Madison - St. Clair Record

Friday, August 23, 2019

District court dismisses driver's case against Caseyville police officer

By Dee Thompson | Jan 24, 2018

BENTON – A lawsuit against a Caseyville police officer over claims the officer lacked probable cause to stop a driver in 2013 has been dismissed. That driver, subsequent to the arrest, had been charged with driving under the influence and impersonating a police officer.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois granted officer Kale Pirtle’s motion for summary judgment and denied the plaintiff Harold Johnson’s motion for summary judgment Jan. 19. It dismissed the case with prejudice.

After reviewing the case, Judge J. Phil Gilbert found that “Johnson has not backed up these objections with any evidence or analysis. The court has reviewed the entire file de novo and finds that, for the same reasons spelled out above and in Magistrate Judge Wilkerson’s Report, Johnson’s generalized objections are without merit.”  

Johnson filed suit against Pirtle pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The suit originally made a number of claims, the opinion states, but following threshold review, the lower court allowed Johnson to proceed on one: whether “Defendant Pirtle deliberately stopped and arrested plaintiff without reasonable suspicion or probable cause, in violation of the Fourth and 14th Amendments . . . .,” the opinion states.

In 2013, Pirtle stopped Johnson and told him that one of the lights on his car was not clearly visible from 50 feet behind the car in violation of Illinois law. Pirtle arrested Johnson, and the state later charged Johnson with counts of impersonating a police officer and driving under the influence of alcohol, the opinion states.

"Johnson’s attorney subsequently filed a motion to quash the arrest and suppress evidence on the grounds that Pirtle stopped Johnson in violation of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures," the opinion states.

However, after an evidentiary hearing, a state court entered an order denying the motion and found that the stop was legal, not pretextural.

Johnson was later found guilty of driving under the influence, the opinion states.

According to the court’s memorandum and order, Johnson alleged a number of things: “He makes numerous claims here, including that (1) the state violated his right to a speedy trial; (2) the state prosecutors violated unspecified court orders; (3) the public defender refused to handle his DUI charge; (4) the primary concern should be based on the prosecutor’s misconduct throughout the entire course of Johnson’s criminal case; (5) the criminal charge ‘was not decided on merits but a technicality’; and many more.”

According to the memorandum and order, Gilbert found that Johnson’s Fourth Amendment issues were properly tried in stater court.

The court’s order also explains that Wilkerson had fully explained why Johnson had a full and fair opportunity to litigate his additional issues in state court: his counsel filed a motion on the issue, the court held an evidentiary hearing on the issues at which both Johnson and his attorney were present, and Johnson’s attorney examined Pirtle under oath and introduced exhibits at the hearing. So the “collateral estoppel” allegations (attempts to litigate issues already litigated) from Johnson were unfounded, the court concluded.

The court’s order also noted, “Johnson attempts to besiege Magistrate Judge Wilkerson’s Report with his objections, but his siege encircles the wrong castle.”

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U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois Village of Caseyville