Evanston police officer seeks dismissal of racial profiling lawsuit

A federal judge heard the first oral arguments in a racial profiling case Tuesday. Medill Prof. Ava Greenwell’s son filed a lawsuit against an Evanston police officer after he mistakenly handcuffed the then-13-year-old.

Source: WGN screenshot

A federal judge heard the first oral arguments in a racial profiling case Tuesday. Medill Prof. Ava Greenwell’s son filed a lawsuit against an Evanston police officer after he mistakenly handcuffed the then-13-year-old.

Ciara McCarthy, City Editor

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A federal judge heard oral arguments for the first time Tuesday in the lawsuit filed by a Northwestern professor’s son against an Evanston police officer.

Police mistakenly handcuffed Medill Prof. Ava Greenwell’s son in August 2012.  The boy was 13 years old at the time. Evanston Police Department officer Mark Buell detained the boy after mistakenly identifying him as a burglary suspect. The 13-year-old filed a lawsuit against Buell in September 2012, alleging Buell had violated his 14th Amendment rights by racially profiling him.

“This is not just for our son,” Greenwell wrote in an email to The Daily when the lawsuit was filed. “We want the city to take a really hard look at its police procedures and make sure they are equitable and ethical.” 

Buell detained the boy because he perceived him as matching the description dispatched on the police radio, his lawyers said. Three similar descriptions regarding the burglary suspect were dispatched, all of which described a young black male wearing dark clothing.

Buell’s lawyers are seeking summary judgment in the lawsuit. If granted, the case would be dismissed at the district level.

The Greenwell family with their lawyer and the lawyers representing Buell met in court Tuesday to present oral arguments to federal judge Daniel Martin. Greenwell’s son, now 15 and a freshman at Evanston Township High School, was also present. The presentations centered on the day of the burglary and the events and actions leading up to the boy’s detention.

Because Buell’s lawyer filed the motion for summary judgment, they began Tuesday’s arguments. Brandon DeBerry, one of the officer’s lawyers, discussed Buell’s perception of the day’s events and the reasons for which he believed his actions were justified.

“Even if (he) was arrested, officer Buell had probable cause to do so,” DeBerry said. “The plaintiff has failed to prove that a reasonable officer in officer Buell’s position would have known he was violating (the boy’s) rights.”

DeBerry also argued that the suit should be dismissed for “qualified immunity” and because a different police officer had played a larger role in Greenwell’s son’s detention.

Christopher Cooper, the Greenwell family lawyer, stressed Buell did not make a sound judgment in his decision to detain Greenwell’s son. He disputed DeBerry’s argument that another police officer was in pursuit of the child on foot, which caused him to pursue the boy as well. He also said Buell should not have detained Greenwell’s son given the many area residents who would have matched the description.

“Simply to assume it’s a young black male with dark clothing is not enough in a heavily black community,” Cooper said.

Cooper said none of the boy’s actions indicated he was a fleeing burglary suspect.

Martin said he would issue a ruling as soon as he could.

Email: mccarthy@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @mccarthy_ciara

Correction: A previous version of this article misidentified Daniel Martin’s title. He is a federal judge. The Daily regrets the error.

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