A U.S. Marine veteran has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging he was wrongfully arrested and was a victim of false imprisonment by a suburban Chicago police detective. The decorated serviceman says local law enforcement violated his rights when they coerced him to into coming to their department to answer for a crime he did not commit, detaining him despite never identifying a reason.
On Friday, July 1, Gregory C. Middleton filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division against the Village of Bellwood and Bellwood Police Detective William Hernandez stating the officer violated his rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth amendments in the spring of 2022.
The legal complaint, which Atlanta Black Star has seen, alleges Middleton was arrested without probable cause, and detained without “probable cause or reasonable suspicion to believe he had committed (or was committing) a crime.” It also states Hernandez committed an illegal seizure of property, among other civil rights violations. In total, Middleton alleges six counts of transgression, including intentional infliction of emotional distress.
On Monday, April 25, according to the claim, the Purple Heart recipient, who served five combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and was injured by enemy gunfire while in the line of duty, said he received an “Accident Notice” from the town.
The court document Middleton received said his vehicle was a part of a hit-and-run accident on Saturday, April 2, and said it was his “obligation to contact the Police Department and complete the accident report.”
He was told the notice was the only one he would receive and that he should go to the precinct and meet with Hernandez.
Despite believing he had no involvement in the accident, he contacted Hernandez. The note said failure to reach out would “result in either a criminal complaint filed against you or a report filed with the Department of Transportation which could result in Suspension or Revocation of your driver’s license or license plates.”
The complaint notes, Middleton called the detective and left a voicemail, following up with an email that read, “I just received a letter from you informing me that my vehicle was involved in a hit and run accident. I assure you that my vehicle was not. No one drives it but me, and I, nor it were involved in an accident. On 4/2/22, I don’t believe I left my property on the Southside of Chicago. I’d like to resolve this as quickly as possible. Please call me ANYTIME at xxx-xxx-xxxx.”
In an interview with WGN-TV 9, “It said my vehicle had been identified in an accident. I knew that I hadn’t traveled to Bellwood or even near Bellwood and obviously, my car wasn’t damaged.”
The next day the officer called the number and told Middleton to come to the department so that he could take photographs of the car, and this could clear up the discrepancies if there were any.
Middleton arrived at the Bellwood Police Department on Tuesday, May 3, and quickly realized the detective was untruthful about why he wanted him to come in.
The complaint states, “Defendant Hernandez had no interest in photographing Gregory’s car, and there was no hit and run accident on April 2. Hernandez sent the notice to Gregory as a ruse in order to lure him into custody.”
“When Gregory arrived at the Bellwood Police station, instead of photographing Gregory’s car, Defendant Hernandez unlawfully detained Gregory for more than seven hours,” it continued, before adding, “Hernandez refused to explain why he was detaining/arresting Gregory unless he signed a Miranda waiver, which Gregory refused to do.”
The detective confiscated the marine’s cellphone, without having a warrant, allegedly keeping it for evidence.
Middleton said, “He said, ‘put your hands behind your back,’ and I asked him, ‘why, why do I need to do that?’ He said, ‘don’t resist, don’t ask questions, we’ll explain later.’ I was read my rights.”
Hernandez released Middleton seven hours later with no charges but would not return the phone.
As a result, Middleton retained a lawyer, who set up a time on Tuesday, May 10, at 4 p.m. to retrieve the phone, but when the two got to the department they were both shocked to find out the accident story was fabricated.
“When Gregory and his attorney arrived, Defendant Hernandez informed them there had been no accident – the notice was simply a ruse to get Gregory into custody,” the lawsuit documents reveal. Then Hernandez asked the veteran about a different day, months prior, Dec. 19, 2021.
Middleton stated he did not know what he was doing on that day but would be willing to talk it through. He also noted he needed the phone to look at his schedule. The Chicago resident asked for his property again, but Hernandez dismissed him and refused to return it. That is when the attorney asked about the warrant required seize the marine’s cellphone.
Hernandez did not have a warrant, and said he was still a week later “in the process of obtaining a warrant.”
The marine and his lawyer left the police station “without being informed of any allegations, and without … being arrested or charged.” Middleton still has not received information about the Dec. 19, 2021 inquiry, nor has he been arrested, and the police held his phone for two months, he told WGN.
He said still does not know how he became a suspect, but that it created a different level of anxiety from the incident.
“I don’t know from moment to the next whether I’m going to be driving to the grocery store, with my kids in the car, if I’m going to be pulled over by the police and then detained,” Middleton said.
“To bring someone in without probable cause to believe they’ve committed a crime is unconstitutional,” remarked attorney Jordan Marsh, who is representing Middleton in his lawsuit. “To detain someone without reasonable suspicion to believe they’ve committed a crime is unconstitutional. Essentially, it’s the police being bullies.”
Middleton believes the Village of Bellwood is liable for the detective’s unlawful conduct and under Illinois law should “pay any tort judgment for any damages for which employees are liable within the scope of their employment activities.”
He is asking for a trial by jury and whether he should prove his case for his attorney’s fees and costs associated with the case to be covered by the city. Additionally, he is asking for relief – whatever the Court “deems just and proper.”
VF Press reports the village has yet to respond to the lawsuit and that Bellwood Mayor Andre Harvey said he and the village’s attorney are still reviewing the allegation but the municipality will cooperate fully with any investigation.
The next status date for the case is Sept. 8.