A dog owner who alleges he was falsely arrested and maliciously prosecuted amid claims he mistreated his dog can continue to sue two police officers, an animal control official, and the city of Chicago, a federal court has ruled.
Vaughn Neita, of the 400 block of North Central Park Avenue, in Chicago's East Garfield Park neighborhood, filed the action Nov. 1 in Chicago federal court against the defendants in connection with events that began on Feb. 7, 2018, when police arrested him and seized his dog, Macy.
U.S. District Judge Joan H. Lefkow largely sided the plaintiff and allowed his claims of false arrest, illegal search and seizure, malicious prosecution under state law, conspiracy, and failure to intervene against the police officers and an animal control official.
Two other counts alleging infliction of emotional distress and retaliation were dismissed, but the city does face liability for indemnification and malicious prosecution as the officers' employer.
According to Lefkow's opinion and order, the two police officers, previously alerted via email to the possible mistreatment of the dog, went to Neita's address. While they found Macy "in good health and in an otherwise 'unremarkable condition,' Neita was arrested and the dog seized by the animal control officer.
Neita claims that the actions were motivated by retaliation, as he had previously filed a civil rights lawsuit that involved similar allegations. He was charged with animal cruelty and violation of an owner’s duties.
In a March 2018, pre-trial hearing, a Cook County judge denied a state petition that Neita give up his animal, as the evidence showed it was in good health and condition.
At a subsequent trial, the court granted Neita's motion for a directed verdict "on the grounds that the State had failed to set forth prima facie evidence of Neita’s guilt of any offense." The only basis for the charge was that the dog house was not at least two inches off the ground, which is not an offense, the court found.
In this civil action, while the defendants stated Neita did not state a proper claim, the federal court found they all must face the charges that they violated the plaintiff's constitutional rights, largely under the 4th Amendment, and violated Illinois law.
The judge ordered the defendants must answer the claims of a lack of probable cause to arrest, illegal search of home and person and seizure of the animal, malicious prosecution and conspiracy. The judge ruled the retaliation count should fail because no evidence was offered that those involved knew of the prior civil rights action, while any emotional distress caused was not intentional, Lefkow concluded, as she ruled that the case could move forward on the other counts.
Neita is represented in the case by attorney Jared S. Kosoglad, of Chicago.
The city is represented by attorneys from its Division of Law.