Sheriff's Dept. sued in Wal-Mart incident : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
|Sheriff's Dept. sued in Wal-Mart incident|
|Local couple seeking $100,000 in damages |
|by Kathy Farren|
A Boulder Hill couple has filed a federal lawsuit against Kendall County and a Sheriff's Department deputy in connection with an incident on Feb. 5, 2012 at the Wal-Mart store in Oswego.
Jason Thurmond and Nicole Healy-Thurmond are seeking damages for injuries they say they suffered as a result of what the suit calls Deputy Craig French's "physical and verbal brutality."
As a result of the incident, Thurmond was charged with battery and he filed a complaint with the Sheriff's Department about French's conduct. A Kendall County jury found Thurmond not guilty of the battery charge after deliberating for 50 minutes on Nov. 6.
The suit seeks in excess of $100,000 in damages on each of four counts.
A report issued by Oswego Police at the time of the incident said officers went to the store on Route 34 after a "fight in progress" was reported. The report said, "An off-duty police officer from another agency was battered by a patron at Wal-Mart and displayed his service weapon to make an arrest."
The officer was identified as Craig French, 40, a deputy with the Kendall County Sheriff's Department for 18 years.
According to Thurmond, they were in an express checkout line for those buying 20 items or less when he left his wife to get eggs. When he returned, he said he saw a man yelling at his wife, who was nine months pregnant at the time, and said she appeared upset.
Thurmond said they had a few more than 20 items and French said to her "Don't you know how to count?" To get French, who he described as "aggressive," away from his wife, Thurmond said he pushed him.
"Before I knew it, I was looking down the barrel of a gun," Thurmond said, as French pulled a gun and told him to get down on the floor.
According to Thurmond, French didn't say he was a police officer until much later. He claimed that French did not show a badge until a cashier said, "If you're a cop, you need to show a badge."
A tape of 911 calls received at the KenCom dispatch center during the incident showed at least 13 calls at the time. Some came from employees elsewhere in Wal-Mart, some came from shoppers in other parts of the store and one came from a man whose girlfriend called him from the store and asked him to call police.
Those calling in reported a man carrying a gun. Some said he was a police officer, one saying it was an officer who needed help. Another said a police officer had been assaulted.
A woman who said she was standing about 30 feet away from the incident reported a man brandishing a gun, then added, "he's holding up what looks like a badge."
At the time, Kendall County Sheriff's Department Chief Deputy Scott Koster said the department had already begun an internal review prior to Thurmond filing a complaint because that was standard procedure any time an off-duty officer is involved in a police action.
Koster said this week that an extensive internal investigation determined that French had not violated the department's use of force policy.
According to the federal lawsuit, the cashier had told the Thurmonds that they didn't have the correct eggs for the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program so Jason Thurmond left the checkout lane to get the correct eggs.
After he left, the suit says French tapped Nicole Healy-Thurmond on the shoulder and "began to verbally harass, abuse and publicly humiliate" her regarding her ability to count and for having too many items for an express checkout lane.
Thurmond said he approached French and told him to move away from his wife and stop harassing her.
The suit says French did not and "continued to harass and humiliate Plaintiffs stating that they were holding up the whole store, couldn't count and were on welfare."
Because his wife was upset, Thurmond says in the suit, he "extended his arms and moved" French away from his wife.
French then pulled a handgun and pointed it at them. "At some point after removing the handgun from its concealed location on his person and pointing it" at them, French announced he was a police officer and Jason Thurmond was under arrest. According to the lawsuit, he also said to Nicole Healy-Thurmond that "they would lose their welfare as her husband was now a felon."
The suit claims a violation of the couple's Fourth Amendment right "to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures and to be secure in their personal effects and property, including freedom from the use of unreasonable and/or excessive force against them." It accuses French of unlawful and unreasonable use of force.
Further, the suit claims that French's actions were "pursuant" to "de facto policies, practices or customs" of Kendall County "that are so widespread and pervasive that they carry the force of law."
It says the county has a de facto policy of concealing and suppressing officer misconduct on duty and off duty. It says the county fails to accept complaints from citizens against police officers, fails to sufficiently investigate allegations of misconduct, and fails to properly and sufficiently discipline an officer. It also accuses the county of "fabrication of exculpatory evidence or destruction of evidence."
The county is also accused in the suit of failing to maintain accurate records of complaints and investigations and with hiring and retaining unqualified officers and failing to properly train, monitor or supervise police officers.
The suit says the county has a practice or custom of a "code of silence" that results in a refusal or failure to report officer misconduct of which they are aware. As a result of this, the suit says there is an "endemic attitude" among officers that "they may engage in misconduct against the citizenry with impunity and without fear of official consequences: they consider themselves 'above the law.'"
A third count in the suit says that by pointing a handgun at the couple, they were in "apprehension of receiving a battery." The fourth count says that the couple continues to suffer extreme emotional distress as a result of the incident.