Seventh Circuit: No Immunity For Chicago Cop Who Lied To A Judge Before Accidentally Raiding The Right Apartment
from the thank-god-this-is-such-a-rarity,-especially-in-Chicago dept
There’s a good reason we have strict standards for warrant requests — ones that requires plenty of probable cause and factual statements. Because if we didn’t have that, people would literally die when officers raid the wrong house or point guns at the wrong person. Innocent people would end up in jail and people’s rights would be routinely violated when subjected to searches backed by nothing but boilerplate and meaningless assertions about “training and expertise.”
But we do have that standard in this country. And that’s why these things don’t happen.
Sometimes they do happen. And that’s when the courts step in and remind law enforcement officers about the proper way to craft warrant affidavits. I mean, obviously not all courts. In this case, handled by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, the district court said there was nothing wrong with an obviously deficient warrant request filled with assertions that couldn’t be confirmed and mainly based on an officer’s guesswork, rather than actual facts or probable cause. The Seventh Circuit, fortunately, disagrees [PDF].
That chain of events resulted in another, more miserable and completely undeserved chain of events for Chicago resident Robert Taylor, who was arrested by Officer Ricky Hughes following a search of the wrong apartment (i.e., not the one listed on the warrant) that fortunately happened to be Robert Taylor’s residence.
There’s all sorts of sloppy police work leading up to the Seventh Circuit’s stripping of qualified immunity from Officer Hughes. The Chicago PD was wrapping up a drug investigation (“codename Uptown Girl,” as the decision notes) when Hughes decided to extend the investigation a little longer. He met with an informant who claimed Robert Taylor, an alleged drug gang member, had a gun in his apartment on the south side of town.
What happened during this meeting and what information was passed on to the police officer is all solely retained in Officer Hughes’ gray matter.
Later that same day, Officer Hughes met with John Doe at the precinct. At the time of the meeting, Hughes says he knew Doe’s real name and reviewed his criminal record. But today, so far as the record reveals, John Doe is a complete unknown: no one knows John Doe’s real name, how to contact him, or, for that matter, why he came forward with information concerning Robert Taylor during the Uptown Girl investigation. Nor is there paperwork to help, as Hughes shredded any notes he took while meeting with Doe.
So, everything is subject to Hughes’ memory, which conveniently means he can recall anything he wants to support everything that happened following this undocumented meeting with an informant with no track record for truthful information, never mind any other evidence of their existence.
Making things worse, the helpful informant remembered seeing a gun while in Robert Taylor’s apartment but when pressed by the officer could not remember exactly where Taylor lived.
Doe told Hughes that he did not know Taylor’s address, but he did know how to get there. So the two drove down to the south side, and Doe directed Hughes to an apartment building. The building Doe identified was 643–645 W. 62nd Street, an L-shaped apartment complex on the south side of the street. The numbers “643–45” appeared under a window on the building’s street-facing side. Doe told Officer Hughes that the unit immediately above those numbers was Taylor’s.
Using this vague information, Hughes went to seek a search warrant. At this point, all he had was a claim that a gun was seen in one of the apartments near a window sticker indicating possible apartment numbers in that area. Not only did Hughes lack a definitive address, he also lacked any information Taylor was engaged in drug sales/purchases. For all Hughes knew, the informant had seen a legally-owned gun somewhere in that apartment complex but, according to the officer’s own testimony, had nothing tying Taylor to the weapon.
Undeterred, Hughes banged together a bunch of speculation and approached a judge hoping to trade his worthless wordcraft for an actual, usable search warrant. Somehow he succeeded.
I mean, just look at this bullshit:
Hughes’s accompanying affidavit identified Taylor’s apartment as “645 W. 62nd Street #1S.” When asked how he determined this was Taylor’s address, Hughes testified: “I decided that it was 645 1S.” But how he decided he could not explain. Hughes also testified that he used building number 645 (rather than 643) because the window Doe pointed out was closer to the “45” on the front of the building. And as for the unit number, Hughes testified that the “S” might have stood for “South,” or “Side,” or perhaps just the letter “S” in an alphabetical list—he was unable to say for sure. Nor did Hughes take any step to corroborate Taylor’s address. Hughes testified that he “didn’t have no time” to do so. In the end, then, Hughes took a guess, listing the address as 645 W. 62nd Street #1S in the search warrant application.
Remember the drug thing? Or the lack thereof? Whelp, that bunch of misinfo/disinfo went into the warrant request as well.
The proposed warrant, in turn, sought permission to search “645 W. 62nd Street #1S, a multi-unit building,” and to seize evidence of the offense of Unlawful Use of Weapon under Illinois law, 720 ILCS 5/24-1, specifically:
Unlawful use of weapon and any documents showing residency, any paraphernalia used in the weighing, cutting or mixing of illegal drugs. Any money, any records detailing illegal drug transactions.
Hughes decided the alleged gun Taylor allegedly possessed (as related to him by this mysterious informant) was drug-related because 1) he believed guns and drugs were inseparable, and 2) he forgot to edit his copypasta.
