Oak Lawn resident Piotr Niton on June 29 filed an 11-count federal lawsuit against Oak Lawn police officers and the village of Oak Lawn charging excessive force and other civil rights violations.
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, on behalf of Niton and his two minor daughters, alleges, among other things, that police used excessive force against him during an arrest on July 27, 2013. He also cites “a ‘code of silence’ in the Oak Lawn Police Department, by which officers fail to report misconduct committed by other officers.”
Oak Lawn Police Chief Michael Murray had no comment on the lawsuit. A representative said last week that the chief never comments on ongoing litigation.
Oak Lawn Village Manager Larry Deetjen also said the village does not comment on litigation. “Suffice to say, our Oak Lawn police do an outstanding job for our community and are well-trained and respectful of our laws and all citizens’’ Deetjen said in a statement. “Their job is never easy nor uncomplicated in an ever-changing and dynamic society. The Village will vigorously defend itself and the laws they are sworn to uphold.”
Niton’s attorney, David P. Sterba, of Palos Heights-based Walsh, Fewkes & Sterba, P.C , said, “My client’s constitutional rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as well as Section 1983 of the U.S. Code, have been violated by this shocking police misconduct, pursuant to what is clearly a policy and practice of the Village of Oak Lawn by its Police Department. We look forward to the day when a federal jury sends a clear and unambiguous message to the Village of Oak Lawn – stop this outrageous and lawless behavior by your police officers.”
Niton is seeking unspecified monetary damages, attorney fees, costs and punitive damages. The complaint also seeks compensatory damages for his two daughters.
According to Niton’s complaint, shortly after midnight on July 27, 2013, he was asleep on his living room couch, and his two young daughters were in their bedrooms when he was “awakened by loud and persistent banging on his front door.”
He said in the suit that when he opened the door, two uniformed Oak Lawn police officers on his front porch shouted commands at him, questioning him about a hit-and-run accident that occurred earlier that evening, and demanding that he come outside to show them his van. Niton told the officers he had not been driving, and would not leave his home but offered to open his garage door from inside his house to let them inspect his van.
The complaint states that officer Timothy Thomas then “forced his way into Niton’s home and violently shoved Niton backwards” onto the floor, landed on top of him and struck him with his fists and his knees. Officer James Mitchell also allegedly repeatedly and violently struck Niton with his knees. The case also alleges that Thomas and Mitchell beat Niton with steel batons before handcuffing him and leading him out the door.
According to the complaint, Niton’s daughters heard the beating from their bedrooms and the older girl witnessed it.
Niton was arrested and charged with two felony counts of aggravated battery to a police officer, resisting a peace officer and other offenses. A judge found no probable cause and dismissed all counts against Niton at a preliminary hearing on Aug. 21, 2013, but he was later indicted on two felony counts of aggravated battery to a police officer and two counts of resisting a peace officer.
According to a press release, in February 2015, after a four-day trial, a Cook County jury found Niton not guilty of all counts.
A different man was later determined by the police to be the actual driver of the van involved in the hit-and-run crash.
In addition to Thomas and Mitchell, others named as defendants in the pending federal lawsuit are Oak Lawn Police Sgt. David Winston, other unnamed Oak Lawn police officers and the Village of Oak Lawn. The suit alleges use of excessive force; false arrest; false imprisonment; conspiracy; malicious prosecution; failure to intervene; intentional infliction of emotional distress and other charges.
Niton, who had spinal surgery after the incident, states in the complaint that he suffered “pain and injury, as well as emotional distress.”