Appeals Court Says Sheriff Thomas Dart Must Face Lawsuit Over His Violation Of Arrestees' Rights

from the welcome-back-to-Techdirt,-Tom dept

Cook County (IL) Sheriff Tom Dart doesn't appear to know much about the First Amendment. He also doesn't understand Section 230. The grandstanding sheriff has graced Techdirt's page multiple times for suing online marketplaces and strong-arming payment companies in a severely misguided attempt to combat sex trafficking. His assaults on Craigslist and Backpage were terminated by federal courts, which reminded the sheriff of the existence of both Section 230 immunity and the First Amendment. Law enforcement officers may not be required to know the laws they enforce, but they should at least have some passing familiarity with the Constitution.

Sadly, Sheriff Dart is still unfamiliar with Constitutional rights and protections. The sheriff's latest violation of rights stems from his decision to engage in pretrial detention practices that ignore the Constitution, as well as changes to local law. The Seventh Circuit Appeals Court doesn't care much for that. Its order [PDF], which allows plaintiffs to continue their lawsuit against the sheriff for violation of their rights, makes it clear the Sheriff's freelancing isn't doing the Fourth Amendment any favors.

The opinion opens up with an idealistic quote from the Supreme Court.

“In our society,” the Supreme Court has said, “liberty is the norm, and detention prior to trial or without trial is the carefully limited exception.” United States v. Salerno, 481 U.S. 739, 755 (1987).

Not so, says the Seventh Circuit, citing Bureau of Justice statistics showing two-thirds of all inmates have not been convicted of a criminal offense. As of 2018, that was 490,000 people in jails awaiting trial. Some can't make bail. Others, like the ones suing Sheriff Dart, could make bail but were still denied release from detention. This happened despite revised county policies that were supposed to make it easier for those not yet convicted of crimes to be released until their court date.

After the new policy was put in place, Sheriff Dart challenged it. Recidivism rates for alleged gun felons rose from 0.7 percent of released arrestees to 2.5 percent. According to Dart, this was unacceptable. He told the Cook County Board of Commissioners he personally would oversee the release of anyone ordered to be released by the court. Dart told the county any personal disagreement with courts' release orders would result in another visit to the court in hopes of securing additional pre-trial detainment. This was supposed to happen within 48 hours, according to Dart's own assertions.

This is what actually happened, and it involved more than people charged with gun-related felonies.

On February 23, 2018 a nonprofit posted $5,000 bond on behalf of plaintiff Taphia Williams. Sixty hours later she had not been released. After repeated telephone calls, a jail officer informed the nonprofit’s agent that Williams’s case was “under review” and assured him: “Your person will be taken care of in the order that the bond was posted.” Williams’s counsel filed this lawsuit on the evening of February 26. Williams was released early the next morning. This was the first and shortest of these plaintiffs’ confinements.

Plaintiff Tony Mason posted $7,500 bond on February 26 but had not been released as of March 2, when his counsel moved for a rule to show cause why the Sheriff should not be held in contempt of the court’s bail order. A hearing on the motion was set for 9:00 a.m. on March 7. The Sheriff released Mason at 4:00 a.m., five hours before the hearing. Plaintiff Gregory Cooper’s story is essentially the same.

After posting $1,000 bond on his son’s behalf, the father of plaintiff Xavier Webster was reduced to pleading by text message with a policy staffer in the Sheriff’s office before his son was released nine days later.

Plaintiff Joshua Atwater, having spent a year on the Sheriff’s monitoring program already, was re-arrested on February 21 after mistakenly missing a court date. He had bail reinstated by the court on the same terms as before on March 6. The Sheriff did not release him to monitoring until March 12, on the condition that he have no contact with his five children—a release condition not imposed by the court but cut by the Sheriff from whole cloth.

There are a couple of rights in play here, as well as some state-level contempt of court allegations against Dart. The court points out no one is arguing law enforcement violated any rights by arresting the plaintiffs. The problem here is probable cause for continued detention evaporates once bail is posted or a court orders release.

