(CN) – The 7th Circuit allowed a group of friends to sue police for allegedly beating, pepper spraying and arresting them while they were trying to help the victims of a restaurant brawl.
The Chicago-based court noted that the officers and the plaintiffs pushed “highly contested” accounts of the scuffle.
According to Judge Wood, “a person comparing the plaintiffs’ version with that of the defendants would be forgiven for thinking that each was recalling an entirely different event.”
But because the officers moved to dismiss the case, the court said it was required to accept the plaintiffs’ version.
A group of former high-school classmates said they were hanging out after a wedding when a friend told them that his wife and brother were being beaten up outside a nearby restaurant and needed help.
The group of six rushed to the restaurant, but the attackers had already fled the scene.
Officers Miguel Pantoja and Shaun Schroeder saw the plaintiffs moving toward the restaurant and called for backup.
The plaintiffs claimed that the police, perhaps mistaking the helpers for the attackers, yelled at them to “get the fuck out of here.” When the plaintiffs stood their ground and tried to explain what was happening, the officers allegedly began kicking, punching, pepper-spraying and handcuffing some of the plaintiffs.
The police, however, insisted that they only used force after the plaintiffs became belligerent and began yelling, arguing and swearing. The defendants described the alleged beating of plaintiff Antonio Franco as “controlled strikes to achieve compliance in handcuffing” him.
Another plaintiff, Maribel Gonzalez, said officer Daniel McGinley punched her in the stomach with his flashlight when she told police, “I think you guys have the wrong people.” He then called her a “fucking bitch,” pulled her by the hair and pushed her face-first onto the hood of the police car, according to Gonzalez.
McGinley insisted he never touched Gonzalez, but was fired after police cameras showed otherwise.
The group filed a lawsuit alleging civil-rights violations, and the district court found probable cause for the arrests of Antonio Franco, Julio Gonzalez, Maria Gonzalez and Maribel Gonzalez.
After scrutinizing the dashboard videos, the 7th Circuit determined that this finding was “flawed.”
“The court thought that probable cause existed because each of those plaintiffs approached the defendant officers while those officers were attempting to arrest another of the plaintiffs,” Judge Wood wrote. “But, without more evidence, there is nothing wrong in itself with approaching a police officer.”
The appeals court reversed judgment for the police, saying a trial was needed to resolve the two “radically different versions of events.”