False Arrest Plaintiff Awarded Attorneys’ Fees and Adverse Inference for Police Spoliation of Video Evidence
In Cahill v. Dart et. al., Case No. 13-361 (N.D. Ill., December 2, 2016), Plaintiff sued Defendants (police officers with the Cook County Sheriff’s Office) for claims of false arrest, malicious prosecution and violations of the Fourth Amendment following his arrest for driving on a suspended license. Defendants alleged that Plaintiff dropped a package of cocaine on the floor during a patdown, which Defendants retrieved. Defendants allege that when they confronted Plaintiff, after an initial denial, he admitted the drugs were his when he was informed by the officers that surveillance cameras would have filmed him dropping the drug package. Plaintiff alleges that he did not drop the package and denies any cocaine possession. He further alleges that when he was told about the cameras, he expressed relief because the footage would exonerate him.
Plaintiff’s defense counsel served a subpoena for the video surveillance footage. A police lieutenant completed a hold request to the county to preserve all video of Plaintiff, but he did not follow up to make sure it was honored. After the defense attorney made many attempts to follow up on the subpoena, he received a letter from the county advising that him the video had been destroyed by the county before the sheriff’s office could get it back. However, a technician did transfer some of the video onto his laptop computer and then to a DVD, which was turned over to the State Attorney’s office.
The video shows a white package on the floor, but not Plaintiff. Plaintiff is then brought in, but seems “oblivious” to the package. After viewing the video, the state dropped the charges, and Plaintiff sued and filed a Motion for Sanctions, claiming the Defendants spoliated the video evidence. The magistrate judge agreed and made a preclusion order that Defendants could not make any arguments or present any evidence that the lost portion of the videotape would have shown Plaintiff dropping the drugs. However, the order provided that the police officers could still testify that they saw the Plaintiff drop the drugs, and no attorneys’ fees were awarded to Plaintiff with regard to the spoliation motion. Plaintiff objected to the magistrate judge’s findings, arguing that the sanction is insufficient to cure the prejudice and that he should have received attorneys’ fees. The court agreed to the extent that the jury should be instructed that the video was missing because Defendants failed to preserve it. However, the court found that further sanctions required a showing of intent, which should be left up to the jury with the adverse inference instruction. The court also awarded attorneys’ fees to Plaintiff.