13-year-old sues city of Evanston, police after wrongful handcuffing
September 27, 2012
The 13-year-old son of a Northwestern professor filed a lawsuit Sunday against the city of Evanston and an Evanston police officer following an incident last month when the policeman mistakenly handcuffed the boy as a burglary suspect.
"This is not just for our son,” Medill Prof. Ava Greenwell wrote in an email to The Daily on Wednesday. “I've heard from several African American mothers in Evanston who told me of similar stories where their son was stopped and harassed for no legitimate reason. In addition, several black NU alums have contacted me saying they were stopped and harassed by Evanston police decades ago. We want the city to take a really hard look at its police procedures and make sure they are equitable and ethical."
Evanston Police Department Officer Mark Buell detained Diwani Greenwell the morning of Aug. 20 as the teen was riding his bike near his house. EPD officials said he matched the description of a burglary suspect, which detailed a “black male wearing blue cargo shorts.”
Greenwell said the boy was released after about ten minutes when the witness exonerated him. Still, she said she felt certain EPD acted inappropriately by not communicating with her on the scene. Additionally, she said police surrounded her son with an excessive number of police officers, unnecessarily handcuffed him and failed to provide a sincere apology once he was cleared.
Greenwell filed a formal complaint with EPD, citing these grievances as well as her suspicion that Buell racially profiled her son. EPD’s internal investigation of Buell’s actions is still ongoing.
Diwani is the plaintiff. However, because he is a minor, he needs a “next friend,” someone to act on his behalf. In this case his mother acts represents his interests as his next friend.
Christopher Cooper, the Greenwell family's attorney, said even though EPD is currently conducting an internal investigation, he believes the result will not favor the Greenwells simply because police will want to avoid taking responsibility. He added that he doesn't fear the lawsuit will affect the investigation because city officials will likewise try to have the suit dismissed rather than settle with the Greenwells.
“I don’t think you can trust most municipalities to perform an objective investigation,” Cooper said. “In other words, in my experience as a civil rights attorney, most municipalities will not act appropriately when they learn of wrongful conduct by an employee. I don’t have any confidence in Evanston politicians resolving this.”
Cooper said the Greenwell suit is the first Evanston case he has worked on, but “if Evanston is like most cities in America, it will not in any shape or form admit wrongdoing at any time.”
The suit Cooper filed alleges assault false imprisonment and violation of the Illinois state constitution. In the legal sense, “assault” defines a situation in which someone feels apprehension of being touched, whereas “battery” occurs when someone is actually touched.
It is not yet clear for how much the Greenwells are suing the city and Buell. A judge or jury will eventually determine monetary reparations, but at some point during proceedings Diwani Greenwell will be expected to put a value on the suit’s charges with Cooper’s assistance, Cooper said.
He added Diwani Greenwell’s goal is to change police policy in terms of how officers interact with children as well as how officers behave when searching streets for suspects.
“I believe that we can show that the city and the officer acted wrongly, behaved improperly,” Cooper said.
EPD declined to comment on Buell’s situation or whether the department will support him in litigation.
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the date on which Diwani Greenwell was detained. It was Aug. 20. The Daily regrets the error.