Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois granted summary judgment in favor of a Romeoville police officer in Hinch v. O’Connor, No. 15-C-9316 (Feb. 15, 2018). Plaintiff Charles Hinch claimed that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated when Officer Michael O’Connor shot Plaintiff while he was operating a motor vehicle and drafting another officer, Officer Scott Stutler, through a crowded parking lot.
The events started in the evening of November 28, 2013, when Plaintiff dropped his neighbor, Robert Russell, off at department store knowing that Russell “does a little shoplifting” and that it was possible that he would steal merchandise. As Plaintiff waited in the store parking lot for his neighbor to exit, the police received a 911 call that Russell was observed Russell concealing merchandise.
The two officers responded to the call of a retail theft in progress at the store dressed in fully visible police uniforms. A police dispatcher advised the officers that one of the two offenders (later identified as Russell) was headed towards the store’s south entrance. Officer Stutler observed Russell exit the store, look in his direction, and start running, and the officer gave chase on foot yelling, “Stop, police.” Russell continued to run and entered the front seat of Plaintiff’s vehicle. Officer Stutler reached into the vehicle and grabbed Russell in the chest area, ordering Russell to stop.
Plaintiff knew that Officer Stutler was a police officer and that he was trying to arrest Russell. Nevertheless, at Russell’s urging, Plaintiff drove the vehicle while Stutler’s arm was trapped in the vehicle’s door dragging Stutler through the parking lot. Meanwhile, Officer O’Connor, who was in his squad car in the parking lot, observed Officer Stutler chasing Russell. When O’Connor exited his squad car, he observed Stutler struggling with Russell, Stutler’s arm trapped in the vehicle, and Plaintiff driving away, dragging Stutler.
Officer O’Connor yelled, “stop, police,” but Plaintiff kept driving. O’Connor believed that Stutler would be sucked underneath the vehicle, run over, and killed. Thus, Officer O’Connor concluded that the only way to save Officer Stutler’s life was to discharge his fiream at the driver’s side of the moving vehicle. Plaintiff was shot in the elbow, the vehicle came to a stop, and Stutler was able to free his arm from the vehicle. As a result of being dragged, Stutler suffered injuries to his right shoulder.
The Court held that Officer O’Connor’s use of force was reasonable in light of the circumstances. The Court reasoned that O’Connor’s use of force was authorized because he reasonably believed that Officer Stutler was in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury and that Plaintiff’s conduct posed an active and ongoing threat to Officer Stutler’s safety which did not stop until he was shot. The Court also held that Officer O’Connor was entitled to qualified immunity because it was not clearly established in 2013 that a police officer could not use deadly force to prevent a fellow officer from being dragged by a vehicle from the scene of a crime. The Court granted summary judgment in favor of the officers on Plaintiff’s claims. Mike Bersani and Tara Grimm represented the police officers.