CHICAGO (CN) – A federal judge has declined to dismiss a Chicago civil rights lawsuit filed on the heels of a conspiracy involving Chicago police and shady funeral home proprietors.
According to U.S. District Court Judge John Nordberg’s ruling, in 1998, Thomas Janusz began managing “two Chicago-based funeral homes owned by Keystone Illinois, Inc. Keystone purchased one of the homes from Anthony and Daniel Morizzo.
“While working for Keystone, Janusz claims to have found evidence suggesting the Morizzo brothers were violating their agreements. Based on these observations, Keystone filed a lawsuit against the Morizzo brothers in October 2001. Janusz was to be one of the key witnesses. At the time, Janusz told Keystone’s CEO that he was worried the Morizzo brothers would retaliate against him,” wrote Judge Nordberg.
That retaliation was not long in coming.
In December 2001, found the court, “Janusz met a woman [named Paula Siragusa] who he later took to a motel room.”
The situation seemed ill-fated from the start: “according to Janusz, even though Siragusa was ‘nice looking’ and even though he was ‘no Robe Lowe by any means,’ Siragusa began flirting with him and asked for a ride.”
Later that evening, Janusz and Siragusa left for a gas station near Chicago, where officers, acting on an anonymous tip, apprehended him with a duffel bag containing $4400. Janusz testified that one Officer Lucas approached him and immediately “asked for the key to the motel room and asked where the gym bag was.”
According to Janusz, “[b]ecause Lucas could not have known about these facts… Lucas must have learned this information from Siragusa. […] Janusz believes she was contacting Lucas during the afternoon with a pager to coordinate the arrest.”
Janusz claimed “that while sitting in the police car, he saw Lucas reach into his vest, remove a small plastic bag containing a white pebble-sized object which he flicked into a cup in the front seat of Janusz’s car.”
During the police car ride, Lucas mused, “Now, we wouldn’t want this young man to end up in Cook County tonight with a bunch of spooky dos now, boys, would we?”
Janusz claimed that other abusive comments and actions took place as well. “He experienced Lucas slamming him down in the police station and heard Lucas and George threaten him with gang rape in prison,” noted Judge Nordberg.
In a subsequent search of Janusz’s apartment, officers found drugs including crystal meth and steroids, as well as over $17,000 in cash.
According to Janusz’ complaint, the plot only continued to thicken.
“Shortly after Janusz was arrested, a police officer named Grizzoffi made copies of Janusz’s confidential police records,” found Judge Nordberg. “Grizzoffi had previously worked part-time for Keystone and knew [you guessed it!] the Morizzo brothers.
“Anthony Morizzo received these reports in the mail five days after the arrest. Allegedly relying on these reports, the Morizzo brothers sought to settle the civil lawsuit against Keystone by arguing that the drug arrest made Janusz a tainted witness. Believing this to be true, Keystone settled the lawsuit. It also fired Janusz in January 2002.”
However, the trial judge in charge of Janusz’s criminal case soon noticed the oddities of the case – and was skeptical about police witnesses’ testimony.
After closing arguments, he granted Janusz’s motion to quash the indictment, and the prosecution immediately dropped all charges against Janusz.
Shortly thereafter, Janusz sued Keystone “for breach of contract, defamation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress” and the City of Chicago for civil rights violations.
On the latter case, “a jury awarded Janusz over $3 million in damages” on the state claims, noted Judge Nordberg. Keystone settled on the claims Janusz raised against it. The present ruling covers Janusz’s federal civil rights claims, brought under 42 USC section 1983.
The complaint states that “[a]s a result of defendants’ illegal acts, including but not limited to the false arrest, incarceration and threats that he would be gang raped, and of being fired by Keystone, Janusz now suffers from post traumatic stress syndrome, and an exacerbation of his preexisting mood disorder and anxiety conditions, which in turn has resulted in Janusz feeling powerless, humiliated, and embarrassed.”
The opinion largely rejected defendants’ motion for summary judgment, granting it only on limited portions of the complaint.
Judge Nordberg emphasized that Janusz’s complaint indicates that the injuries he suffered are “indivisible.”
Based on facts established in his other suits and concessions made by the defendants – for example, “defendants concede that plaintiff has enough evidence to show that Lucas planted drugs [in Janusz’s car]” – the ill-fated funeral home manager will be allowed to proceed on his claims.
The court noted that “[t]he officers generally try to explain away the anomalies by essentially admitting that they did not follow the proper police procedures with Siragusa. However, this ‘sloppy police work’ argument is one the jury should decide.”