Saturday, January 18, 2014
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Civil rights lawsuit filed against Lincoln resident, officers and the city

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[January 18, 2014]  On Jan. 7, Springfield attorney Randall A. Wolter filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against a Lincoln resident, Jackson C. Johnson; two Lincoln police officers, Shawn Petit and Cpl. Robert Sherren; and the city of Lincoln.

The city of Lincoln carries a professional malpractice insurance policy on city employees and members of city government. In order for the city to gain representation from the insurance company and for the insurance company to pay any settlement, there must be a lawsuit filed.

The civil suit cites U.S. Code Title 42, Section 1983, a civil rights law that is commonly used in suits against law enforcement and public bodies.

Wolter is representing two plaintiffs identified in documents only as Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2.

The insurance company for the city has appointed Chuck Pierce from Belleville to be the attorney representing the city.

In short, the activities that are the basis of the suit began in Lincoln on Oct. 15, 2011, in Johnson's home. He was 31 years old at the time. He took digital images of two women dressing and undressing and did so without their knowledge or permission.

Johnson was tried on two counts of criminal felony charges of unauthorized videotaping and convicted of one count on Dec. 2, 2013.

On the first count, he was placed on probation for 24 months, given 100 hours public service and fined. The second count was dismissed.

What is now at issue is the civil suit that was filed earlier this month.

The suit alleges that evidence that was removed from Johnson's home and taken to the Lincoln Police Department was misused by Petit and Sherren.

According to a report, an internal investigation of misconduct by Petit began shortly after the incident occurred.

The report states that on Oct. 15, 2011, Jackson Johnson invited friends into his home to change clothing. This was the day he and friends had participated in a 5K race in Lincoln. It was not clear if the invitation was offered before or after the race.

During that time, he allegedly used a camera and a cellphone to record two women changing clothes. The cellphone was discovered by a Jane Doe, and that video was deleted by the victim. The police were notified, and the camera, complete with its memory card, was taken into evidence.

The arresting officer took the evidence back to the police station for processing but was interrupted when a fire broke out on Delavan Street. The officer put the evidence in a temporary evidence locker with the intent of completing his processing when he returned from the fire.

The fire itself was large and the structure was completely destroyed. The time invested in the fire by the Lincoln Police Department extended beyond the arresting officer's shift, so he left the evidence in the temporary locker with the intent of finishing his work the next day when he came on duty.

In the interim, additional evidence was secured from the Johnson home. The first officer, who is not named in any of the reports, left the key to the temporary locker in his mailbox so that a second officer could use the key and store the additional evidence.

In the hours between the arresting officer ending his shift and returning for his next shift, Petit allegedly removed the memory card from the temporary locker and viewed it on a police station computer. Several witnesses were also present.

The report indicates there were as many as eight city officers and two Lincoln firefighters in the room. The names have been blacked out in the report, but statements from each possible witness were included as part of the investigation.

All of the accounts state that Sherren told Petit that what he was doing was not a good idea.

Sherren in his statement also said he gave Petit a direct order not to view the content of the card, but he also admitted he left the station without knowing if Petit followed the order.

When Petit did return the card to the temporary locker, it slipped through a crack in the bottom of the locker and fell into the locker below.

When the original arresting officer came back on duty the following day, he was unable to find the memory card.

The first arresting officer learned that Petit was the last one to have the card.

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Following a series of conversations and phone calls, Petit returned to the office, located the officer who had the key to the second locker, had the locker unlocked and returned the card to the arresting officer on the case.

On Oct. 19, a third-party officer who witnessed these events contacted Chief Ken Greenslate and gave him an account of what had happened.

Greenslate immediately ordered an investigation of the matter and put Deputy Chief Michael Geriets in charge of the investigation.

Geriets began his investigation on Oct. 21 and completed his report on Nov. 8.

Jonathan Wright, who was then assistant state's attorney, was asked to review the information collected regarding the internal investigation.

On Dec. 15, 2011, Wright offered an opinion that neither Petit nor Sherren had committed a prosecutable offense. Wright concluded that the city was correct in addressing this as an internal matter.

On Dec. 16, Petit and Sherren were interviewed by Geriets, with their union representative, Dave Nixon, on hand to witness the interviews.

During the interview Petit was asked, "Did it cross your mind that you shouldn't do this?"

Petit replied: "I wish it would have (crossed my mind). It was just a serious error in judgment. The attitude going on in the squad room, I let it get to me like it was a locker room environment. Everyone was talking about the video all night. I kind of lost my professionalism, I guess."

Sherren was also asked why he did not follow through with Petit, and he replied, "(I) made a mistake, to be honest."

In the end, the investigation found that Petit and Sherren had violated several department policies including:

  • RP.6 -- Handling, Storage, and Disposition of Evidence.

  • ROC.-4 -- Professional Demeanor.

  • ROC.-5 -- Exercise of Duties and Authority.

  • ROC.-15.5 -- Divulgence of Departmental Business.

  • ROC.-15.20 -- On/Off Duty conduct-Morale/Efficiency/Image/Public Confidence.

  • ROC.-15.26 -- Misconduct known to Department Personnel.

The two officers were suspended without pay for 30 days.

On Dec. 2, 2013, Johnson was found guilty of a criminal felony in this case. He was represented by Lincoln attorney Doug Muck.

Mayor Keith Snyder commented:

"We applaud our Police Department for its prompt work in arresting Jackson Johnson over two years ago. We are also grateful for the work of the State's Attorney for obtaining a felony conviction against Mr. Johnson for his conduct.

"It is unfortunate that a civil suit has been filed seeking monetary damages from the City. Our lawyers have advised us not to comment on the specifics of active litigation. We are confident, however, that once all the facts are known, it will be shown that the management of the City handled the situation appropriately."

The civil suit is slated to go to court trial.


For reference:

  • "The History and Dynamics of Section 1983"
    (This article from Police Chief magazine is one of many descriptors of the federal code Title 42, Section 1983. It offers one of clearest explanations of its intended use.)



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