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Ruling in Civil Rights Suit Against Park Officer

By FindLaw Staff on February 25, 2010 9:14 AM

In Whitlock v. Brown, No. 08-2800, the Seventh Circuit faced a challenge to the district court's grant of a motion for qualified immunity to an officer with the Department of Natural Resources in plaintiffs' 42 U.S.C. section 1983 action.

The court described some of the circumstances giving rise to the case:

"Jo and Jesse Whitlock were camping at the Indiana Dunes State Park and found several bags and other items of property that looked as if they had been left behind at another campsite. They put the items in their truck, intending to turn them in to the park office. They then left the campground to run errands and forgot the bags were in their truck. By the time they returned a few hours later, the owner of the bags had reported them stolen. When the Whitlocks went to the park office to turn in the property, they were accused of theft."

Although the district court was correct to dismiss based on qualified immunity, it was granted on finding of probable cause to arrest. Instead, the constitutional question should have been, for purposes of qualified immunity inquiry,  whether it would have been clear to a reasonable officer that the information allegedly omitted was material to the probable cause determination. 

Here qualified immunity was appropriate as it is not clear, under Indiana law, whether the omitted information was material to the probable cause determination for a criminal conversion charge.

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