's failure to provide adequate police protection
services. The trial court at first denied the motion, but on
reconsideration granted it in part, striking those of Ms.
Wright-Young's allegations the court felt clearly
concerned the failure to provide police protection services.
11 The Board continued to assert section 4-102 immunity-along
with a number of other statutory immunities-in its
affirmative defenses. It later moved for summary judgment
under section 4-102 as well as section 2-201 (id.
§ 2-201 (immunity for discretionary policy decisions)).
Although the trial court denied the Board's motion for
summary judgment "for the reasons stated in the record,
" a transcript of the hearing on the motion does not
appear in the record.
12 The Board raised its immunity defenses again at trial,
when it moved for a directed verdict at the close of Ms.
Wright-Young's case. Counsel for the Board briefly
outlined, this time for a new judge, its prior arguments in
favor of a finding that it was immune under sections 4-102
(for failures to provide adequate police protection
services), 2-201 (for discretionary policy decisions), and
2-107 and 2-210 of the Act (id. §§ 2-107,
2-210 (for the provision of information)). In denying the
motion, the trial court provided only the following
"THE COURT: Okay. All right.
As far as the [Board]'s motion for directed verdict,
I'll deny it.
And I think there's an issue of assumption of-not
assumption-voluntary undertaking or assumption of duty that
may apply to those immunities proffered by the Chicago Public
Schools. In other words, I think it may be contrary to those
immunities that are listed there."
13 The Board raised its immunity arguments one final time in
its posttrial motion, but that motion was also denied.
14 C. The Evidence at Trial
15 A six-day jury trial was held in this case in November
2017. The jury heard from, among others, Tyrone's
parents, current and former employees of the Board and CSU,
and the parties' respective experts.
16 1. Board Officials
17 The jury was shown a redacted September 14, 2012, letter
that Everett Edwards, the principal of Morgan Park High
School, sent to parents whose students attended the school.
That letter began by referencing an "unfortunate event
that took place on Friday, September 7, 2012, during the
Morgan Park v. Simeon football game, " during which
"a disturbance took place in the stands" and
"[m]ost fans took off running for an exit, " but
during which, "[t]hankfully, only three students were
injured." The letter then assured parents that the local
school council (LCL) had met to discuss next steps they could
take "to insure the safety of [their] students at all
school-sponsored events." Principal Edwards told parents
"[t]he Administration reached out to [Chicago Public
Schools] Sports Administration" and "[t]hey have
assured us that modifications to security plans have been
made in order to maintain a safe environment during sporting
18 Mr. Edwards testified that, when he sent this letter, he
had no actual knowledge regarding what changes, if any, had
been made to the Board's security plans. When asked why
he sent the letter, Mr. Edwards explained:
"The purpose of the letter was to inform parents of the
incident that had occurred previously. It was also designed
to let them know we were calling upon our all [sic]
resources to keep their children safe. There are no
guarantees, but we wanted to make sure that our parents knew
that we were as much on the situation as we could be."
19 Calvin Davis, the Board's former director of sports
administration and facilities, testified that his duties
included coordinating Board-sponsored events at outside
venues like the JCC arena. Mr. Davis was confident that under
the Facilities Usage Agreement (venue agreement) the Board
entered into with CSU for the game, the Board was only
responsible for the security of fans while they were inside
the arena. Mr. Davis's testimony echoed the Board's
position throughout this case that, under the venue
agreement, there was a clearly defined division of labor: the
Board was responsible for security inside the arena, and CSU
was responsible for security outside the arena. Mr. Davis
testified that, in keeping with this understanding, the
Board's security plan only covered the entrance to the
facility and the facility interior. When asked if parents
were told that the Board had no responsibility for the safety
of students as they entered and exited the arena, Davis said
"[n]o, I don't believe parents [were] being told
that." If they were, he said, that information would
come from the individual schools, as the athletic department
did not communicate directly with parents.
20 Mr. Davis also testified that for 10 years the Board had
used the same basic security plan for events at off-site
venues, whether those events were basketball games, wrestling
matches, or cheerleading competitions. Although "slight
modifications" may have been made to the plan from time
to time, Mr. Davis could not identify any specific
modifications that were made in advance of the Morgan
Park-Simeon basketball game. He acknowledged that Morgan
Park's principal, Everett Edwards, had sent a letter to
parents several months before the game telling them that
changes had been made to the security plan based on an
incident at a football game between the two schools, but
stated "I couldn't tell you what specific
modifications were made, if any, to the plan."
21 Mr. Davis did not recall the Board providing any
information to CSU about a history of violence at sporting
events between Morgan Park and Simeon before the venue
agreement was signed. In his opinion, that was not the sort
of information that would be exchanged "[w]ith the
contract." Rather, when the "[respective] security
forces talked, *** they would mention it and maybe
plan." Mr. Davis stated "[i]f there was something,
I'm sure as they planned it would be discussed." Mr.
