Tag Archives: Lawsuit

About Section 1983 and lawsuits involving police brutality

"Skokie Police Officer Michael Hart outside the Leighton Criminal Courts building after being released in lieu of $75,000 bail on Wednesday. (WGN-TV)"

“Skokie Police Officer Michael Hart outside the Leighton Criminal Courts building after being released in lieu of $75,000 bail on Wednesday. (WGN-TV)”

Skokie police officer, Michael Hart, was charged with aggravated battery and official misconduct after he was caught on video shoving a woman into a cell bench. According to the Chicago Tribune article, “Hart pushed Cassandra Feuerstein so hard that it broke her eye socket, cut her cheek and loosened her teeth.[i]” The article further notes that Feuerstein needed reconstructive surgery to place a titanium plate in her cheek. She also has facial numbness and vision troubles after the incident. Whether Officer Hart used excessive force is a matter for the court that may, under the circumstances, find that Hart’s force was unreasonable. If Feuerstein is proved a victim of excessive force by officer Hart, she could recover damages under “Section 1983,” the law designed to protect the rights of all Americans by the 14th Amendment, which allows a victim to file a lawsuit in federal court for police brutality.

Section 1983 of Title 42 of the U.S. Code is part of the civil rights act of 1871. Section 1983, provides that: “Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress, except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer’s judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable. For the purposes of this section, any Act of Congress applicable exclusively to the District of Columbia shall be considered to be a statute of the District of Columbia.[ii]

Consider a few highlights and key elements of a Section 1983 case where money damages are the available relief for civil rights violations against persons by the state[iii].

The common types of police brutality include excessive force, racial slurs and lethal force. In a case involving malicious police actions, any person within the United States can sue a government official when they’ve been deprived their constitutional rights. The Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable seizures applies to an officer touching you with hands, bullets or tasers. The Fifth Amendment applies to interrogations and Miranda rights. The 14th Amendment applies to race based slurs and verbal abuse.

Plaintiffs who sue for money damages under Section 1983 file complaints for police brutality, depending on the circumstances, against law enforcement officers individually, the city and county departments who employed the police, and even the mayor of the city where the incident occurred. These cases are complicated and there are a variety of legal defenses and challenges to the complaints filed by plaintiffs who claim they are victims of police brutality and their constitutional rights were violated in the incidents underlying their claims.

If you are a victim of police brutality or you want to learn more about your rights and the law, the attorneys at the Fox Valley Law Center Ltd. are here to answer y your questions. Feel free to stop by the office, conveniently located on the second floor of the Westfield Fox Valley Mall in Aurora. You can also call ahead to make an appointment to talk to a family law attorney by dialing 630-236-2222. Don’t forget to “Like” us on Facebook and “Follow” us on Twitter for up to date news in the law and issues that matter. For a list of legal practice areas please visit our website.

[i] Chicago Tribune: Charges filed against Skokie officer in videotaped jail cell incident. By Rosemary Regina Sobol and Robert McCoppin. Oct. 31, 2013.

[ii] “Section 1983” 42 U.S.C. § 1983

[iii] FindLaw: Police Brutality Lawsuits and Section 1983. By Brett Snider, May 14, 2013.


Excessive force: A cost of doing business or a problem in local jails?

Outrageous conduct? The video below[i] shows four LaSalle County Sheriffs officers stripped the accused, Dana Holmes, naked and left her like that in the cell following a DUI arrest. Holmes’ attorney says the elements required to perform a legal strip search were not present in this instance.  Woman Sues LaSalle County After Strip Search in DUI Arrest Source.

Woman Sues LaSalle County After Strip Search in DUI Arrest

Woman Sues LaSalle County After Strip Search in DUI Arrest

In response to a civil lawsuit Holmes filed against La Salle County, officials commented and clearly stand behind the conduct of their jail guards, and that, “did nothing wrong in the video-recorded May incident.[ii]” The attorney representing Holmes comments on the suit: “This wasn’t a search. They just stripped her,” Holmes’ lawyer, Terry Ekl, said. “To do a strip search you need to have reasonable grounds to believe she either has a weapon on her or she’s secreting drugs. That didn’t exist here.”

