A man arrested multiple times on a warrant for a murder suspect with the same name got the go-ahead to pursue a civil rights lawsuit against the Will County Sheriff’s Office.
In a written opinion last week, U.S. District Judge Matthew F. Kennelly declined to dismiss Jose T. Vasquez’s claim that the sheriff’s office violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizures.
Vasquez maintains the violation was caused by the failure of the sheriff’s office to set up procedures for ensuring the accuracy of electronic warrants.
Vasquez has the same name and date of birth as a man wanted in a 1979 murder in Joliet.
Vasquez lives in Washington, D.C., and has never been to Illinois. He is not a suspect in the slaying.
In June 2005, the sheriff’s office loaded a failure-to-appear warrant into Illinois’ criminal information database — the Law Enforcement Agencies Data System, or LEADS — for the suspect in the murder.
The warrant erroneously listed Vasquez’s Social Security number instead of the suspect’s.
Warrants loaded into LEADS also appear in the federal database, the National Crime Information Center.
Vasquez was arrested by police in Prince George’s County, Md., in August 2005 based on the warrant.
Vasquez was released after the Will County Sheriff’s Office and Prince George’s County exchanged photos and fingerprints of Vasquez and the suspect and determined they were not the same person.
The sheriff’s office did not correct the warrant following this incident and did not delete the warrant until September 2017.
While the warrant remained in LEADS, Vasquez was arrested numerous times.
The warrant division supervisor in the sheriff’s office testified in a deposition that Vasquez had been arrested nine times in 10 years as of March 2017.
Four of those arrests occurred from July 2016 to March 2017, the supervisor testified.
Vasquez testified one of the arrests caused him to miss work and ultimately lose his job.
During his March 2017 arrest, a U.S. Secret Service officer injured his neck, shoulder, knee and hand, Vasquez testified. He said he had to be hospitalized because of his injuries.
Vasquez filed his suit against the sheriff’s office and Will County in May 2018 in federal court in Chicago.
The suit included two claims brought under Monell v. Department of Social Services of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (1978).
Under Monell, the defendants would be liable for any constitutional violation that stemmed from an express policy or widespread, accepted practice followed by the sheriff’s office.
Vasquez alleges his wrongful arrests stemmed from the conscious decision of the sheriff’s office not to adopt a policy of reviewing warrants and correcting any errors in them.
In his opinion, Kennelly dismissed a Monell claim alleging Vasquez was deprived of his liberty without due process in violation of the 14th Amendment.
That claim is based on injuries that amounted to wrongful pretrial detentions, Kennelly wrote.
And claims of wrongful detention, he wrote, are governed by the Fourth Amendment.
But Kennelly declined to toss the other Monell claim.
That claim alleges Vasquez was subjected to unreasonable seizures in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
To state such a claim against the sheriff’s office, Kennelly wrote, citing J.K.J. v. Polk County, 928 F.3d 576 (7th Cir. 2019), Vasquez must allege the existence of an official, unconstitutional policy.
Vasquez must also allege the office was deliberately indifferent to “a known or obvious risk that the policy would lead to constitutional violations,” Kennelly wrote.
And he wrote Vasquez must allege the policy directly caused his injuries.
Vasquez’s allegations meet those elements, Kennelly wrote.
Quoting a state regulation governing the LEADS database, he wrote local law enforcement agencies must act “as soon as possible” to correct or remove incorrect or invalid warrants.
Also, the warrant division supervisor testified there were numerous discussions in the sheriff’s office about Vasquez’s arrests on the erroneous warrant, Kennelly wrote.
These facts, he wrote, could lead a reasonable jury to find that the decision not to implement a policy for reviewing warrants amounted to an unconstitutional government policy and that the sheriff’s office chose to ignore the risk of constitutional injury.
Kennelly issued his opinion Sept. 4 in Jose T. Vasquez v. Will County Sheriff’s Office, et al., No. 18 C 3137.
Vasquez is represented by Deborah G. Cole of DGCole Law and Creighton R. Magid and Kimberly B. Frumkin, both of Dorsey & Whitney LLP in Washington.
Attorneys for the defendants are Martin W. McManaman of Lowis & Gellen LLP and Brian D. Netter of Mayer Brown LLP’s Washington office.
None of the attorneys could be reached for comment.