On Aug. 6, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s grant of summary judgment in the case that involved a 2012 incident in which a white Evanston police officer handcuffed a 13-year-old African American male, in the belief that the teen was a suspect in a recent burglary. The 2012 suit titled “D.Z. by his Next Friend, A. Thompson v. Mark Buell” an Evanston police officer, alleged claims for unreasonable search and seizure and false arrest, among other things. A court may grant summary judgment if it determines it can resolve the case based on affidavits and transcripts and there is no genuine issue of material fact requiring resolution at a trial.

At the time of the incident, the 13-year-old was riding his bicycle to his home. He was about 5 feet, 6 inches tall and was wearing navy blue cargo pants and a gray shirt. The description of the burglary suspect was “a black male, probably in his teens, wearing a dark shirt and khaki cargo shorts.” No mention was made of a bicycle.

The police officer raised a defense of “qualified immunity,” that is, he acted reasonably in the circumstances; and the lower court found that the police officer’s stop of the minor was “supported by reasonable suspicion” and that the officer was thus “entitled to qualified immunity.” The Seventh Circuit Court said, “Probable cause is a common-sense determination” and “even if probable cause is lacking with respect to an arrest, an officer is entitled to qualified immunity if his subjective belief that he had probable cause was objectively reasonable … or, if there is no probable cause, [the Court will ask] whether a reasonable officer would have mistakenly believed that probable cause existed.” 

Corporation Counsel Grant Farrar, who did not represent the police officer, said the Court found that, “all the officer’s actions were reasonable. This is a very significant case, given the fact that it … emphasizes the training of the Evanston Police Department.”

Police Chief Richard Eddington said the transparency of the Evanston Police Department was evident in its making public the radio transmissions and its “walking through this complaint” at meetings of the City’s Human Services Committee. “The issue we have to judge police conduct by is not ‘Are we right?’ but ‘Are we reasonable?’ in tense and evolving uncertain events.”

Chief Eddington also said that, through a fingerprint at the crime scene, police have now identified a 20-year-old Chicago man as the suspect in the burglary. He said the delay in obtaining the fingerprint analysis from the state crime lab, coupled with other delays in fingerprint and DNA testing, has led the department to use a private crime lab, Northern Illinois Crime Lab, rather than the state crime lab. The City of Evanston realizes, he said, that the delay “has a huge detrimental impact on the criminal justice system.” The cost, about $100,000 per year, he said is “part of the City of Evanston’s commitment to public safety.”

The RoundTable’s 2012 and later stories about the case can be found at evanstonroundtable.com.

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...