Davis was "[v]aguely" familiar with Ronnie Watson,
CSU's chief of police, having met him some years earlier
in connection with a different event, but had no discussions
with him prior to the Morgan Park-Simeon basketball game.
22 Mr. Davis was shown a printout of an e-mail he wrote on
January 18, 2013, just two days after the basketball game, to
school principals and athletic directors, in which everything
but the first line had been redacted. That line read:
"As a result of numerous acts of violence outside of
basketball contests in the past two weeks ***." Mr.
Davis could not remember what events he had been referring to
or whether parents had been made aware of those events. He
downplayed the phrase "numerous acts of violence, "
explaining that Tyrone's shooting, "being such a
tragic incident, *** probably heightened *** the need for
security." But in the two weeks prior to the Morgan
Park-Simeon game, Mr. Davis insisted nothing more serious
than a "fight here or a scuffle there" had
23 Mr. Davis had himself attended the Morgan Park-Simeon game
on January 16, 2013. Although the game was an important one,
it was not unusual for Chicago Public School (CPS) basketball
games to be played at the JCC arena. He could not recall
seeing any security in the parking lot outside the arena.
When the game was over, Mr. Davis witnessed a scuffle in the
handshake line but said the incident was "immediately
contained." People then left the arena in an orderly
fashion, and he "didn't sense anything out of the
ordinary." When shown an e-mail he wrote the day after
the game, in which he described a "large commotion on
the court" that "could have been much worse, "
Mr. Davis again downplayed his prior statements, explaining
that the commotion was short-lived and involved only the
players and coaches.
24 Mr. Davis characterized the level of security at the
Morgan Park-Simeon basketball game as "very high."
In addition to CSU officers and off-duty Chicago police
officers hired for the evening, the Board had a trained
special event staff of around 50 individuals, all wearing
bright gold shirts or jackets, posted at entrances and exits,
washrooms, concession stands, and throughout the stands.
Screening at the door was done by a combination of CPS
security staff and Chicago police. Everyone entering went
through an X-ray machine or hand wands.
25 2. Tyrone's Parents
26 Ms. Wright-Young testified that Tyrone was her only child
and she kept a close watch over him. She knew who his friends
were and would often drop the boys off and pick them back up
from various events. If she had any concerns about her
son's safety at a particular event, she would not let him
27 Ms. Wright-Young had been alarmed when she picked Tyrone
up from the September 2012 Morgan Park-Simeon football game
referenced in Principal Edwards's letter and saw police
cars. Although Tyrone reassured her both that there had been
no gunshots, only people setting off firecrackers, and that
rumors of a stabbing were not true, she thought he might be
minimizing what happened so that she would not prohibit him
from going to future sporting events.
28 Tyrone's stepfather, Gregory Young, also recalled the
commotion after the football game. Tyrone told him that there
was "a fight that broke off into the stands, *** people
just started running everywhere, " and "[s]omebody
with a screwdriver or something stabbed someone else."
After that incident, Mr. Young said that he and Ms.
Wright-Young "weren't going to let [Tyrone] be going
to too many functions because it wasn't safe." Mr.
Young believed that the intense rivalry between the two
schools had created "an unsafe environment."
29 A week later, Tyrone's parents received the letter
from Principal Edwards explaining what had happened at the
football game, which included what Ms. Wright-Young viewed as
"a promise that they were going to do some things [so]
that it wouldn't happen again." The letter
"stood out to [her]" because it mentioned the local
school council, or LSC. She herself had been president of the
LSC at Tyrone's elementary school for six years, and in
her experience, the LSC "basically runs a school."
Her understanding of the letter was that the incident at the
football game had been discussed by the LSC and
"something did take place to make sure this [type of
incident] was not going to happen again." According to
Ms. Wright-Young, this "wiped out a lot of [her]
concerns" and made her feel comfortable with Tyrone
attending Board-sponsored sporting events again.
30 On the afternoon of January 16, 2013, Tyrone asked his
parents if he could attend the Morgan Park-Simeon basketball
game that evening. Although they were concerned because it
was a school night, they understood it was an important game
between two top-ranked schools and they finally relented. For
Ms. Wright-Young, Principal Edwards's letter played a
role in that decision. She told the jury "[t]hat letter
really made me feel like it was okay for Tyrone to go to that
31 Mr. Young also remembered reading the letter, which he
said made him feel "a little bit more at ease" with
letting Tyrone attend another sporting event. He and Ms.
Wright-Young discussed the matter and "figured that
[because the game would be at] a college campus *** it should
be a safe environment." As a state facility with ...