After a three-day trial before the Hon. Eric Long in Urbana, Illinois, a federal jury took less than 90 minutes to reject the plaintiff’s federal civil rights claims against four correctional officers. The suit arose from an incident in December 2017 when the Plaintiff was a detainee at the Rock Island County Jail. He alleged that three correctional officers and their supervising sergeant kicked, stomped, and punched him into unconsciousness, waited until he retained consciousness, beat him again, and then ignored his cries for help. He brought claims for excessive force and for denial of medical care against all four officers pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment.
The officers denied those allegations and countered that they used only limited force to take Plaintiff to the ground, cuff him, and drag him back to his cell after he had deliberately covered a security camera and refused commands to return to his cell. The officers also contended that Plaintiff had only superficial abrasions after the incident and rejected an offer of medical help.
Leading up to trial, the Defendants put themselves in a strong position by prevailing on several key motions in limine. At trial, they corroborated their accounts by several different sources of external evidence. Jail surveillance video from the day after the incident showed Plaintiff walking normally with no limp and with no visible injuries to his face—hardly what one would expect if he had been brutally beaten into unconsciousness less than 24 hours earlier. The judge in his criminal case, who saw him two days after the incident, testified she saw no serious injuries on Plaintiff. Plaintiff was taken to a local hospital two days after the incident at the request of his criminal defense attorney. But medical records from that visit belied Plaintiff’s claims. A CT scan of his head was “unremarkable,” and the ER doctor’s physical examination documented that parts of Plaintiff’s body where he claimed to have severe and permanent injuries were in fact normal. This lack of corroboration for account, coupled with the officers’ strong and cohesive explanation for the limited amount of force they did use, likely accounted for the jury’s swift rejection of Plaintiff’s claims.
The correctional officers were represented at trial by Hervas, Condon, and Bersani partners Yordana Wysocki and David Mathues. This favorable outcome is a helpful reminder that even in the contemporary anti-police environment, with some helpful facts and an aggressive trial defense, it is still possible to win civil cases on behalf of law enforcement officers.