Jury says Arlington Hts. police wrong to take man's guns, gives him $80,000

  • Art Lovi, holding one of his antique firearms, won his case and an $80,000 judgment against the Arlington Heights police on Thursday.

      Art Lovi, holding one of his antique firearms, won his case and an $80,000 judgment against the Arlington Heights police on Thursday. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 4/17/2015 7:08 PM

Two Arlington Heights police officers have been found guilty of constitutional violations and ordered by a federal jury to pay a resident $80,000 in damages for illegally searching his home and seizing his guns.

Attorneys for the village, however, say the officers were acting to protect public safety because of a threat that was made in a private therapy session, and they say they will appeal the decision.

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"We're very happy to see that the jury saw through the scare tactics of the police and their lawyers and saw this exactly for what it was: a warrantless entry and seizure of his weapons with absolutely no legal basis," said Dan Kiss, attorney for Arlington Heights resident Art Lovi, 74, who brought the lawsuit in federal court.

Lovi sued the village of Arlington Heights and five police officers after the officers seized three antique firearms from his home in August 2012.

The situation unfolded when a therapist called police after a session with Lovi, who, upset over the death of his wife, Cindy, made a threat against a doctor who he believed had misdiagnosed her cancer years earlier.

The therapist said she felt obligated to report the threat to the Arlington Heights Police Department, although she added she did not believe he was a threat to himself or others.

A few hours later, Lovi got a call from police, who asked if he had any weapons in his home. Lovi told them yes, he had a valid FOID card and three antique firearms, including a musket that was more than 100 years old, but no ammunition.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

That night officers showed up at Lovi's house, where he says they entered without a warrant and confiscated his weapons.

Two days later, on Aug. 30, 2012, Lovi called the police to arrange to get his guns back. An officer came to his house, and Lovi says the officer turned the conversation to his late wife. Lovi got upset, and the officer told him he had to have a psychiatric examination.

Lovi's lawsuit says police threatened that if he didn't go into the ambulance willingly, they would handcuff him and physically put him in the ambulance. But an Arlington Heights police report dated Sept. 1, 2012, says Lovi agreed to have the paramedics take him to Northwest Community Hospital to speak with doctors.

However he got there, Lovi was released later that day after a medical evaluation determined he was not a danger to himself or others. Lovi was never arrested or charged with a crime.

He says he tried to get his guns back several times, but it wasn't until two months later, when he hired an attorney to help him, that the guns were returned.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

In January 2013, Chicago-based law firm Meyer and Kiss filed a civil rights lawsuit on Lovi's behalf and the case has been working its way through federal court for more than two years.

On Thursday, the jury found Arlington Heights police Sgt. Charles Buczynski guilty of illegal entry into a home and unreasonable seizure of property for leading the charge into Lovi's home. The jury ordered him to pay Lovi $45,000, Kiss said.

The jury found Arlington Heights Cmdr. Richard Gausselin guilty of unreasonable seizure of person for coercing Lovi into the ambulance two days later, and ordered him to pay $25,000.

An additional $10,000 was awarded to Lovi to pay his medical bills and to fix damage done to his antique guns during their seizure, Kiss said.

Three other officers named in the suit were not found guilty.

If the jury decision stands, Illinois law says the individual officers would be responsible for paying those damages. Whether the village of Arlington Heights would pay the damages on their behalf is unclear. Calls to the village were not returned on Friday.

Mark Flessner of Chicago-based firm Holland and Knight is representing the officers and Arlington Heights. He said he plans to challenge the verdict within 28 days.

"We respect the jury's verdict, but we respectfully disagree with it and we think it was wrong," he said.

The officers named in the suit, including those found guilty, have not faced any disciplinary action because the village is standing behind their actions, Flessner said.

"The officers acted professionally to protect the public's safety," Flessner said. "They acted appropriately pursuant to protocol."

Flessner said the jury decision on Thursday came as a surprise to the village.

Kiss, meanwhile, said the village tried to settle earlier in the proceedings, for a lot less than $80,000, but an agreement was not reached.

Further, he said charges that the police violated Lovi's Second Amendment rights, which were dismissed by the judge early on, could be reintroduced on appeal and potentially get Lovi a larger sum.

Even if that doesn't happen, Lovi is "thrilled" by the jury verdict.

"It's important that the public know the police don't have a right to come in your house without a warrant. They don't have a right to bully you," Lovi said on Friday.

Kiss said he hopes the take-away is that Lovi's comments to his therapist were just words spoken in grief.

"Not everybody who says something out of anger, in what they think is going to be a confidential therapy session, is a person who all of sudden has to turn their property over to the police and be involuntarily committed," Kiss said.

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