Law enforcement is taking a beating these days in the media and the courts. For that reason, it’s good to report on a case where the good guys win. In Patterson v. Remer, Case No. 15 C 8852 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 14, 2017), three Joliet police officers were accused of falsely arresting the plaintiff for child endangerment. The court granted the officers’ motion for summary judgment finding that probable cause existed for her arrest and that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity from suit.
On January 1, 2015, the officers responded to a motel based on a report of a disturbance. The motel was known as one of the worst in Joliet for criminal activity and not a safe place for children. The plaintiff and her husband lived there with their 1 year old and 5 month old children. The officers gained access to the room with the assistance of a motel worker and found the children alone. The older child was chewing on a cigarette lighter in a dirty shirt and urine-filled diaper. The younger child was found in a car seat covered with pillows, also wearing a dirty shirt and urine-filled diaper. The room appeared a disaster zone, with food, clothes, dirty baby bottles and trash strewn about. There were empty beer bottles on the floor and countertop, a cup smelling of alcohol on a table, and a baggie of suspected cannabis on the floor. As the officers assessed the situation, the older child attempted to place a razor in his mouth and drink from an old baby bottle. The mother was found sitting in a car right below the balcony where the room was located. She gave conflicting stories why she was there and not in the room. She eventually said that her husband had beaten her, and she fled. She thought he was still in the room. However, at no point did she call the police. It turned out that the plaintiff had an injury to her head. She was taken to the hospital for treatment and the children were taken into protective custody by DCFS. She was arrested later that day for child endangerment; her husband was arrested the following day for the same and domestic battery. Plaintiff was subsequently found not guilty, and she then filed suit in federal court for money damages.
U.S. District Court Judge Sarah Ellis rejected plaintiff’s argument that the officers had no evidence showing her intent to commit a crime. The court held that, under the totality of the circumstances, the officers had probable cause to arrest the plaintiff based on the condition of the room, the condition of the children, and the fact that the children had been left unattended. Thus, the officers were reasonably allowed to infer her criminal intent, and no further investigation was necessary once probable cause was established to make the arrest. The court also found that, even if the officers were mistaken about probable cause, their mistake was reasonable thus entitling them to qualified immunity. The city and officers were represented by Mike Bersani and Tara Grimm, and former associate attorney Anthony Becknek.