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Pursley v. City of Rockford

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

October 4, 2019

Patrick Pursley, Plaintiff,
v.
City of Rockford, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          PHILIP G. REINHARD, JUDGE

         Defendants' motions to dismiss plaintiff's second amended complaint [55], [84], [91], [113], are denied.

         STATEMENT-OPINION

         Background

         Plaintiff Patrick Pursley brings this lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City of Rockford, multiple City of Rockford police officers, the City Administrator for the City of Rockford as special administrator for estates of deceased police officers, unidentified employees of the Rockford police department, forensic scientists with the Illinois State Police crime lab, and unidentified employees of the state crime lab. Plaintiff claims the defendants violated his right to due process (Count I), unlawfully detained him (Count II), conspired to deprive him of his constitutional rights (Count III), and failed to intervene (Count IV). Plaintiff also brings various state law claims (Counts V - IX). Plaintiff's claims under § 1983 include a claim pursuant to Monell v. New York City Dep't. of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978) against the City of Rockford and policymakers within the City of Rockford police department.

         On February 22, 2019, plaintiff filed his (first) amended complaint [49]. Defendants City of Rockford, Rockford city police officers James Barton, Ron Gallardo, John Genens, Charlene Getty, Jeff Houde, Sam Pobjecky, and Mark Schmidt filed their motion to dismiss plaintiff's complaint on March 15, 2019 [55]. On May 6, 2019, defendant Rockford police officer Greg Hanson filed a motion to join the previously filed motion to dismiss [75], as did defendant Rockford police officer Jim Bowman on June 17, 2019 [97]. Magistrate Judge Jensen granted the motions on May 8, 2019 [81], and June 17, 2019 [99], respectively. On May 9, 2019, defendants Rockford police officers Bruce Scott, Doug Williams, and Stephen Pirages filed a motion to dismiss plaintiff's complaint [84], as did defendant Rockford police officer Christine Bishop on June 5, 2019 [91]. Substantively, defendants Scott, Williams, Pirages, and Bishop ask the court to dismiss plaintiff's complaint as to them for the same reasons articulated in the first filed motion to dismiss. On June 25, 2019, plaintiff filed his second amended complaint [100]. Defendants City Administrator for the City of Rockford as special representative of the estates of Howard Forrester, David Ekedahl, and Gary Reffett (all deceased Rockford police officers), filed their motion to dismiss on July 17, 2019 [113]. On July 10, 2019, Magistrate Judge Jensen ordered that all motions to dismiss would stand as motions to dismiss plaintiff's second amended complaint [109]. Plaintiff filed his response to defendants' motions on August 21, 2019 [120], and defendants filed a combined reply to plaintiff's response on September 4, 2019 [122]. The motions are now before the court.

         Facts

         The relevant facts are taken from plaintiff's second amended complaint, which, at this stage of the proceedings, the court accepts as true and "draw[s] all possible inferences in the plaintiff's favor." Cannici v. Village of Melrose Park, 885 F.3d 476, 479 (7th Cir. 2018).

         In April 1993, a 22-year-old man was shot and killed while sitting in his car with his girlfriend in front of a condominium complex in Rockford, Illinois, by a man who approached the driver's side of the car and demanded the couple's wallets. After the victim was shot, the assailant fled from the car and the victim's girlfriend ran to an apartment to call the police. A resident of the condominium complex heard the gunshots, went outside, and saw a man crouched by a dumpster in the parking area. The resident saw a man run from the area as police cars approached. Defendant Rockford police officers Schmidt, Forrester, Genens, Houde, Williams, Barton, and Reffett arrived at the crime scene but found no suspects. Investigators located footprints in the snow near the dumpster.

         On the night of the murder, plaintiff was home with his girlfriend, Samantha Crabtree, plaintiff's son and his son's uncle. Multiple people, including Crabtree, verified plaintiff's alibi. Two months after the murder, and with no suspects, the police offered a cash reward for information leading to the arrest of a suspect. Shortly after the award was announced, a man called Crime Stoppers and claimed he visited plaintiff the day after the murder and plaintiff confessed to the killing. This man received $2, 650 as a reward for the information.

