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Village of New Lenox settles excessive force lawsuit

Type of Injury: Closed-head injury, facial lacerations, and post-traumatic stress disorder
Type of Case: Civil Rights Violation/Willful and Wanton Conduct
Settlement Amount: $175,000.00

On November 9, 2007, Village of New Lenox Police Department officer Brian M. Wojowski (Star No. 122) pulled over a vehicle operated by the F-46's husband. Ofc. Wojowski had followed the vehicle for approximately two miles, but observed no moving violations during that period of time. However, Ofc. Wojowski was eventually able to observe a violation of Illinois Motor Vehicle Code and pulled the vehicle over for failing to signal his intention to turn 200 feet before make a left turn, in violation of 625 ILCS 5/11-804. The driver did, however, signal his intention to turn left before turning left from the stop sign. Plaintiff was a passenger in the aforementioned vehicle.

NOTE: “Almost every American adult drives; hence the pool of potential arrestees is enormous. The innumerable rules and regulations governing vehicular travel make it difficult not to violate one of them at one time or another.” Barbara C. Salken, The General Warrant of the Twentieth Century? A Fourth Amendment Solution to Unchecked Discretion to Arrest for Traffic Offenses, 62 Temp. L. Rev. 221, 223 (1989). In the context of pulling over adult drivers, the aforementioned fact raises the specter of noble cause corruption. “Noble cause corruption in policing is defined as ‘corruption committed in the name of good ends, corruption that happens when police officers care too much about their work. It is corruption committed in order to get the bad guys off the streets…the corruption of police power, when officers do bad things because they believe that the outcomes will be good’ ” Thomas J. Martinelli, J.D., Unconstitutional Policing: The Ethical Challenges in Dealing with Nobel Cause Corruption, The Police Chief Magazine (Oct. 2006). “Examples of noble cause corruption are, planting or fabricating evidence, lying on reports or in court, and generally abusing police authority to make a charge stick.” Id. “Noble cause corruption is a teleological (ends-oriented) [as opposed to deontological] approach to an ethical dilemma that says law enforcement professionals will utilize unethical, and sometimes illegal, means to obtain a desired result.” Bruce Bayley, Nobel Cause Corruption: Do the ends justify the means?, (Feb. 12, 2010).

After pulling Plaintiff's husband over near the corner of South Country Lane and West Laraway Road in the Village of New Lenox, Ofc. Wojowski said he pulled the vehicle over for having a light out on their license plate. According to the officer, Ofc. Wojowski smelled alcohol and asked Plaintiff's husband to exit the vehicle. According to Ofc. Wojowski, Plaintiff's husband failed the field sobriety test and was, thereafter, arrested for DUI placing him in the rear of the squad car. NOTE: There was never a criminal conviction of the plaintiff's husband related to the DUI arrest.

Ofc. Wojwoski attempted to seize a wallet full of money from the passenger seat (where the plaintiff was near) of the vehicle in violation of Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332 (2009). Thereafter, the in-dash camera from Ofc. Wojowski’s vehicle shows the willful and wanton conduct and excessive force by the officer toward the plaintiff. The plaintiff testified that she had the wallet in her hand when Ofc. Wojowski went for the wallet and he pushed her into the area of the door’s hinge. At the time of the incident, Ofc. Wojowski was 6’0” tall and weighed 200 pounds.

Thereafter, Ofc. Wojowski seized the plaintiff and tackled the 5’4” tall Plaintiff to the ground. Ofc. Wojowski testified that, prior to this, Plaintiff grabbed his wrist and, thereafter (although he did not tell her), he considered her under arrest.

The allegations against Will County Sheriff Deputy John Forrest III were failure to intervene. The County settled its portion of the case earlier in the litigation.

Settlement was reached shortly before the matter was scheduled for trial.

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