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Judge: Metra cops can be sued for arrest of man who plugged devices in at Ogilvie station food court

Federal Court

By John Breslin | Oct 1, 2019

Ogilvie transportation center
Ogilvie Transportation Center | Joe Ravi [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]

CHICAGO -- A man arrested by Metra Police at Chicago's Ogilvie Transportation in an incident that began with a disagreement over where he could plug in his electronic devices can continue his action for false arrest, a Chicago federal judge has ruled.

Stephen Milhouse alleges his right to be free from unreasonable seizure under the Fourth Amendment was violated and also alleges malicious prosecution under Illinois law, stemming from the incident.

However, his claim that he was arrested, in part, because he is African American under the 14th Amendment's equal protection guarantee will not be considered in trial court,  U.S. District Judge John Z. Lee ruled.

Defendants Metra, and Metra Police officers Isaac Ash and Lyndell Lister had asked the court for summary judgment in their favor.

The action centers on an incident that happened April 24, 2016, in the food court at Ogilvie Transportation Center. Two private security guards, both African American, approached Millhouse and told him to unplug his electronic devices, asserting use of outlets by the public was prohibited in that area.

Milhouse refused to unplug his devices, stating there were no signs indicating the building’s policy, Lee wrote in his ruling. The plaintiff alleges he told one of the security guards that others in the food court had devices plugged in.

Accounts differ at that point, with the guard alleging Milhouse raised his arms and voice, and the plaintiff alleging the opposite.

Two Metra police officers, again both African American, approached 10 minutes later. They said they had spoken to the security guard prior to approaching, and had been told that Milhouse caused a commotion, cursed and made threats. The security guard, however, said this conversation never happened.

Milhouse was again told to unplug his device, and he says he "responded to the officer’s directive in a calm and collected manner by stating that he was waiting for his train." Within seconds, the plaintiff alleges he was handcuffed before he was allowed to collect his devices.

However, the officers argue Milhouse was acting in an "irate and belligerent manner," and that he was asked to calm down.

He was arrested, handed over to the Chicago Police Department, charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct and criminal trespass to property, and released a number of hours later, according to Judge Lee's written decision. When the case went to trial in October 2016, it was dismissed.

The defendants argued there was no basis for the equal protection claim, and there was probable cause for the arrest. The officers also argued they had qualified immunity.

Lee granted the defendants' motion on the equal protection claim, but ruled against the officers on the false arrest and malicious prosecution allegations. The judge said they failed to show "that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”

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U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Chicago DivisionMetra

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