Once the arrestee appears before the court, the purpose of the initial seizure has been accomplished. Further seizure requires a court order or new cause; the original probable cause determination is no justification.

The Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizures remains intact, even if someone has been accused of a criminal act. The Sheriff's arguments otherwise are nonsensical.

Whether, for how long, and at whose behest plaintiffs were detained thereafter are simply not matters of Fourth Amendment significance, according to the Sheriff.

We doubt the Sheriff would push this argument to the hilt. He could not plausibly argue the Fourth Amendment would pose no obstacle to his detention of plaintiffs after a non-prosecution decision on the same charges—or an acquittal, or a conviction. A court’s bail orders are of the same stripe. We have consistently accorded such orders Fourth Amendment significance…

To ensure rights are respected, Sheriff Dart needs to remove himself from this equation. Instead, he decided to insert himself into a process that's supposed to be handled by a neutral party: the courts. The courts are a check against government abuse. Dart's abuse of the plaintiffs' rights are exactly the sort of thing the normal process -- minus Dart's interloping -- would have prevented.

Put differently, the original probable cause was “exhausted” by the courts’ bail orders. Carlson, 342 U.S. at 546. This is the true sense of plaintiffs’ “degree of seizure” and “reseizure without probable cause” characterizations. It is only another way of expressing our original conclusion: courts, not sheriffs, make pretrial detention decisions.

The Appeals Court says it's not there to micromanage the Cook County pretrial release program nor rewrite the policies Dart is supposed to be following. But it's also not going to sit on the sidelines and allow Sheriff Dart to ignore court orders and impose his will on arrestees.

The Fourth Amendment does not require any particular administrative arrangement for processing bail admissions. It does require, however, that whatever arrangement is adopted not result in seizures that are unreasonable in light of the Fourth Amendment’s history and purposes. “[I]f the Fourth Amendment is to furnish meaningful protection from unfounded interference with liberty,” the Sheriff’s flat refusal to heed the courts’ bail orders alleged in this case, based on nothing more than a policy disagreement and resulting in unjustified detentions of multiple days, simply will not do.

The case heads back down to the lower court. And there's still a chance Sheriff Dart will get rung up for contempt. That will be handled by the state but the Seventh Circuit says it seems likely the state's Supreme Court will find Dart should have asked a court to modify any bail/release orders he didn't agree with, rather than modifying them on his own to keep arrestees detained.

The Fourth Amendment is continuous. It doesn't terminate after an arrest. It may be satisfied temporarily during an arrest, but it remains in place even after someone is jailed awaiting arraignment. Sheriff Dart -- who claims to be bringing a "humane, compassionate and intelligent approach to law enforcement" to Cook County -- doesn't appear to understand that. Or, if he does understand, he just doesn't care.

Filed Under: civil rights, cook county, pretrial detentions, thomas dart


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2020 @ 2:08pm

    I'll do what I want, when I want, who I want.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2020 @ 2:20pm

    In a way doesn't this impact also the 6th amendment? In lieu of an actual speedy trial, defendant posts a bond, and promises to appear when the trial eventually happens.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2020 @ 2:52pm

      Re:

      So it should be fine if those ordered to court show up x days after court (where x is the days they were detained illegally)... right?

      That's how it works right, do unto others as you expect them to do unto you...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2020 @ 3:39pm

    just a bit of context

    Lest we fall into the trap of assuming that this guy is another fascist knuckledragger in the mold of Joe Arpaio, this whole debacle would be much more interesting — as well as weird and comedic — had the author made note of the following facts gleaned from Tom Dart's Wikipedia page:

    He's a former state prosecutor, a former state senator, and he's got a JD from Loyola University.

    There is no way that he's unfamiliar with the "rights and protections" of the Constitution.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 30 Jul 2020 @ 5:15pm

      Re: just a bit of context

      He's a former state prosecutor, a former state senator, and he's got a JD from Loyola University.

