Moorer v. Valkner

Decision Date20 December 2021
Docket Number18 CV 3796
PartiesThomas Moorer, Plaintiff, v. John Valkner, et al., Defendants.
CourtUnited States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court (Northern District of Illinois)

Manish S. Shah United States District Judge

Plaintiff Thomas Moorer spent almost seven years in pretrial detention accused of murdering Edward Ramos. A jury found him not guilty. He alleges that officers of the Chicago Police Department didn't have probable cause to detain him for the murder. There are gaps in the record as to how Moorer became a suspect; police officers lost the victim's cellphone; other evidence suggested that Moorer didn't commit the crime; and CPD officers and the state's attorneys relied on photo array and in-person lineup identifications that Moorer alleges were unreliable. Moorer brings claims for unlawful pretrial detention, false imprisonment, and spoliation of evidence against CPD officers and the City of Chicago. Defendants move for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, their motion is granted.

I. Legal Standards

Summary judgment is appropriate if the movants show that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A genuine dispute as to any material fact exists if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). I construe all facts and draw all inferences in favor of Moorer, the nonmoving party. Robertson v. Dep't of Health Servs., 949 F.3d 371, 377-78 (7th Cir. 2020). I need only consider the cited materials, but I may consider “other materials in the record.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3).

II. Facts
A. The Shooting

Someone murdered Edward Ramos. [164] ¶¶ 30-33.[1] Around midnight on August 27, 2010, Edward, his brother Edwin Ramos, and three of his cousins-Miguel Velez, Walter Velez, and Eliezer Martinez-were at their shared basement apartment on the northwest side of Chicago. Id. ¶¶ 8-10.[2] The five men were getting ready to go to a club with three friends: Jacklyn Hernandez, Alina Kindelan, and Delia Rivera. Id. ¶ 9. Hernandez, Kindelan, and Rivera pulled up at the apartment around 11:30 p.m. or just before midnight. Id. ¶ 10. Walter came outside to speak with his girlfriend, Hernandez, who was still in the car. Id. ¶ 11. Rivera and Kindelan began walking towards the apartment. Id. ¶ 12.

A man with the lower part of his face covered and dressed in black clothing stepped out from the gangway to the building. [164] ¶ 13. He brandished a gun and confronted Kindelan and Rivera. Id. ¶¶ 13-14. The two women backed away and the man followed, coming into an area lit by streetlights. See id. ¶¶ 14-15. The parties dispute whether the man removed his mask at this point, but agree that he told Kindelan and Rivera to go away. Id. ¶ 15. The man then forced Walter to the apartment door. Id. ¶¶ 16-17. Rivera and Kindelan got back in the car with Hernandez. Id. ¶ 18. When they saw a second man emerge from the gangway, the women drove away and Hernandez called 911. Id.

The first man held a gun to Walter's head and told him to knock on the apartment door. [164] ¶ 19. Two other men were also in the gangway. Id. Walter banged on the door. Id. ¶ 20. Martinez and Edward, inside the apartment's living room, looked through the peep hole and then Edward opened the door. See id. ¶¶ 21, 24. The masked man rushed into the apartment and began shooting. Id. ¶ 22. There was a struggle for the gun, and Edward and Martinez fell to the ground. Id. ¶¶ 22- 23. The man, whose face was now uncovered, fired several shots while standing, hitting Martinez in the leg. Id. ¶ 23. Miguel had been ironing clothes in a bedroom. Id. ¶ 24. After he heard the shots, Miguel looked into the living room, saw Edward struggling with the man, and ran out the back door. Id. Edwin heard the struggle, saw a man on top of Edward and Martinez, and ran to assist. Id. ¶¶ 25-26. The man hit Edwin in the head with the gun, but Edwin punched the assailant, causing the man to drop the weapon. Id.

Disarmed, the man ran out of the apartment the way he'd come. [164] ¶ 28. Edwin followed, but outside he saw a second man pointing a gun at him. Id. ¶ 29. The first man told his accomplice to start shooting. Id. Edwin lunged backwards into the doorway while Edward came past him, into the line of fire. Id. ¶ 30. Edward was shot in the chest. See id. ¶ 32. The man and his two accomplices fled. Id. ¶ 31. Edwin, Martinez, Miguel, and Walter carried Edward to a car, and Edwin drove his brother and Martinez to a hospital. Id. ¶¶ 32-33. Edward died later that night. Id. ¶ 33.

