CHICAGO (CN) – A Chicago woman should get more than $1 in damages from police officers who forced her to lie on her belly when she was 7 1/2 months pregnant, the 7th Circuit ruled.
Maira Guzman was home alone in June 2005 when 17 Chicago police officers and FBI agents, led by Sgt. Marvin Bonnstetter, stormed her home.
The officers, who broke down Guzman’s door and entered with weapons drawn, were acting on a warrant to search for a handgun in possession of a felon on bond.
But the FBI informant who had provided the tip had incorrectly indicated that the weapon would be found in a single-family residence located at 1536 West Walton. Guzman lived in a second-floor apartment at that address.
Though the officers realized that the building was not the single-family residence described in the warrant, they nevertheless executed the warrant.
During the raid, the officers forced Guzman to lie on the floor for 10 minutes. Officer Danilo Rojas forcibly pressed her down when she tried to move to free her belly. After experiencing contractions, Guzman spent 23 hours in the hospital, incurring more than $5,000 in medical expenses.
After Guzman filed suit, U.S. District Judge Blanche Manning entered a judgment against Bonnstetter and Rojas. In a subsequent jury trial on damages, Bonnstetter and Rojas repeatedly tried to disclaim liability for Guzman’s alleged injuries.
The officers claimed that Guzman had sat in a chair during the entire search and never mentioned that she was pregnant or in pain. They also noted that Guzman waited until after the raid to seek medical attention. Pointing to Guzman’s medical records, the officers also said the plaintiff could have experienced contractions from recent sexual intercourse or a urinary tract infection.
After hearing these arguments, the jury put damages at just $1, but the 7th Circuit reversed Thursday after finding that the case improperly focused on liability.
The court also should not have set a “nominal damages” instruction that precluded an award greater than $1 unless Guzman proved her injuries were “a direct result of [Bonnstetter and Rojas’] actions,” the decision states.
“Indeed, only three issues needed to be resolved: what injuries did Guzman sustain, were they proximately caused by the unlawful search and seizure, and what amount of damages would reasonably and fairly compensate her for those injuries,” Judge Diane Williams wrote for a three-member panel.
In remanding the case for a new trial, the federal appeals court cautioned against another nominal damages instruction “because an unlawful search or seizure will often produce, at a minimum, a compensable claim for loss of time.”
Guzman, who only speaks Spanish, was represented by Chicago attorney Lawrence Jackowiak.