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Ybarra v. City of Chicago

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

January 3, 2020

Rachel Ybarra, as Special Administrator of the Estate of Rafael Cruz, deceased, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
City of Chicago, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued December 4, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 16-cv-08009 - Virginia M. Kendall, Judge.

          Before Flaum, Ripple, and Hamilton, Circuit Judges.

          FLAUM, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Rachel Ybarra brought a lawsuit against the City of Chicago and Chicago Police Department Commander Francis Valadez and Officer Monica Reyes for excessive force and wrongful death based on the shooting death of her son, Rafael Cruz. The district court entered summary judgment for the defendants, holding that the officers could have reasonably believed, based on Cruz's involvement in a drive-by shooting and extremely reckless driving, that Cruz posed an imminent threat to others if allowed to escape from the parking lot where they shot him.

         We affirm. Under the circumstances present in this case, the officers had probable cause to believe that Cruz posed a threat of serious physical harm to others in the immediate vicinity. It was therefore not unreasonable for the officers to prevent Cruz's escape by using deadly force.

         I. Background

         During the early hours of August 29, 2015, Chicago Police Department Commander Francis Valadez and Officer Monica Reyes (collectively, "the officers") were in an unmarked police car patrolling a neighborhood where a gang-related shooting had recently occurred. At approximately 1:30 a.m., the officers saw a rear passenger in Rafael Cruz's Chevy Ta-hoe fire five gunshots at the occupants of another car. Immediately after the shooting, Cruz drove away, reaching speeds of 40 to 70 miles per hour in a 30-miles-per-hour zone. Reyes called in an emergency, reporting "shots fired" over the police radio. Valadez was driving and followed Cruz's Tahoe, which had dark, tinted windows. The officers followed Cruz's Tahoe through city streets for approximately one mile but did not activate any emergency lights or sirens on their vehicle.

         With the unmarked police car still following him, Cruz turned westbound and struck a parked car on the north side of the street with enough force that it pushed the car forward into a second car parked roughly a car-length in front of it, causing the second car to roll into a third. Despite that collision, Cruz kept driving before crashing into a fourth car on the south side of the street and coming to a stop near the entrance of a parking lot.

         At that point, the officers parked their car behind Cruz's Tahoe, believing that it had stalled due to the damage it had sustained during the collisions. Valadez then began getting out of the car while announcing that he was a police officer. Almost simultaneously, Cruz put his Tahoe into reverse, forcing Valadez back into his car just before the back of the Tahoe struck the driver's side of the car. The collision forced the open driver's side door closed and caused the officers' "whole car" to "rock[]." Reyes thought that Valadez had been hit by the Tahoe and was concerned that he may have been severely injured in the seconds following the collision. Cruz then pulled forward and turned left into the parking lot.

         The officers followed Cruz into the parking lot on foot, wearing plain clothes, duty belts, and bulletproof police vests that displayed their police star. Valadez ran to the south side of the parking lot, while Reyes positioned herself behind a parked car near the parking lot's entrance. Valadez testified that he shouted "police" while running into the parking lot. The parking lot was "pretty well lit" by lights in the lot and at the adjacent intersection. One of Cruz's passengers, Pasqual Nava, testified that he knew that Valadez was a police officer because he could see Valadez's vest. Reyes also yelled several times to "stop the vehicle" and "stop it." Two of Cruz's passengers, Jose Cabello and Pasqual Nava, did not hear Valadez or Reyes say anything.

         Cruz did not stop and instead made a three-point turn back toward the parking lot's entrance, which was the only path for vehicles to enter or exit the parking lot. The headlights of Cruz's Tahoe shone directly at Valadez and then at Reyes as Cruz completed his three-point turn and pulled forward. Valadez initially stated that as the Tahoe began driving forward, he saw the driver's window being lowered two to three inches and believed that Cruz was about to begin shooting at him. Video footage, however, showed that the window may have already been rolled down before Cruz's Tahoe entered the parking lot.

         As Cruz began driving forward, Valadez fired three shots at Cruz, and Reyes immediately thereafter fired five additional shots at him. The officers continued shooting after the Tahoe had driven past Reyes. Reyes testified that she could see Cruz's profile as he drove past her. Reyes called out over the radio, "Shots fired by police, shots fired by police." Cruz died as a result of a gunshot wound.

         Approximately ninety seconds elapsed from the time the initial shots were fired from Cruz's Tahoe until Cruz was shot, roughly sixteen of which elapsed during the encounter in the parking lot. Surveillance footage shows that pedestrians, cyclists, ...


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