A federal judge recently granted summary judgment to three police officers in a suit arising out of those officers’ attempts to secure evidence against a home invasion suspect.
Two detectives in a Will County municipality identified a home invasion suspect and obtained an arrest warrant. Several days later, they were told that a regional fugitive task force planned to arrest the suspect at his apartment in a nearby town. They waited nearby while task force members entered the unit and arrested the suspect. Once the suspect was cuffed, they entered the unit and saw a cell phone in the suspect’s room that likely contained key evidence, including photos and location data.
The detectives initially thought the task force had a search warrant for the entire unit but learned that was not the case. Next, they asked for consent to seize the phone, but were refused. So, the detectives immediately called a sergeant back at the station and asked him to get a search warrant for the house and phone. They waited in the house until that warrant arrived to ensure that no one, such as the suspect’s belligerent mother, would tamper with the phone. Critically, they did not search anywhere until the warrant arrived several hours later and they told the mother she was free to leave. They simply waited to ensure the phone remained intact.
The mother (notably, not the son) sued the officers for violating her Fourth Amendment rights. U.S. District Judge Robert Dow granted the officers’ motion for summary judgment. First, he dismissed the mother’s claims about the allegedly unjustified forced entry into her unit because the detectives did not participate in that action. Second, he agreed that the detectives had reason to believe that the suspect’s cell phone contained valuable evidence, and reason to fear that if they left the phone unattended, the mother could easily alter or delete that evidence. Third, he ruled that the detectives acted diligently to get a search warrant once they realized one was needed, and their limited seizure of the residence, for the limited purpose of securing evidence until a warrant arrived, was clearly reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.
It also bears mention that the defense had moved for sanctions against the mother for deliberately not preserving cell phone video that she had taken of the detectives even though she was going to file suit. Judge Dow found that it was unnecessary to address this issue given that he granted the defendants summary judgment on all counts.
David Mathues and Mike Bersani of Hervas, Condon, & Bersani PC represented the detectives, the sergeant, and their municipal employer in this successful defense.