Family of teen who took his life after police questioning will appeal suit's dismissal
The next step in a lawsuit filed by the parents of a Naperville North High School student who died by suicide after he was interrogated by police and school officials is an appeal of a judge's decision last month to dismiss the suit, the family's attorney says.
Terry Ekl, who represents the parents of the late Corey Walgren, said his clients disagree with U.S. District Judge Andrea Wood's reasons for tossing out the case. Ekl said he plans to appeal to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
"We felt that it was the best way to get relief on the case in the quickest fashion," Ekl said.
Douglas and Maureen Walgren of Naperville, the parents of 16-year-old Corey, filed suit against two school officials, a school resource officer, Naperville Unit District 203 and the city of Naperville in spring 2017, after Corey's death on Jan. 11 of that year.
Their suit claims officials violated Illinois law by questioning Corey -- before his mom was called and headed toward the school -- about allegations he recorded a sexual encounter with a classmate without her knowledge and kept the recording on his phone. During questioning, Corey was warned he may have to register as a sex offender because of the recording, which he played in audio form for several friends but never texted or emailed.
The suit also claims administrators and the school resource officer violated Corey's constitutional rights with actions to "falsely threaten and coerce" him to answer questions, which the suit says led to his death.
In her ruling in January, Judge Wood called the interrogation tactics used by Naperville North deans and Naperville police "harsh and aggressive," but also "ordinary." She said "there is nothing therein (in Illinois statutes) that prohibits (an) officer from questioning (a) minor before (a) parent's arrival."
Her ruling also said Corey's parents and attorneys hadn't cleared the threshold required to prove school officials violated his rights because they hadn't demonstrated that officials should have predicted the teen could have been contemplating suicide. She described Corey as "an honor-roll student with no disciplinary record or history of violence or self-harm" and said there's no evidence he broke the law with the video, in which no images were visible.
Ekl said he and the Walgrens decided to appeal instead of amending the original complaint and refiling it because it otherwise might take up to a year to get a new ruling from Wood.
"If she persisted in her logic, she may very well have dismissed it again," Ekl said.
Naperville Unit District 203 said in a statement that officials cannot comment on the planned appeal until more information is available. The district said officials "remain confident in our staff, who serve with our students' best interest at heart." Officials called Corey's death a tragedy.
"The staff and community of Naperville 203 remain saddened by the death of our student and extend heartfelt sympathy to all those affected," the statement said.
In a written statement, Naperville City Attorney Mike DiSanto said the city is pleased with Wood's initial decision to dismiss the lawsuit, in which "the court correctly concluded that even if the plaintiffs' inaccurate allegations are assumed true, the case had to be dismissed." But officials understand the Walgrens have the right to appeal.
"The court thoroughly and appropriately analyzed this tragic matter ..." DiSanto said in the statement. "We are confident the appellate court will affirm the dismissal. The city continues to support the officer involved and our police department as they provide challenging, yet essential, services to our community."
Once the appeal is filed, Ekl said the case will proceed with a series of briefs from all parties involved, a mandatory mediation process and possible oral arguments within about nine months.
• Daily Herald staff writer Justin Kmitch contributed to this report.