Another recent incident was caught by video camera in Skokie, and in this case the injured woman who says she needed reconstructive surgery, sued for injuries after her head was shoved into a wall.

Woman sues Skokie Police, alleges cop threw her into concrete bench

Woman sues Skokie Police, alleges cop threw her into concrete bench

Was there a reason for the Skokie Police needed to shove Cassandra Feuerstein head first into a jail cell? The blood on the cell floor and medical attention response is telling. Feuerstein, arrested for DUI, appears, in the video, to cooperate despite her being shoved to her fall in the holding cell. Click/Tap here for a link to the video embedded in the Chicago Trib Local article.

Police officers and staff are trusted public servants and departments of internal affairs frequently investigate claims of excessive force and abuse of custodians of local jails. The Chicago Tribune article reports the police stated, “Feuerstein ‘knowingly resisted…in that she pulled away from (the officer) and placed both her hands on the sides of the cell door all in an attempt to not be placed in the holding cell.’[iii]” Do you think the male officer’s response was appropriate, if the above statement by the police is true?

Even closer to home, the City of Naperville settled an excessive force lawsuit for $435,000[iv]. Municipalities often consider settlements of excessive force cases a “business decision.” Such was the statement by Jill Pelka-Wilger, Naperville’s assistant legal director. The incident took place in Cook County which Pelka-Wilger stated, are “notorious for unpredictable jury awards.” A similar incident resulted in a $2 million award, and the settlement and reduced exposure may be more affordable to municipal police departments.

Cameras taking pictures and video of police conduct are increasingly common and knowing the eyes are upon you may have an effect on short-fused officers.

Nicole Sartori, principal of the Fox Valley Law Center, Ltd. offered the following comments in response to recent news involving cameras and police conduct: “As a criminal defense attorney, I love videos in DUI cases. It does not matter if they are from the squad car or the booking room. The video represents the most unbiased piece of evidence in a case. Although they are not required, they certainly are helpful. Police officers tend to only highlight the negative aspects of the client’s behavior in their reports. Clients tend to focus on the positive aspects in their interview with you or their testimony at hearing or trial. Plus, you may have difficulty believing their account due to the consumption of alcohol they admit to consuming. But, the video speaks for itself. This is true whether it is used as evidence of intoxication or impairment of the client or civil rights violations by police brutality or excessive force. Both articles here illustrate that when the cameras are rolling everyone must be held accountable for their actions. It does not matter whether you are in a smaller, rural county such as LaSalle or more wealthy suburban district like Skokie. If you believe you were mistreated or abused during your arrest, you need to let your defense attorney know right away. They should file motions to preserve the video so that the evidence is not erased, deleted or mysteriously gone by the first court date.”

“Jurisdictions such as Kendall County and Kane County have been focused on collecting the DUI technology fee in sentencing orders from defendants that are sentenced for DUI. If those fees mean more videos, I am all for them.” Nicole Sartori.

To learn more about legal issues that affect Chicago area families in the west suburbs, you can “Like” the Fox Valley Law Center Ltd., on Facebook and “Follow” us on Twitter. For more information please visit www.FoxValleyLawCenter.com.

[i] NBC5 Chicago: Woman Sues La Salle County After Strip Search in DUI Arrest. By Staff, Oct. 1, 2013.

[ii] Chicago Tribune: La Salle County stands behind jail guards sued for stripping woman. By David Heinzmann, Oct. 10, 2013.

[iii] Chicago Trib Local Evanston & Skokie: Woman sues Skokie and officer, citing injury after DUI arrest. By Juan Perez Jr., Oct. 10, 2013.

[iv] Daily Herald. Naperville settles excessive force lawsuit for $435,000. By Jake Griffin, Sept. 16, 2013.