Greenwell appeals dismissal of racial profiling lawsuit

Ciara McCarthy, City Editor

A Northwestern professor’s son appealed a federal judge’s decision Wednesday in the racial profiling case the teenager brought against an Evanston police officer.

Judge Daniel Martin granted the officer’s motion for summary judgment last week, which dismissed the case from the district level. On Wednesday, the Evanston teenager appealed the decision.

The son of Medill Prof. Ava Greenwell sued Evanston Police Officer Mark Buell in September 2012 after Buell mistakenly handcuffed the then-13-year-old. Greenwell’s son is alleging that Buell violated his Fourth Amendment rights and racially profiled him. The Evanston Township High School freshman is also alleging various state claims. Martin granted the motion on the Fourth Amendment claims, but Greenwell’s son can still re-file the state claims in Illinois court.

Ava Greenwell said she and her family were disappointed with Martin’s ruling but ultimately decided to appeal the decision.

“We have thought about it and decided it was important for us to move forward and not to let the case die,” she said.

Buell handcuffed the teen after mistakenly identifying him as a burglary suspect in August 2012. Buell filed the motion for summary judgment in September, and Martin heard oral arguments for the first time last month. 

“The Court concludes that the circumstances surrounding (the teenager)’s initial detention support a finding that Buell had reasonable suspicion to stop him,” Martin wrote in his decision. “Plaintiff met the general features of the suspect’s description, even if it was overly broad.”

The descriptions of the burglary suspect broadcast over the police radio play a critical role in the case, said Christopher Cooper, the teen’s lawyer. In dispute is a depiction of the suspect as of “a medium complexion, black male, 17-18, 6’0 to 6’2”, 160-180 pds, juvenile, brown Tee shirt, dark tan cargo shorts.” Cooper and his client argue that no officer would reasonably believe that the teenager matched that description; Martin wrote in his decision that this was never broadcast to officers, and thus Buell did not hear it before handcuffing the boy.

On Monday, several days after Martin had made his decision, Buell’s lawyer Brandon DeBerry called Cooper with a settlement offer that would preclude Greenwell’s son from filing an appeal, Cooper said. DeBerry offered to waive the $7,700 court expenses that the teenager owed if he agreed not to appeal the case, Cooper said.

Cooper said the offer was unprecedented in his experience and that it wouldn’t have been made if Buell’s lawyers were confident he would win the appeal.

Greenwell reiterated the importance of the suit for her son and the larger community on Thursday.

“It’s really a bigger issue as it relates to racial profiling and whether it’s OK to stop young people and handcuff them before you even ask them any questions,” she said.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @mccarthy_ciara