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Chicago police officers sued over eavesdropping arrest

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  1. Libel and Privacy
A 21-year-old woman acquitted of violating the strict Illinois eavesdropping statute is suing the City of Chicago and three officers…

A 21-year-old woman acquitted of violating the strict Illinois eavesdropping statute is suing the City of Chicago and three officers for allegedly violating her Fourth Amendment rights when she was arrested for recording her conversations with police officers while filing a sexual harassment complaint with the department.

After recording a conversation with police, Tiawanda Moore was arrested for violating an Illinois law that makes it a felony to use a device to record any conversation or intercept communications without all parties' prior consent. The law is broad, but there are exemptions.

According to the Illinois eavesdropping law, a person, who need not be a law enforcement officer, can record “under reasonable suspicion that another party to the conversation is committing, is about to commit, or has committed a criminal offense against the person…and there is reason to believe that evidence of the criminal offense may be obtained by the recording.”

In July 2010, Moore was arrested for secretly recording a conversation with Lt. Richard Plotke and Officer Luis Alejo on her cellphone. The officers interviewed Moore over the actions of Officer Jason Wilson when he responded to a domestic violence call at Moore’s apartment. The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Chicago, alleges Wilson “physically groped” Moore during questioning and gave Moore his phone number before leaving so they could "hook up."

According to the lawsuit, officers interviewing Moore discouraged her from filing a complaint and refused to reassign her case. Moore got up to leave, but was denied. When officers briefly left her alone Moore started recording. Once officers returned and realized Moore was recording their conversation she was arrested. She spent over two weeks in the Cook County Jail.

In August, a jury found Moore not guilty of violating the state's eavesdropping law. Moore fell under one of the law's exemptions where recording police is not a crime, said her attorney Robert Johnson.

In preventing Moore from leaving and filing her complaint — the civil lawsuit states — the officers committed misconduct that led to the violation of her constitutional rights, specifically unreasonable seizure and false arrest.

This isn't the first time the Illinois statue has been called into question.

In September an Illinois court found the eavesdropping statute unconstitutional in a case where an Illinois man faced up to 75 years in prison for recording interactions with law enforcement and court officials. That case, Illinois v. Allison, is currently on appeal before the Illinois Supreme Court.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois is challenging the eavesdropping statute, with the ultimate goal of striking down the law, to guarantee the public monitoring of police is protected under the First Amendment, said Ed Yohnka, Communications and Policy Director for the ACLU of Illinois.

Additionally, the constitutionality of the law is being considered by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago (Seventh Circuit) in ACLU of Illinois v. Alvarez. The Reporters Committee filed a friend-of-the-court brief in that case.

A concern of the ACLU is that under their discretion police and prosecutors are using the law as a tool to prosecute people, Yohnka said, “when what is being done runs counter to what the police want to see happen.”

City of Chicago officials could not be reached for comment.