CHICAGO (CN) – A man can proceed, so far, with a staggeringly complicated civil rights lawsuit that alleges a conspiracy involving Chicago police and shady funeral home proprietors, a federal judge ruled. Thomas Janusz claims he knew something was up when he nearly got lucky with an attractive woman, though Janusz admits he is “no Robe Lowe by any means.”
In 1998, Janusz began managing two Chicago-based funeral homes. Keystone Illinois owned both properties and had bought one from Anthony and Daniel Morizzo.
Keystone sued the Morizzo brothers in October 2001, after Janusz claimed to have found evidence during his employment suggesting the brothers were violating their agreements.
Janusz was to be one of the key witnesses and told the Keystone CEO that he was worried the Morizzo brothers would retaliate against him.
He was not far off.
In December 2001, “Janusz met a woman [named Paula Siragusa] who he later took to a motel room,” U.S. District Judge John Nordberg explained.
“According to Janusz, even though Siragusa was ‘nice looking’ and even though he was ‘no Robe Lowe by any means,’ Siragusa began flirting with him and asked for a ride.”
Later that evening, Janusz and Siragusa left for a gas station near Chicago, where officers, acting on an anonymous tip, apprehended him with a duffel bag containing $4,400. Janusz testified that one Officer Lucas approached him and immediately “asked for the key to the motel room and asked where the gym bag was.”
Janusz said Lucas could have only learned such facts from Siragusa, whom he believed had coordinated the arrest with Lucas during the afternoon via pager.
Things soon became even more bizarre. Janusz claimed that while he was sitting in the police car, Lucas reached into his own vest and removed a small plastic bag containing a white pebble-sized object. He then allegedly flicked that “pebble” into a cup in the front seat of Janusz’s car.
During the police car ride, Lucas allegedly mused: “Now, we wouldn’t want this young man to end up in Cook County tonight with a bunch of spooky dos now, boys, would we?”
Janusz claimed that other abusive comments and actions took place as well. “He experienced Lucas slamming him down in the police station and heard Lucas and George threaten him with gang rape in prison,” Nordberg summarized.
In a subsequent search of Janusz’s apartment, officers found drugs including crystal meth and steroids, as well as over $17,000 in cash.
The plot continued to thicken.
“Shortly after Janusz was arrested, a police officer named Grizzoffi made copies of Janusz’s confidential police records,” according to the dense, nine-page ruling. “Grizzoffi had previously worked part-time for Keystone and knew the Morizzo brothers.
“Anthony Morizzo received these reports in the mail five days after the arrest. Allegedly relying on these reports, the Morizzo brothers sought to settle the civil lawsuit against Keystone by arguing that the drug arrest made Janusz a tainted witness. Believing this to be true, Keystone settled the lawsuit. It also fired Janusz in January 2002.”
Noticed the oddities of the case, and skeptical about police witnesses’ testimony, however, the trial judge in charge of Janusz’s criminal case quashed the indictment after closing arguments.
“There is a shortage of police officers in the 15th District, and having people come in on nothing more than a cold call to the police station that this will happen, to approach a guy in Cicero, in another jurisdiction,” Nordberg wrote.
Prosecutors immediately dropped all charges against Janusz.
Shortly thereafter, Janusz sued Keystone “for breach of contract, defamation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.” He also sued Chicago for civil rights violations.
A jury awarded Janusz more $3 million on the state claims against the city, while Keystone settled with Janusz. The present ruling covers Janusz’s federal civil rights claims, brought under 42 USC Section 1983.
The complaint states that “[a]s a result of defendants’ illegal acts, including but not limited to the false arrest, incarceration and threats that he would be gang raped, and of being fired by Keystone, Janusz now suffers from post traumatic stress syndrome, and an exacerbation of his preexisting mood disorder and anxiety conditions, which in turn has resulted in Janusz feeling powerless, humiliated, and embarrassed.” (Emphasis in original).
The opinion largely rejected defendants’ motion for summary judgment, while excluded limited portions of the complaint.
Nordberg emphasized that Janusz’s complaint indicates that the injuries he suffered are “indivisible.”
Based on facts established in his other suits and concessions made by the defendants – for example, “defendants concede that plaintiff has enough evidence to show that Lucas planted drugs [in Janusz’s car]” – the ill-fated funeral home manager will be allowed to proceed on his claims.
The court noted that “[t]he officers generally try to explain away the anomalies by essentially admitting that they did not follow the proper police procedures with Siragusa.”
“However, this ‘sloppy police work’ argument is one the jury should decide,” Nordberg wrote.
The “cascade of events” – to use Janusz’s psychiatric expert’s term – that began with a questionable business decision will not stop until a court hears Janusz’s federal civil rights claims.