The warrant’s references to illegal drugs were not based on anything Doe told Officer Hughes. Instead, Hughes later acknowledged that the drug reference was stock language he left in place because “[u]sing drugs and guns go hand [in] hand.”
Since Hughes “didn’t have no time” to be more careful, he dragged a Cook County judge out of their comfortable home after hours to join him in an unmarked car to Hancock his deficient warrant request. It’s hardly surprising this did not lead to intense judicial scrutiny of his request. And, in the judge’s defense, they had no way to know the officer was padding his boilerplate with speculation about Robert Taylor’s actual address. And Hughes did nothing to enlighten the judge about the more speculative/Xeroxed parts of his warrant request.
Officer Hughes later testified that he did not give the judge any explanation for the warrant’s reference to drug paraphernalia, did not tell the judge that he did not know if the address listed on the warrant was accurate, and did not explain that Doe had provided directions that the officers could follow to Taylor’s apartment.
All of that culminated in this early morning raid by the Chicago PD:
At around 6:00 a.m. on June 22, 2011, Hughes used a battering ram to break down the door of the apartment Doe identified. The apartment the officers entered was in fact Robert Taylor’s apartment. But it was not the apartment listed on the warrant: it was not #1S at 645 W. 62nd Street, but instead was #1N at 643 W. 62nd Street.
Luck was on Officer Hughes’ side, as it had been throughout the case. He found mail and an employee ID that linked Taylor to the apartment. He found two people — Mario Barnes and Barbara Taylor (Robert’s niece), along with their three kids — in a bedroom. In that bedroom, he also found a gun. Unfortunately for Hughes, Barnes could not say for sure whether it belonged to Taylor. Using this (whatever “this” means in the context of the warrant and the search), Hughes arrested Taylor.
Taylor then spent 128 days in jail before another judge found the search warrant invalid based on the address error, quashed the warrant, tossed out the evidence, and acquitted Taylor of the gun charges. All’s well that ends well? Well, it hadn’t exactly ended.
Despite Taylor’s acquittal, the alert for his arrest remained active within CPD’s system. A month later, on December 23, 2011, a CPD officer pulled over a car in which Taylor was riding. When the officer ran Taylor’s name, the alert appeared, leading to Taylor once again being arrested—on the exact same charge on which he had been acquitted a month prior. The arresting officer contacted Detective Weitzman, who realized the mistake and quickly saw to it that Taylor be released. Even then, though, the alert for Taylor’s arrest remained active for another month. At last, on January 31, 2012 Detective David Betz canceled the alert, bringing this mess of events to a close.
Taylor sued. The lower court said, hey, this is all pretty bad but should we really expect the officers involved in this to be held accountable for their actions? Over the course of three decisions, the answer was “no.” Qualified immunity for every defendant.
Officer Hughes is back in the mix. His immunity has been stripped. Here’s why, says the Seventh Circuit:
We see the record as establishing, at a minimum, reckless misconduct by Officer Hughes. And that misconduct resulted in a serious misstatement—a misrepresentation that the apartment to search was #1S at 645 W. 62nd Street. By Officer Hughes’s own admission, that was false. Officer Hughes guessed at the apartment number and did so because, in his view, confirming Taylor’s actual address—say, by running Taylor’s name through police or city databases, looking for his name on the building’s mailboxes, or contacting the landlord—would take too long.
We are skeptical. Officer Hughes has pointed to no exigency that would have prevented him from undertaking the sort of routine policework contemplated by the Fourth Amendment’s particularity requirement. It is not too much to ask that a police officer seeking judicial authorization to search someone’s home take steps to confirm the right address. […] Guessing at an address to get a search warrant is intolerable, and that is unfortunately what Officer Hughes did here.
The boilerplate about drugs was also reckless misconduct. And because the officer did nothing to inform the judge who signed the warrant about his extensive guesswork, he could not possibly rely on a warrant he basically lied to obtain. The warrant should never have been issued, the Appeals Court concludes. And because of that, Hughes gets no immunity.
Taking our own careful look at the summary judgment record, we are left with an unmistakable reality. Officer Hughes told the Cook County judge that he knew Taylor’s address when in fact he did not. And he told the judge that there was probable cause to believe drugs would be found in the apartment when in fact there was not. These misrepresentations are at the heart of this case. We would not be here without them. And these misrepresentations constitute an open-and-shut violation of Franks.
The record is clear on these points, with no lingering material questions for a jury to decide. We therefore reverse the district court’s grant of summary judgment for Officer Hughes on Count I and direct entry of summary judgment for Taylor.
Since there’s nothing left for the jury to decide (the facts are all in, as they say), the only thing left to determine is how much Officer Hughes owes Robert Taylor for this bogus search and arrest. Yes, it’s true Chicago residents who’ve already paid so much will be asked to give a little more, but, unfortunately, almost any decision denying or stripping immunity from law enforcement officers is still a rarity and worth noting. And each one adds (incrementally) to the body of case law that clearly establishes certain rights violations.