A woman who sued an Oak Park police officer and the Village of Oak Park over items allegedly stolen from her apartment by her ex-husband, has filed an appeal in United States Northern District Court. Charise Pepper, the plaintiff, filed the appeal Dec. 8.
Pepper filed a civil rights lawsuit seeking $20,000 in the same court on May 31, 2002. Pepper alleged that her fourth and fourteenth amendment rights had been violated by Oak Park officer Leonard Donaire's failure to ensure that her belongings were protected from theft and damage while her then estranged husband, John Redd, removed numerous items from an apartment she was renting from her brother. Pepper alleged that Donaire, acting as a police escort to keep the peace, was responsible for Redd stealing, among other things, a computer, money from her children's piggy bank, a complete bedroom set, all her jewelry, and "tapes, CDs, VCRs, a TV and clothes."
Reached at her home in a southwest suburb Monday, Pepper declined any comment, saying, "My attorney is handling my affairs with the Oak Park police department."
That attorney, Kenneth Flaxman, said Monday that he feels that the case has merit, and that another court may in fact view its details differently.
"I think it's interesting and worth doing," said Flaxman. "The law doesn't change if people just sit back and let governments do what they want in these cases."
Asked why Pepper didn't sue Redd, whom she divorced in 2003, for damages, Flaxman said that they considered it, but decided against it.
"He was penniless," said Flaxman. "He ended up in jail shortly thereafter. It was clear that that was not an effective remedy, suing a person without any money."
After a reportedly stormy on and off two year relationship, Flaxman said that Pepper kicked Redd out of her apartment in late May. What followed, he said, was a series of threats, culminating in Pepper calling Oak Park police to have Redd removed from her residence.
"She asked the cops to evict him, and to take his key," said Flaxman.
The threats continued, according to Flaxman. On June 1, he said, Redd called her and threatened to "burn down her house." That same afternoon, Flaxman said, Redd called police to escort him as he ostensibly removed his belongings. Officer Donaire was sent to Pepper's residence and, after entering the building briefly, and reportedly being shown a copy of a lease with Redd's name on it, stood watch outside to avoid any confrontation between Redd and Pepper.
During that time Redd allegedly took numerous items belonging to Pepper, and Pepper's suit charged not only that Donaire was responsible for those losses, but that the village, because it didn't have any procedures or training for officers who act as escorts, it, according to a summary filed March 29, 2004, "permits its police officers to facilitate criminal wrong doing?#34;trespass, burglary and home invasion?#34;as well as wholesale violations of Fourth Amendment rights."
Village spokesman David Powers said last Wednesday that the village didn't facilitate anything except to help assure there'd be no confrontation between Redd and Pepper.
"(Redd) asked the police to accompany him to help avoid any problems," said Powers. "They didn't open the door or force it open."
On August 27, 2003, Federal Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer granted summary judgment in Oak Park's favor on the state claim, in effect finding that Donaire was not liable for Redd's actions.
Donaire, she wrote, "was, at worst, negligent for failing to ensure that the lease was legitimate, or that Redd had a right to remove all the property from the premises."
However, Pallmeyer had apparently not dealt properly with the federal aspect of the lawsuit, and an appeals court sent the matter back to her court for reconsideration.
"There was a technical error made," said Powers last Wednesday. "So they kicked it back to lower court." That court corrected its error, he said, and again dismissed the suit.
On October 20, 2004, Pallmeyer dismissed Pepper's federal suit against the Village of Oak Park, opening the way for the appeal filed on Dec. 8.
Calling such suits a part of running any municipality, Powers said Wednesday that the village saw no reason why an appeals court will rule any differently than the lower court.
"The rulings have all been in our favor, and we expect that to continue," he said.