ALWAYS take it to a jury: Judge rules civil immunity does not apply in strip search case
EDGAR CO.—In a case that has been covered closely in the past couple of issues of Disclosure, a federal judge in Urbana has ruled that two Edgar County deputies can’t use their civil immunity to cover acts against a former Paris woman.
Angelina Cianfaglione, a woman who had to move OUT of Edgar County after she filed a civil suit against deputies Terry Rogers, Richland County native/chief deputy Dee Burgin, and others in the Edgar County sheriff’s department, prevailed in early May when she took the matter to a jury in Central Illinois federal court. Her story, in short, is atrocious: in August 2008, Cinafaglione was the subject of a vehicle stop by Burgin and Rodgers on an unrelated outstanding warrant. Their “drug dog alerted” on her vehicle; as well, there was allegedly “drug activity” going on in the home she shared with her boyfriend. When a search of the car she was in didn’t turn up any dope, the two opted to take her to the county jail, where she was stripped and a cavity search was conducted by a female employee at the jail. Nothing was found…but she was left naked for more than 15 minutes in a holding cell. She believed the entire thing was being videotaped.
She filed a civil rights violation suit and her attorneys, Redwood Law Office in St. Joseph, assisted her in insisting on a jury trial. She prevailed in that trial, with guilty verdicts being returned against Burgin and Rodgers. In the outcome of a guilty civil verdict, a jury can award damages, and they did: $70,000 to be paid to Cianfaglione.
Of course, the boyz didn’t want to pay up, so they claimed their only other possible out in the matter: civil immunity.
Civil immunity is what most public officials have that enables them to act in their capacity without fear of being sued every time they turn around. Most public officials actually BUY their CI by putting up a surety bond—insurance. There are bonding agents in every state, whose specialty it is to provide such insurance policies to public officials. This money—anywhere between $1,000 and $5,000, depending upon the office—is put into a pool and the hope is that no one sues a public official for any reason. However, in today’s litigious society, and given the fact that many public officials believe they can act like idiots with impunity and no one will do a thing to them (because rarely is any action taken against them), that pool is often dipped into…especially in Illinois, a state that has a lot of catching up to do when it comes to civil rights. And make no mistake: this IS a civil issue. The matter of criminal activity is another line altogether to cross. All we’re referencing here is CIVIL immunity, and CIVIL rights violations.
Most bonds will protect a civil servant who acts in the capacity of his or her job—a cop accusing a person of committing a crime, a city council member taking a vote on a controversial issue that someone may later take to a lawsuit. However, where bonds DON’T protect a civil (public) servant is when that civil servant behaves in such a manner that a reasonable person can infer that there’s something WRONG with them if they continue to behave that way. Such behavior displayed by Burgin and Rogers was one of those things, according to the jury. And now, that’s according to a judge, too.
Federal Judge Michael McCuskey late last week ruled that Burgin’s and Rogers’ plea of civil immunity in the case was lacking in substance and he issued his order Friday that they must pay the judgment awarded by the jury in the case. McCuskey, in court documents featured at the Edgar County Watchdogs’ website, stated that the deputies couldn’t order a strip search without reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing, and the reasons the two used WEREN’T reasonable suspicion. Without the civil immunity, the two now will be ordered to pay what the jury awarded Cianfaglione.
This ruling DOESN’T remove the deputies’ status as public servants. That means they can’t now come after all the media outlets that have been writing about their misdeeds of the past several years. All it means, simply, is that they can’t hide behind their civil immunity when they are misbehaving. The judge has removed this particular type of protection, and well he should. Civil immunity, as we have stated for YEARS, only reaches so far. There comes the point where a person’s actions, be he a civil servant or regular Joe Blow, are A PERSON’S ACTIONS. In other words, they have to own up to what they did, have a sense of accountability. There are too many cops, county board/city council members, prosecutors, judges, who take their civil immunity too far. And when they’re allowed to do such a thing and don’t get called on it—because there are so few real, independent journalists and media outlets out there willing to cover these misdeeds (for fear of pissing off advertisers, or missing getting spoon-fed the “news” by local public officials) —they just get emboldened, and this expensive lawsuit is what usually ends up happening. Because there’s ALWAYS going to be that one person who is mad as hell and isn’t going to take it anymore.
Latest reports have it that the bonding agent or tort immunity fund for the county (we’re not clear which and are working on clarification) is refusing to pay punitive damages in the case, those being $20,000 each deputy. Because only a jury can award punitive damages, and that amount is subjective per each jury, tort immunity usually DOESN’T pick up the payment of such a thing (since very rarely are these cases taken to a jury, that’s generally not what tort immunity pays for). That means the amount will have to come out of the deputies’ pockets.
Edgar’s prosecutor Mark Isaf (whom we’re increasingly becoming aware is either more corrupt by the day or is completely inept at what he’s doing as the county’s legal counsel) is reportedly attempting to get the county to pay this amount for the deputies.
We’ll see how this shakes out; be watching. And for those of you in Edgar, there’s a new product coming your way that’s going to devote more pages to yours and surrounding counties: Disclosure Heartland. The new issue will hit the stands mid-week next week at the latest; be looking online for vendors in Edgar, Clark, Coles, Douglas and Cumberland counties!
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