On Feb. 26, a federal magistrate judge granted summary judgment in favor of an Evanston police officer who stopped and handcuffed a 13-year-old African American male (referred to as D.Z. in the complaint) on Aug. 30, 2012. The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court in Chicago on behalf of D.Z. by his mother, alleged that the police officer conducted an unlawful search and seizure in violation of Section 1983 of the federal Civil Rights Act.
The court found that on Aug. 30, 2012, an Evanston resident reported that she observed a burglar in her home. She described the intruder to a police dispatcher as a “young boy, African American [wearing] cargo khaki shorts, dark brown T-shirt or [a] dark shirt.” The description was relayed to police as a “black male, probably in his teens, wearing a dark shirt, and khaki cargo shorts.”
Within a few minutes, the defendant police officer saw another police officer running back to her patrol car after she radioed that she was unable to catch a suspect. The defendant police officer spotted the suspect riding his bicycle and turning into a driveway that the police officer later learned was the suspect’s residence. He sent out a dispatch that the suspect was “cutting through the yards” and pursued the suspect on foot. The suspect put his hands on a fence and the defendant police officer said this led him to believe the suspect was attempting to flee. The officer ordered the suspect to stop, which he did. The officer placed him in handcuffs.
The burglary victim showed up at the scene within 10 minutes and said the suspect, D.Z., was not the intruder. D.Z. was promptly released.
D.Z. was five feet and six inches tall and wearing navy blue cargo pants with a gray shirt.
In a 30-page memorandum opinion, Magistrate Judge Daniel G. Martin held that the claims had to be reviewed using an objective standard, essentially whether the police office’s actions were reasonable under the circumstances.
The court said, “The question is whether the officers’ actions are objectively reasonable in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them, without regard to their underlying intent or motivation. … [T]hat involves what an officer knows and sees, and the reasonableness of what he concludes from it before detaining a suspect. That is distinct from the question of whether [the defendant officer] stopped D.Z. because of a subjective racial animus.”
The court held that the police officer had “reasonable suspicion” to stop D.Z. Based on the description of the burglary suspect, together with other circumstances including that another police officer had been pursing D.Z., the defendant police officer could have reasonably believed D.Z. was being evasive when he turned into his own driveway (although mistaken). The stop took place only 0.4 to 0.5 miles from the burglary and about seven minutes after the broadcast of the burglary.
The court also held that if the handcuffing of D.Z. were regarded as an “arrest,” the police officer was entitled to qualified immunity because he acted with “arguable probable cause to effect an arrest” and to detain D.Z. The court noted that everyone agreed that D.Z. was not trying to run away but said the “salient question was whether [the defendant police officer] had reason to think he was.”
The court rejected an argument that the defendant police officer engaged in racial profiling, because that claim was not alleged in the complaint. The court also said a police officer is not prohibited from taking race into account where the suspect is identified as having a specific racial or ethnic appearance.
The complaint also contained claims brought under Illinois law. After deciding all federal claims, the court decided not to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state claims, and it dismissed them without prejudice to D.Z.’s right to re-file them in state court.
Because the case was decided on a motion for summary judgment, it was decided on the basis of affidavits and other evidentiary submissions. There was no trial. On March 5, D.Z. filed a notice of appeal of the final judgment.
D.Z. had previously voluntarily dismissed his claim that the City of Evanston failed to properly supervise the defendant police officer.