The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this week that a police officer who built a shaken-baby death case against a daycare provider to deflect suspicion from the baby’s mother was not entitled to qualified immunity.
In the opinion, the appellate court reinstated false arrest and malicious prosecution claims against Hanover Park Police Officer Todd Carlson.
Rick Aleman provided daycare in his home. Aleman tried to perform CPR on Joshua Schrik, an 11-month-old child, after he collapsed on his third day at daycare. When Joshua was unresponsive to CPR, Aleman called 911. Four days later, Joshua died. Aleman was charged with first degree murder, though the charges were eventually dismissed.
The Seventh Circuit noted that Officer Carlson played a possibly deliberate "role in screwing up the investigation," and facilitating Aleman's prosecution.
Carlton questioned Joshua's mother, Danielle, at the hospital while Joshua was being treated. Though Danielle claimed that she had never struck Joshua, she said that he'd had a fever in the days before his collapse. Carlson should have realized that Joshua's fever could have been caused by a blow or shaking several days earlier; instead, he decided to stop investigating Danielle, despite the fact that Danielle had a record of violence and had shaken Joshua in the past.
The court inferred from Carlson's subsequent actions - like interfering to protect her from further questioning - that he abandoned the lead because he was attracted to Danielle.
Carlson even lied to the pathologist about Joshua's behavior in the days preceding his collapse to persuade the pathologist to change her report to indicate that Joshua had suffered a head injury in Aleman's care. On the basis of this misinformation, the prosecutor approved charging Aleman with murder. Carlson signed the criminal complaint and arrested Aleman.
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals noted that if Carlson had not lied to the pathologist, and obstructed efforts to investigate Danielle, the prosecutor would have had no basis for charging Aleman with murder or any other crime. Without Carlson's obstruction of justice, the pathologist's evaluation would have exonerated Aleman, and an investigation of Danielle would have identified her as far more likely to have been Joshua's killer than Aleman.
Because there was clearly a lack of probable cause to prosecute, the court found that Carlson was not entitled qualified immunity.
While malicious prosecution and false arrest charges are difficult to prove, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals determined that a reasonable jury could conclude that Carlson acted inappropriately to protect Danielle, or at least ingratiate himself to her.
Do you agree with the Seventh Circuit's conclusion, or should Officer Carlson receive qualified immunity for these claims?
- Aleman v. Village of Hanover Park (Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals)
- Headwaters Ahead: Did Davis Pepper Spray Cop Use Excessive Force? (FindLaw's Ninth Circuit blog)
- Judgment for Protesters Based on Unlawful Arrest at Republican Convention Partially Affirmed (FindLaw's Eighth Circuit blog)
- Sandy Murphy Accuses Nevada of Malicious Prosecution (FindLaw's Injured)