B. Initial Investigation and Photo Array

Officers of the Chicago Police Department arrived at the scene minutes after the shooting. [164] ¶ 34. Detectives Timothy McDermott, Matthew Benigno, and Steven Becker were assigned to the case. Id. ¶¶ 3, 37. They canvassed the area while forensic investigators gathered physical evidence. Id. ¶¶ 37-47. At a police station, other CPD officers-detectives Brian Tedeschi, John Valkner, Emiliano Leal, Nicholas Spanos, [3] and Tracy Fanning[4]-began interviews with Edwin, Miguel, Walter, Hernandez, Kindelan, and Rivera. Id. ¶¶ 3, 48. The witnesses were separated and their interviews were conducted individually. Id. ¶ 49.[5]

In general, [6] the six witnesses described the initial shooter as a Black man wearing jeans, a mask of some sort on the lower half of his face, between twenty-five and thirty-six years old, five foot ten to six foot three inches tall, and weighing between 180 and 250 pounds. See [174] ¶¶ 3-4, 7, 13, 16, 19, 21, 23; [164] ¶ 50.[7] With the exception of Kindelan's interview with detective Leal, which wasn't similarly documented, the detectives summarized the witnesses' interviews in general progress reports. [164] ¶¶ 51-52.

At 1:30 in the morning on August 28, detective Valkner interviewed Edwin. [174] ¶ 7. Edwin said that he recognized the man who entered the apartment. [164] ¶ 53; [174] ¶¶ 7-8, 24. He said that his brother had sold drugs to the man, who went by the nickname, “Boom, ” and that a dispute had arisen over an unpaid debt. See [164] ¶ 53; [174] ¶¶ 8, 24. Edwin said that he had seen Boom on two earlier occasions, and that Boom made threatening phone calls to his brother during the week before the shooting. [164] ¶ 54; [174] ¶ 8. Edwin told detectives that they could find Boom's contact information in Edward's cell phone. [164] ¶ 54; see [174] ¶ 9.

A cell phone was recovered at the scene of the crime. [164] ¶ 42. A forensic investigator collected and transported physical evidence to his office, id. ¶ 46, but detective McDermott requested that the investigator turn over the cell phone to him rather than inventory it. Id. ¶ 47; [174] ¶ 66. The investigator gave the phone to McDermott. [164] ¶ 47; [174] ¶ 66. Having finished his work at the scene, McDermott returned to the police headquarters at around 4:20 a.m. [164] ¶ 69. While McDermott said that he or someone else should have documented and inventoried the phone, it was never inventoried, and the record is silent as to what became of it after the investigator gave the phone to McDermott. [174] ¶ 67; [164] ¶ 71.

But police reports show that Edwin identified a cell phone as belonging to his brother, and that Edwin and Valkner searched the contacts of the phone and located an entry for “Boom” associated with the number (773) 754-2075. [174] ¶ 9; [164] ¶ 70. Later, however, Edwin said that he assumed his brother's phone had been password-protected, couldn't remember going through the contacts in Edward's phone with detectives, and didn't know what happened to Edward's cellphones after the “incident.” [174] ¶ 10. Valkner couldn't remember looking at a phone with Edwin or who had given him the phone. [174] ¶¶ 11, 68.[8] A CPD officer ran a nickname search for “Boom” in a database. [164] ¶ 55; see [174] ¶ 24.[9] Detective Gonzalez said that the database search turned up a photograph of Thomas Moorer which was then put into a photo array, see [174] ¶ 24; [164] ¶¶ 55- 56; [165-15] at 10, but couldn't remember which detective ran the search, how many results the search returned, or how Moorer's photograph was chosen from among the results. [174] ¶ 25. Detectives McDermott, Cardo, and Valkner also couldn't remember which officer made the database search. Id. ¶ 28. When Moorer's public defenders made a search for Boom in the same database six years later, they turned up nearly 200 results, including Moorer. Id. ¶ 26; see [165-16] at 3.

Detectives gave Edwin two books or “a bunch of papers” that included the photographs of six people on each page. See [164] ¶ 56; [174] ¶ 31.[10] Moorer's photograph was included. See [164] ¶ 56. When that picture was taken, Moorer weighed between 235 and 245 pounds, which was significantly more than the 180 pounds that he weighed in August 2010. See [174] ¶ 1; [165-44] at 2. After looking at the photographs for twenty to thirty minutes, Edwin identified Moorer as having been involved in the shooting. See [164] ¶ 56.[11] Detectives then stepped out of the room and returned with a printout including Moorer's image. See [174] ¶ 32. The detectives asked Edwin to confirm his identification, and had him circle the picture of Moorer and sign his name under the image. See [174] ¶ 32.

An unknown CPD officer created a photo array of six photographs including Moorer's. See [164] ¶¶ 58-59; [154-36]; [154-37]. Detective Tedeschi logged into the CPD's mug shot database, used to create photo arrays, and performed his first command at 1:30 a.m. [164] ¶ 57. The computer system could create photo arrays in several ways: based on a suspect's mugshot, demographic information,...

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