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City parking tickets can result in a police harassment lawsuit, according to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
Last week, a three-judge panel reinstated Mark Geinosky's lawsuit against the city of Chicago and eight Chicago cops. Geinosky claims the officers singled him out for 24 bogus parking citations over a 14-month period, reports the Chicago Tribune.
A district judge tossed the claim last year, finding that Geinosky had not demonstrated that the cops had targeted him for harassment. The Seventh Circuit disagreed, noting that “a closer look at the alleged facts … reveals a disturbing pattern. Absent a reasonable explanation … the pattern adds up to deliberate and unjustified official harassment that is actionable under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”
How bad was this parking ticket harassment?
All of tickets concerned the same vehicle. All arrived in the mail, typically in batches of three or four. Chicago Police Department Unit 253 officers issued all of the tickets. Geinosky had to go to court seven times to have all of the tickets dismissed.
Geinosky started receiving tickets within days of separating from his now ex-wife in 2007. In 2008, he filed a complaint with the Department’s internal affairs (IA) office. IA closed Geinosky’s case without investigating, so he turned to the Tribune’s “Problem Solver” column for help. IA reopened the investigation once the columnist began making inquiries.
By that time, Geinosky had received one ticket from Officer Steven Sabatino, three tickets from Officers Paul Roque and William Whelehan, four tickets from Officer Horst Hegewald, and a staggering thirteen tickets from Officer Kenneth Wilkerson. Officer Wilkerson resigned in July 2011; Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy suspended Sabatino, Hegewald, Roque, and Whelehan in September, reports the Tribune.
There were inconsistencies among the tickets that the Seventh Circuit found disturbing — like multiple tickets issued for the same time, implying that the car was in two places almost at once or was simultaneously double-parked and parked on the sidewalk. The 13 tickets from Wilkerson had sequential citation numbers and concerned alleged violations that occurred on each date at exactly 10 p.m. The last four tickets out of the batch were issued after Geinosky sold his car.
Geinosky suspects that his ex-wife is connected with the officers of Unit 253, but he can’t prove it. According to the Seventh Circuit, that doesn’t matter. The court said Geinosky could bring his claim even if the Chicago cops had randomly decided to harass him with bogus parking tickets.
The court noted that while police discretion can yield different outcomes for different individuals, the law provides relief for a victim of deliberate police harassment. Because Geinosky alleged a pattern of deliberate and unconstitutional police harassment, the Seventh Circuit concluded that he could bring his case.
It’s not easy to prevail in a harassment claim against the police, but if your client can demonstrate a deliberate pattern like Mark Geinosky did, you might get a day in court.