Exonerated man gets OK to pursue lawsuit
Kendall says due process, other claims deserve trial against Aurora, officers.
By: Patricia Manson, Chicago Daily Law Bulletin: January 19th, 2016
A man exonerated of murder after spending 11 years in prison has been given the go-ahead to pursue a lawsuit against Aurora police officers he maintains withheld evidence and coerced him into giving a false confession.
In a written opinion this week, U.S. District Judge Virginia M. Kendall declined to throw out Jonathan Grayson’s civil rights suit.
Kendall did grant summary judgment on several claims in favor of the city of Aurora and the three police officers named as defendants.
But she held Grayson is entitled to pursue claims that the officers violated his right to due process by concealing evidence and pressuring him to confess to a crime he didn’t commit.
There is conflicting evidence concerning whether the officers were aware of a witness’ telephone call to a police nonemergency number giving “an immensely detailed account of suspicious activity” she observed shortly after the slaying, Kendall wrote Sunday in her opinion.
The evidence, she wrote, could lead a reasonable jury to determine that the officers “overrode Grayson’s limited willpower and inducted him to make false inculpatory statements.”
Kendall held summary judgment on the due process claim as well as claims of malicious prosecution and failure to intervene was inappropriate in light of the disputes over how police acted following the shooting.
“Where the parties present two vastly different stories — as they do here — it is almost certain that there are genuine issues of material facts in dispute,” she wrote, quoting Payne v. Pauley, 337 F.3d 767 (7th Cir. 2003).
The trial of Grayson’s remaining claims is set for Feb. 16.
Grayson’s lead attorney, Jon Loevy of Loevy & Loevy, said his client is pleased with Kendall’s ruling.
The lead attorney for the city is John B. Murphey of Rosenthal, Murphey, Coblentz & Donahue.
The lead attorney for the police defendants is Andrew M. Hale of Hale Law LLC.
Neither of the defense attorneys could be reached for comment.
Spokesman Dan Ferrelli of the city of Aurora declined to comment because the case is pending.
In August 2000, Shawn Miller of Montgomery was shot and killed outside a laundromat in Aurora.
Another man, Leroy Starks, was seriously wounded after he was hit in one of his legs and in the chest.
Police later arrested Grayson, then known as Jonathan Moore, based in part on statements from people who purportedly witnessed the crime.
Those people included Marilou Alvorado, who said she was a witness despite Starks’ assertion that she had left the scene before any shots were fired.
Alvorado first told police and friends that Grayson was not the shooter but changed her account of the incident five days later.
Even though she was on probation, Alvorado was allowed to leave Illinois following Grayson’s conviction. A commander with the Aurora Police Department later testified Alvorado was compensated for her cooperation.
Despite the absence of physical evidence tying him to the crime, Grayson was convicted in Kane County Circuit Court of murder and attempted murder. He was sentenced to 75 years in prison.
In 2011, authorities reopened the investigation into the shootings after they received a letter from a prison inmate stating he was present when another man shot Miller and Starks.
The charges against Grayson were dropped in 2012 after the Kane County state’s attorney’s office moved to vacate his conviction. The state of Illinois later issued a certificate of innocence to him.
In 2013, Grayson filed his suit against the city of Aurora and eight police officers and detectives alleging he was denied a fair trial in violation of the Sixth Amendment.
The defendants withheld evidence favorable to Grayson in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), the suit alleged.
The suit also contended the defendants conspired to frame Grayson in violation of the U.S. Constitution and to deny him access to the courts.
And the suit included such claims under state law as malicious prosecution, negligent supervision, intentional infliction of emotional distress and spoliation of evidence.
Grayson later voluntarily dismissed five of the police defendants. The individuals remaining as defendants are Robb Wallers, Rick Robertson and Dan West.
In her opinion Sunday, Kendall declined to dismiss Grayson’s due process claim to the extent it was based on his allegations of Brady violations and a coerced confession.
Evidence that Grayson was pressured into falsely confessing includes his testimony that Wallers and West told him he could go home in exchange for naming the shooter, Kendall wrote.
She wrote that Grayson also testified the officers fed him details of the crime and did not begin recording his interrogation until he repeated those details.
Grayson alleges he was given little food during the first three days he was held, deprived of adequate sleep and questioned in a hot interrogation room, Kendall wrote.
And she wrote Grayson’s borderline score for verbal IQ as well as his lack of ability to concentrate affected his understanding of his right to remain silent.
The case is Jonathan Grayson v. City of Aurora, et al., No. 13 C 1705.