BROOKS v. CITY OF AURORA (July 6, 2011)
Early one June evening in 2008, two Aurora police officers were staking out a location suspected of being a front for drug activity when they observed Michael Brooks driving through an adjacent parking lot. They knew Brooks but had never seen him drive. When they checked, they discovered that his license had been suspended for over a decade. Before they could take any action, however, they were called away. One of the officers later completed a traffic ticket and obtained a warrant for Brooks's arrest. The police served the warrant a few weeks later. When they arrived at his apartment, Brooks was barbecuing. An officer took him aside and explained the reason for the visit -- that he was under arrest. Brooks denied driving the car, claimed that it was not even working at the time, pulled his wrists away, and started backpedaling and waving his arms. The officer fired two bursts of pepper spray and ultimately immobilized Brooks. He was arrested and charged with the driving offense and resisting a peace officer. He was acquitted of both charges. Brooks filed suit against the police officers and the City of Aurora pursuant to § 1983. He alleged false arrest, false imprisonment, and excessive force. The defendants moved for summary judgment on the false arrest and excessive force claims and asserted qualified immunity on the excessive force claim. Judge Coar (N.D. Ill.) found probable cause and granted summary judgment on the false arrest claim. Sua sponte, he granted summary judgment on the false imprisonment claim for the same reason. Finally, he found that defendants were entitled to qualified immunity on the excessive force claim.
In their opinion, Chief Judge Easterbrook and Judges Ripple and Tinder affirmed. The Court first addressed probable cause on the false arrest and imprisonment claims. Probable cause depends on the facts and circumstances at the time of the arrest and whether a prudent person, with the officers knowledge, would believe that the suspect has committed, is committing, or is about to commit an offense. The offense at issue here, resisting a peace officer, requires "a physical act of resistance or obstruction . . . that impedes, hinders, interrupts, prevents, or delays the performance of the officer’s duties, such as by going limp or forcefully resisting arrest." Although Brooks claims that he had no intent to resist (but just to tell his wife to bring his wallet to the station), the undisputed evidence in the record supports the proposition that a reasonable officer could have believed that he did. Although there is disputed evidence regarding whether Brooks was actually driving a car on the night in question, that evidence is not material. First, resisting even an unlawful arrest violates the statute. Second, Brooks was not actually arrested and detained until after the officers had probable cause to believe that he had resisted the arrest. The Court saw no error in the false imprisonment summary judgment. The analysis is the same for both claims and Brooks never proffered a reason why an opportunity to respond to the false imprisonment claim was necessary. With respect to the excessive force claim, the Court did not decide the deprivation prong of the qualified immunity test. It noted that courts have held the use of pepper spray appropriate in resisting arrest situations and that courts have considered it excessive if its use is unprovoked or gratuitous. Here, regardless of Brooks's intentions, a reasonable police officer could have concluded that he was resisting arrest and that the use of pepper spray would be appropriate. Therefore, the officer is entitled to qualified immunity.