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Chicago May Be Liable for Letting Hyatt Heir Slide

(CN) - A man may sue the city of Chicago for violating his constitutional rights in the aftermath of an alleged hit-and-run involving Matthew Pritzker, a member of the very wealthy and politically influential Chicago family that owes the Hyatt chain of hotels.

Forbes has reported that 11 members of the Pritzker family were among the 400 richest Americans in 2009.

John Ibarra's complaint alleges that he was riding his bike home from work on July 16, 2009, when he came into contact with Matthew Pritzker and Pritzker's SUV.

Pritzker was allegedly driving erratically and came very close to hitting Ibarra, so Ibarra tapped on the door of his SUV to alert Pritzker to his presence. Pritzker then used his vehicle to squeeze Ibarra against the curb with his car, attempting to force him off the road, according to the complaint. Ibarra says he then hit the SUV with his bike lock, so Pritzker drove into the back wheel of Ibarra's bike, causing Ibarra to be thrown off his bicycle and forcing the bike underneath the SUV's front grill.

Pritzker allegedly left the scene with the bike under his car at approximately 40 to 50 mph, causing one of his tires to pop. He continued to flee the scene with a flat tire.

Ibarra and witnesses called 911, and Ibarra says that the Chicago police officer who arrived on the scene told him that he would charge the driver, unknown at that time to be a Pritzker, with attempted murder. A witness followed Pritzker as he left the scene and alerted the police to his location.

Upon taking Pritzker back to the scene of the incident, Ibarra claims that the police attempted to intimidate witnesses to change their statements about what had occurred. Ibarra was arrested, and Pritzker was issued a traffic ticket.

Ibarra filed a complaint against the city of Chicago, individual members of the Chicago police and Matthew Pritzker. In his complaint, Ibarra alleged that Chicago and the city police department "have a pervasive and unconstitutional custom, practice, and policy of protecting people who are politically connected and influential by condoning the actions of officers who turn a blind eye to crimes committed by people who are politically connected and influential."

He alleged that he was arrested without probable cause because of Pritzker's political clout, and that the police defendants conspired to protect Pritzker from being criminally charged, in violation of his First, Fourth and 14th Amendment rights.

The city and Chicago police defendants collectively moved to dismiss Ibarra's complaint.

U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo denied the police defendants' motion.

The police argued that Ibarra's statement in his complaint that he hit Pritzker's SUV with a bike lock precludes his claim for false arrest because, by his own admission, the police had probable cause to arrest him for damage to property.

But the complaint never mentions that witnesses told the police this detail. Therefore, "it is unclear that the Chicago police defendants knew at the time they placed Ibarra in the back of the squad car that he had committed a criminal offense for which they had probable cause to arrest him," Castillo found.

The court upheld also Ibarra's First Amendment claim. "When a crime victim reports that crime to a police officer, he is engaging in constitutionally protected activity," according to the ruling.

"The timing of Ibarra's arrest, which occurred after Pritzker's identity became known to the Chicago police defendants, plausibly raise the inference that but-for Ibarra's attempt to report Pritzker's criminal activity, the Chicago police defendants would not have arrested Ibarra," Castillo wrote.

The court also found that the lawsuit plausibly states a conspiracy claim since the Chicago police allegedly "attempted to protect Pritzker by covering up the evidence against Pritzker, coerced and intimidated witnesses to change their statements, fabricated evidence, and failed to conduct and adequate investigation into the incident."

Castillo granted Ibarra's motion for expedited discovery with regard to "information that will allow Ibarra to determine the identities of those officers and supervisors who were involved in the incident," but he rejected remaining expedited discovery requests.

The judge ordered that discovery be completed by Feb. 15, 2012.

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