         On June 10, 1993, defendant officers Schmidt, Forrester, Houde, and at least two other defendant officers began following Crabtree. Defendant officers took Crabtree to the apartment she shared with plaintiff. While Crabtree waited in the car, defendant officers including Pirages, Ekedahl, Hanson, and Scott searched her apartment. They reported recovering a 9-millimeter handgun, articles of plaintiff's clothing, and a pair of black combat boots. The defendant officers then brought Crabtree to the police station for interrogation. Defendant officers including Forrester and Schmidt intimidated and coerced Crabtree into fabricating a story implicating plaintiff in the murder. Defendant officers Forrester and Schmidt brought Crabtree to the crime scene, coerced her into admitting she drove plaintiff to the crime scene, and then brought her to the identification unit at the police station where they met up with defendant officer Houde. There, the defendant officers coerced Crabtree into falsely claiming that on the night of the murder plaintiff was wearing the clothes and carrying the 9-millimeter handgun that were recovered from the apartment. Defendant officers typed up a false statement implicating plaintiff in the murder and caused Crabtree to sign it. About two months later, Crabtree signed an affidavit recanting her statement. The affidavit stated Crabtree had been interrogated for more than 10 hours and that she was pregnant, tired, sick, emotionally weak at the time, and was intimidated and coerced into signing the false statement by the defendant officers.

         Tests conducted by the defendant forensic scientists did not establish that the 9-millimeter handgun taken from plaintiff's apartment was the gun used in the murder. Despite this, the defendant forensic scientists fabricated a report stating that this was the handgun used. Together, the defendant forensic scientists and the defendant officers who investigated the case, fabricated a link between plaintiff and the crime and withheld this forensic fabrication from the prosecution and defense.

         In April 1994, plaintiff was tried before a Winnebago County jury. The handgun the defendant officers knew was not the murder weapon was entered into evidence. Additionally, plaintiff did not match the description provided by the resident at the condominium complex of the man who fled the scene. The boots seized from plaintiff's apartment did not match the footprints in the snow near the dumpster where the resident saw a man crouching. The crime lab found no blood on the clothing defendant officers seized from plaintiff's apartment. When the victim's mother spoke with one of the defendant officers after plaintiff's arrest and asked whether the police were sure plaintiff committed the crime, the defendant officer said, "Well we have somebody anyway." The jury found plaintiff guilty of first-degree murder and he was sentenced to natural life without parole. Plaintiff was incarcerated for 23 years.

         Plaintiff's appeals and other post-conviction efforts were unsuccessful. In 2000, plaintiff began asking the trial court to order ballistics testing on the casing and bullets found at the crime scene and the 9-millimeter handgun. In January 2011, the Illinois Appellate Court ordered the ballistics testing. In 2012, the Illinois State Police crime lab issued a report concluding that neither the bullets nor the casings recovered from the crime scene matched the 9-millimeter handgun used to convict plaintiff. Plaintiff was granted a new trial in March 2017. Plaintiff was released from custody in April 2017. In January 2019, plaintiff was acquitted of all charges in his second trial for the murder.

         Plaintiff alleges in his complaint that each defendant officer participated in the murder investigation which resulted in plaintiff's wrongful conviction.

         Plaintiff argues the constitutional violations he suffered were not isolated events, but were a result of the City of Rockford police department's policies and widespread practices of pursuing convictions untruthfully, failing to adequately train and supervise its officers, failing to discipline officers who withhold exculpatory evidence or fabricate evidence, and failing to intervene to prevent others from violating citizens' constitutional rights. In accordance with these practices, officers refused to report misconduct by others, including the misconduct outlined in plaintiff's complaint. Further, the City of Rockford and the policymakers at the police department failed to act to remedy these abuses despite actual knowledge of the pattern of misconduct.

         In their motions to dismiss, defendants argue plaintiff's claims lack sufficient factual particularity to be plausible on their face, the federal conspiracy claim is fatally flawed, the Monell claim fails to state a cause of action, and there is no basis to impose liability on the City of Rockford.

         Standard ...


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