Federal lawsuit against Forest Park police alleges brutality

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By Nona Tepper

Staff Reporter

A man has filed a federal lawsuit against six local police officers and the village of Forest Park, alleging officers used excessive force when arresting him last year. 

Plaintiff Trumell Lee alleges "acts of the defendant police officers were willful, wanton, malicious, oppressive and done with reckless indifference to and/or callous disregard for plaintiff Lee's rights," according to a complaint filed Nov. 3 in U.S. District Court in Chicago.

In the early morning of Nov. 3, 2016, according to the complaint, Lee and two friends were driving near the intersection of Circle Avenue and Jackson Boulevard.

The group pulled over and decided to talk outside the car, according to the suit. They were re-entering the vehicle when Officer Donald Bolton arrived, according to the lawsuit. Officers Nicholas Defors, Justin Diano, Jose Flores, Josh Jennett and Robert Kendall then arrived at the scene, the complaint said. 

Police officers were summoned on reports that the group was fighting, according to a Forest Park police report filed at the time. When officers asked to see identification from Lee and others, along with the vehicle's identification number, they reportedly smelled alcohol. One officer spotted an open bottle of Rumple Minze liquor, the police report said. The group told officers they had been celebrating the Chicago Cubs World Series win, according to the police report. 

According to the federal lawsuit, Defors started making inflammatory comments to Lee, screaming that he was going to jail. As other police stood by, Defors ordered Lee, then 25, to stay in the car and kicked the man's leg, the complaint said.  

An officer looked up Lee on his computer and found he had an active warrant out from DuPage County for failing to appear to court about a DUI charge, according to the police report. 

Defors told Lee he was under arrest, and Lee placed his hands behind his back and waited to be handcuffed, the complaint said. Defors put the handcuffs on Lee, but then forced him into a chokehold from behind, according to the complaint. The police report said he was trying to search Lee. 

According to the lawsuit, Lee blacked out, and when he came to, he found himself on his knees on the pavement. The police report stated Lee began acting as if he was losing consciousness and falling. Officers Kendall and Flores lifted him from Defors' arms, according to the police report.

Lee told his friend to call his mother and tell her he had been "choked out by a white police officer," according to the police report. Lee is black, according to the police report.

Defors was transported to the police station. He was booked on the warrant, and charged with resisting arrest and illegal transportation of alcohol, the police report said. He was placed in custody and his vehicle was searched and seized, according to the lawsuit. 

Once Lee was released, he visited a hospital emergency room, according to the federal complaint.

The department later decided not prosecute the charges against Lee, and opened an Internal Affairs Division investigation into Defors' conduct, according to the lawsuit.  

Lee is seeking reimbursement for attorney's fees, the costs of filing the suit and payment for such damages as emotional distress, according to the suit. He is also asking officers for punitive damages. 

Forest Park Village administrator Timothy Gillian and Police Chief Thomas Aftanas declined to comment on the lawsuit. Lee's attorneys did not respond to an interview request. 

It's the second federal lawsuit filed against a Forest Park police officer in the past six months. In June, a Forest Park man filed a federal complaint alleging that a police officer knocked his teeth out during an incident in 2015. That case is still pending. 

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