Drug Task Force On the Hook for Bad Shooting

     CHICAGO (CN) – A federal judge refused to grant immunity to members of a drug task force who are being sued for allegedly shooting a man several times without cause while the man was sitting in his car.
     Mycol French was sitting in his white SUV waiting for a friend to return from shopping when several Lake County officers approached the vehicle with guns drawn, according to the complaint filed by the administrator of French’s estate, Germaine Nixon.
     Without probable cause, the cops allegedly shot into the vehicle several times, piercing French’s chest. French tried to flee, but lost control and slammed his car into the side of a building.
     French died after the officers prevented paramedics from providing emergency medical treatment, and they also hindered the investigation of the shooting, according to Nixon’s lawsuit against several officers and their multi-jurisdiction task force, the Lake County Metropolitan Enforcement Group. Other named defendants include North Chicago, Lake County, its sheriff and the village of Antioch.
     Illinois empowers Metropolitan Enforcement Groups (MEGs) under the Intergovernmental Drug Laws Enforcement Act to enforce drug laws.
     The task force moved to dismiss, claiming it cannot be sued under federal law because it is neither a local government entity nor a municipality. It claimed that even if it is a separate entity, it is a state government one, entitled to sovereign immunity under the 11th Amendment.
     U.S. District Judge James Holderman disagreed and allowed Nixon’s case to proceed.
     Holderman declined to depart from precedent, finding that “numerous courts in this circuit have permitted lawsuits to proceed against defendant MEGs since at least 1987.”
     Even though state police coordinate MEG unit operations, a 1991 case noted that the groups are combinations of units of local government – “not an arm of the state.”
     MEGs are not comparable to task forces specifically designated to include only state employees, Holderman found, adding that the Lake County group “is a creature of the Illinois legislature required by statute to be composed of ‘2 or more units of local government'” and geared toward “serving only a limited region.”
     Illinois has some ties to the group’s work, but “MEGs maintain a sufficient level of autonomy from the state of Illinois to be considered separate legal entities,” Holderman wrote. They are not arms of the state shielded by the 11th Amendment.
     The group’s answer to the second amended complaint was due Aug. 2, and it faces a status hearing for Aug. 11.

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