A jury has sided with a 67-year-old Brookfield man in a federal civil rights lawsuit accusing Brookfield police of false arrest and using excessive force during a 2016 arrest that resulted in criminal charges that were dismissed in 2018.
On Dec. 9, following a three-day trial at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in Chicago, the jury ruled in favor of the plaintiff, Rogelio Valdez, and against the defendants, former Brookfield police officer Andrew Lowry and Officer Rafael Alvarado, now a lieutenant.
In total, the jury awarded Valdez $160,000 in damages. That number included $75,000 in compensatory damages, $75,000 in punitive damages against Lowry and $10,000 in punitive damages against Alvarado.
Brookfield Police Chief Michael Kuruvilla said in an emailed statement that the village believes the jury erred in its decision and that the village “will challenge the verdict through post-trial motions and if necessary, an appeal. We are confident that some or all of this verdict will be reversed.”
Village officials and its risk management insurer, the Illinois Risk Management Association (IRMA), were confident enough to allow the case to go to trial, an unusual decision in these types of cases, which are almost always settled out of court.
“From the beginning of this lawsuit, the village has fully supported our officers and believe they conducted themselves appropriately,” Kuruvilla said. “While we respect the jury and the process, we are disappointed in the verdict and believe that it was simply unsupported based on the evidence presented.”
Torreya Hamilton, the attorney representing Valdez, did not respond to an email asking for comment.
Valdez, a retired CTA bus driver and U.S. military veteran, filed the civil suit in U.S District Court in 2018. He initially also accused police of malicious prosecution and named five other police officers as defendants, but a federal judge later dismissed the malicious prosecution accusation and dropped the other five officers as defendants.
The lawsuit also initially concerned two separate incidents, one in 2016 and one in 2017. However, Valdez later narrowed the scope of the lawsuit to the August 2016 incident, which started when Valdez called 911 to have police remove his adult daughter from his home because she was intoxicated and allegedly had assaulted him.
During that incident, Valdez was outside his residence with Lowry when, according to the police report for that incident, Lowry arrested Valdez for “hitting a police officer.” Valdez was handcuffed and hustled down a stairwell by Lowry “like there was a fire,” according to the lawsuit.
While rushing down the stairs, both Valdez and Lowry fell. Lowry broke his ankle, an injury so debilitating he retired from the department in 2017. Valdez suffered a broken toe during the incident, during which Alvarado delivered two knee strikes to Valdez after observing he had a pocket knife in his back pants pocket.
According to Kuruvilla, Valdez testified that “he did not believe the involved officers intended to hurt him as they escorted him down a flight of stairs. Mr. Valdez’s left great toe was fractured, but he did not testify how or when the toe was fractured and more importantly, did not believe the officers purposely intended to break his toe. No other bodily injury was claimed.”
Valdez was charged with battery to a police officer and resisting arrest, but the charges were dismissed, according to court documents, in May 2018 after Valdez completed a court diversionary program designed for veterans. Participation in the program did not mean Valdez was either guilty or innocent of the charges.
The amount awarded by the jury is the largest sum Brookfield has been ordered to pay in a federal suit alleging excessive force by police in many years. The payout will come from IRMA, said Village Manager Timothy Wiberg, if the verdict and award are upheld upon appeal.
Brookfield police have been party to four other federal excessive force lawsuits since 2000. The Landmark was unable to determine how much the village agreed to pay to settle lawsuits in 2003 and 2009.
In 2014, the village paid $117,500 to a man who accused three police officers of hog-tying, beating and using a Taser repeatedly against him while he was handcuffed. Police had been called to the man’s apartment after a neighbor called to complain he was blaring music and pounding on the walls and floor of his apartment during the early morning hours in September 2012.
Two LaGrange Park men were paid $95,000 to settle their 2015 lawsuit accusing Brookfield police of wrongful arrest, malicious prosecution and excessive force. The two had been charged with aggravated battery and resisting arrest, but were found not guilty after video evidence presented in court exonerated them.
The village admitted no wrongdoing in settling both of those lawsuits, as well as the 2003 and 2009 lawsuits, before they went to trial.