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Officers Immune Despite Cuffing, Detaining Legally Armed Man

By William Peacock, Esq. | Last updated on

Ignorance of the law is an excuse, at least if you are a bumbling officer unfamiliar with firearm carrying statutes.

Illinois, despite being notoriously gun-averse, has a statute that allows certain individuals, such as private detectives, to carry a firearm in public. These "tan card" holders are admittedly a rarity in the state, which, until last year's landmark decision, essentially prohibited all individuals from carrying legally-owned firearms.

Scott Rabin, a licensed private investigator, was in possession of one of these "tan cards," as well as a loaded firearm, when he served a court order at an office complex in Buffalo Grove, Illinois. Deputy Michael Flynn, who was also serving process in the area, asked Rabin about his firearm, and was subsequently presented with the tan permit.

Deputy Flynn radioed his dispatcher, who was also confounded by the tan card, and was unable to verify its legality. Two other officers arrived, one at a time, and each were utterly confused by the sepia-toned permit. Rabin was handcuffed, even though his firearm had already been confiscated, and despite his warnings about preexisting medical conditions with his neck and hand.

An hour and a half later, he was finally released after someone at the State's Attorney's office verified the legitimacy of Rabin's license. Due to the overly-tight handcuffs, he later required surgery and multiple medical consultations to deal with the exacerbation of his hand and neck injuries.

Ignorance is Not the Officers' Fault

Qualified immunity protects officials from lawsuits when their conduct does not violate clearly established constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.

This encounter began as a Terry stop, one which was, per the Seventh Circuit, justified by the stakes. A man was carrying a loaded deadly weapon. Officers are entitled to make the inquiry.

And even if the officers should have known what a tan card was, they still were entitled to determine whether Rabin's card (which the concurrence notes, is about as secure from forgery as a library card) was legitimate. The majority emphasizes that the failure here was not with the individual officers, but with the police department's inability to verify legal carrying permits, a situation, the court notes, which must be addressed before legalized concealed carry takes effect in the near future.

As for the cuffs, handcuffing alone, while now explicitly frowned upon in Terry stops absent unusual circumstances, was a grey area until recently. The dissent tracks the history, from prohibition on handcuffs in Terry stops, to the Swiss-cheesing of the rule via exceptions, to today, where the concurrence explicitly reminds officers that there must be cause for cuffs.

Due to the prior confusion, however, the rule wasn't clearly established. Qualified immunity applies.

Excessive Force and Preexisting Conditions

As for the medical conditions, only one officer definitely was made aware of Rabin's injuries. Rabin told Officer Todd Knepper about his injuries and requested that he remove the cuffs. His request was ignored. However, there is no evidence that Deputy Flynn or Officer John Quinlan was aware of the injuries.

The law was clearly established, as of 2009, that cuffs may not be used in a way which will inflict unnecessary pain or injury, especially where the officers are made aware of a preexisting injury or medical condition. Officer Knepper, therefore, is not immune from excessive force claims.

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