      There is no way that he's unfamiliar with the "rights and protections" of the Constitution.

      If you ever see a lightbulb soldered directly to wires, more likely than not this absurdly egregious violation of all codes was committed by an electrical engineer in his own apartment. Not a layman, and not an electrician.

      Overqualification begets hubris.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2020 @ 5:55am

        Re: Re: just a bit of context

        "If you ever see a lightbulb soldered directly to wires, more likely than not this absurdly egregious violation of all codes was committed by an electrical engineer in his own apartment. Not a layman, and not an electrician."

        I doubt that, more likely one would find the person responsible for the i fixed it debacle to be one who is impatient, stubborn and a bit eccentric, not necessarily a practicing professional.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2020 @ 4:05pm

    Why isn't this sheriff in Jail?

    Shouldn't he be in jail right now to face punishment for his flagrent violations of the rights of those illegally detained? I guess we need an independent group to detain him and decide when they think he can go before he will understand exactly what he has been doing to people. They need to hold him long enough that he loses his job and everyone who has ever been unfairly detained by him has had a chance to remove any funds from his accounts. Of course this will never happen. A two tiered justice system where police have rights that only corporations can claim and get away with.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2020 @ 6:01pm

      Re: Why isn't this sheriff in Jail?

      Shouldn't he be in jail right now to face punishment for his flagrant violations of the rights of those illegally detained?
      [...] A two tiered justice system where police have rights that only corporations can claim and get away with.

      sigh No. Just... no. I'm not a lawyer, I don't even play one on the internet. And true, your post is likely just "blowing off steam" rather than reflecting your own knowledge of the law. So I'll just make a couple of points, and call it a night.

      1) Violation of constitutional rights is a civil violation, not a criminal one. You don't go to jail awaiting the resolution of those. Not us. Not cops.

      2) Saying "they need to (do various things)" satisfies your urge for Just Deserts. But now it is you asking for someone to be treated in a way the law does not allow, rather than Sheriff Dart. Don't do that, unless that's how you want the law to work when it drags you in. I know that I, for one, do not.

      And no, I don't want (those things) done to him by The Crowd, either. Ask for him to be voted out of (or recalled from) office. Ask for the court to remove him from office for contempt of court or abuse of office. But don't ask for a mysterious "they" to "done unto you" him. Please.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2020 @ 3:35am

        Re: Re: Why isn't this sheriff in Jail?

        Civil Violation or not, he is defying court orders and should be held in contempt and locked up.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2020 @ 5:58am

        Re: Re: Why isn't this sheriff in Jail?

        A crime being a constitutional violation does not necessarily mean it is not criminal. Murder for example.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    farooge (profile), 31 Jul 2020 @ 4:44am

    above the law

    Anyone who would argue that law enforcement's contempt for the accused (and the minority/impoverished population in general) in Chicago has nothing to do with the crime rate is simply wrong. It goes both ways.

    My brother in law is a cop in the same geographical region and I eagerly did a ride-along once .. I've never returned or spoken to him since because of what I experienced (12 years ago).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2020 @ 6:02am

    "Anyone who would argue that law enforcement's contempt for the accused"

    Why contempt? Because they already know the perp is guilty, they do not need no evidence. They are just a well equipt street gang.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2020 @ 6:05am

    "Law enforcement officers may not be required to know the laws they enforce"

    Never did understand this way of thinking. Its like a brain surgeon not having to know anything about the human body.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2020 @ 6:39am

    his attitude seems to be the one that the majority of Police Officers/security services agents have, ie, we can do what we want when we want, how we want, where we want to whoever we want and because we are officers of the law, we are untouchable by the law or by anyone trying to use the law against us!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Maycycle22 (profile), 1 Aug 2020 @ 3:18am

    surveyguide.onl/

    Cinemark Survey – Official Cinemark Customer Survey Hello, guys, do you know about Cinemark Customer Satisfaction Survey

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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