Thursday, March 30, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Fatal Domestic Abuse Leaves City on the Hook

(CN) - Chicago is liable for not arresting a man police removed from his mother's home, giving him the opportunity to return and kill her boyfriend, a state appeals court ruled.

James Fenton lived on the South Side of Chicago with his girlfriend, Valerie Brim, and her 22-year-old son, Rovale Brim, in 2002. One night, James and Valerie called police within four minutes of each other to report a domestic disturbance, as classified by the 911 operator, involving Rovale.

Police arrived and found Rovale yelling at his mother with a bottle in his hand. At Valerie's request, police escorted Rovale to his basement bedroom rather than arresting him.

Less than an hour later, Fenton called 911 again, and police broke up another argument between Rovale and his mother. This time, Valerie asked police to take her son out of the house.

Rovale told police his girlfriend would arrive to take him to her house. An officer testified that the area was too busy to allow them to wait for Rovale's girlfriend to arrive. When the officers drove away, Rovale was a block away from his home standing outside in zero-degree weather.

Fenton called 911 again six minutes later, reporting that Rovale was trying to break in. When police arrived, they found that Fenton has been beaten and stabbed. He later died.

Detective Thomas Downs learned that Rovale had been arguing with Fenton over Rovale's use of the phone and unemployment.

Rovale was convicted of second-degree murder. Fenton's family sued the city for not arresting Rovale to protect Fenton as an "abused person" under the Illinois Domestic Violence Act of 1986.

A Cook County jury ordered Chicago to pay Fenton's estate $2 million. On appeal, the city argued that the officers did not know Fenton was an "abused person."

The Fourth Division of the First District Appellate Court affirmed the jury verdict Thursday.

Fenton had placed all three calls to the police, and "the testimony of Detective Downs revealed that the officers had indeed been told that Fenton and Rovale had been arguing prior to each of the 911 calls," Judge Terrence Lavin wrote for a three-judge panel.

"Trying to predict was an irascible, violent and drunken man will do in a domestic dispute with his mother and her boyfriend could be an uncertain enterprise, but the potential for catastrophe is greater if one does not get everyone's version of what is going on within the household," Lavin added.

The court also upheld the willful and wanton misconduct finding against the officers.

"Failing to arrest the provocateur after being quickly summoned again is surely consistent with willful and wanton misconduct, because the officers were in possession of a very powerful fact when they arrived a second time," Lavin wrote.

"Specifically, the officers knew that their effort to get Rovale to cool down were demonstrably ineffective."

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.