Would-be good Samaritan suing St. Charles, police officers over arrest

  • Todd Surta says he rushed from his house along the Fox River near St. Charles to help people injured in a boating accident two years ago, only to end up under arrest and facing criminal charges. Now he's suing St. Charles and three of its police officers for false arrest and malicious prosecution.

    Todd Surta says he rushed from his house along the Fox River near St. Charles to help people injured in a boating accident two years ago, only to end up under arrest and facing criminal charges. Now he's suing St. Charles and three of its police officers for false arrest and malicious prosecution. Courtesy of Todd Surta

  • Alarm Detection Systems founder and Chief Executive Officer Bob Bonifas, left, and Aurora police Officer Tony Piscopo examine the remote control for the Throwbot2 microrobot the company donated to Aurora police Wednesday.

    Alarm Detection Systems founder and Chief Executive Officer Bob Bonifas, left, and Aurora police Officer Tony Piscopo examine the remote control for the Throwbot2 microrobot the company donated to Aurora police Wednesday. Courtesy of Alarm Detection Systems

  • Arlington Heights police officers and first responders got the rock star treatment last week when singer Bret Michaels performed at the village Frontier Days festival.

    Arlington Heights police officers and first responders got the rock star treatment last week when singer Bret Michaels performed at the village Frontier Days festival. Courtesy of Arlington Heights Police

 
Posted7/12/2019 5:30 AM

Is Todd Sutra a good Samaritan or criminal meddler?

That's the question behind a federal lawsuit the St. Charles Township businessman filed this month against the city of St. Charles and a trio of its police officers.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Two summers ago, Surta says, he tried to help a woman badly injured when a boat collided with a personal watercraft on the Fox River. He ended up in police custody, facing criminal charges and a sullied reputation.

The official version offered by police after Surta's arrest on July 6, 2017, goes like this: Officers coming to the rescue of the injured boaters came across Surta, who'd boated to the scene from his house on the river. They repeatedly told Surta to leave. When he didn't, they threatened him with arrest. When he still didn't go, police say, he was taken into custody after a struggle with officers. He later posted bond, then tried to start another fight with officers on his way out of the station, according to police.

After months of court delays and postponements, Kane County prosecutors in May 2018 dropped the charges of resisting or obstructing a peace officer.

Surta's lawsuit, filed July 3 in U.S. District Court, offers a very different account. It portrays police as the aggressors, confronting Surta and pushing him to the ground even after he'd left the crash scene.

"The police wouldn't listen to him when he tried to explain he was trying to help," Surta attorney Richard Dvorak told us this week. "Instead, they got physical with him and he got arrested."

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The arrest led to news stories -- accompanied by an unflattering mug shot -- in the local press, which the suit says hurt Surta's public reputation and his construction business, which has had a part in building St. Charles' Red Gate and Main Street bridges, as well as Millennium Park in Chicago, according to his lawyer.

"He suffered some serious economic damages," Dvorak said. "He's a pretty prominent businessman and his name was trashed in the community. He definitely wants to get some justice for that."

The suit, which alleges false arrest, excessive force and malicious prosecution, seeks an undisclosed amount of compensatory and punitive damages.

We reached out to St. Charles Police Chief James Keegan, who said the city hadn't yet been served with the lawsuit and he cannot comment on pending litigation.

The Throwbot2 donated to the Aurora Police Department this week can be tossed up to 120 feet and withstand repeated drops of up to 30 feet on concrete to provide officers with instantaneous video and audio footage at a crime scene that might be unsafe for them to enter.
The Throwbot2 donated to the Aurora Police Department this week can be tossed up to 120 feet and withstand repeated drops of up to 30 feet on concrete to provide officers with instantaneous video and audio footage at a crime scene that might be unsafe for them to enter. - Courtesy of Alarm Detection Systems
Giving local

Alarm Detection Systems is used to working with law enforcement. After all, when its security and fire-alarm systems are activated, police often are the first on the scene. But the Feb. 15 murders at the Henry Pratt Co. hit close to home for the Aurora-based company. Pratt was one of its clients, and a company executive has a relative who is an Aurora police officer.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

That's what prompted ADS to donate a "throwable" robot and two dozen specialized jackets to the Aurora Police Department Wednesday.

"It was a no-brainer for our executives to reach out and say, 'Hey, what can we do?" said John Schwartz, the company's marketing director.

Wanting to make a practical, tangible donation, not just money, the company asked the department what it wanted.

Two things on its wish list sprang to mind: the nimble robot, and cold-weather gear. It was 17 degrees the day of the shooting. And tactical officers were on the scene for hours.

"While officers are well-equipped to do their jobs, they were lacking some basic cold weather gear that had continued to move down the priority list. Thanks to ADS, they are now outfitted with gear that will allow them to weather the frigid temperatures," Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman said at a donation ceremony Wednesday.

"And because technology is continuing to advance in the policing industry -- a concept ADS intimately understands -- they purchased a throw robot for us. This will allow our SRT (special response) team to deploy technology to assess a situation before putting our team members in harm's way."

Officers can toss the Throwbot2 into a building to get instantaneous video and audio footage. The small robot can be thrown up to 120 feet, withstand repeated drops of up to 30 feet on concrete, and crawl over a variety of terrain. It rights itself if it gets knocked over.

The "Valiant Duty" brand 5-in-1 jackets feature zip-off sleeves to become a vest, a visored hood, and are designed for officers to quickly access a firearm. The lining is resistant to blood-borne pathogens.

"It's not just about selling alarm systems. It's about being part of the solution," Schwartz said.

Arlington Heights police officers and first responders got the rock star treatment last week when former Poison signer Bret Michaels performed at the village Frontier Days festival.
Arlington Heights police officers and first responders got the rock star treatment last week when former Poison signer Bret Michaels performed at the village Frontier Days festival. - Courtesy of Arlington Heights Police Department
Rock star treatment

Arlington Heights police and other first responders shared the spotlight with rock and realty TV star Bret Michaels last week, when the ex-Poison frontman called several on stage and thanked them for their service while he performed at the village's Frontier Days festival.

"Arlington Heights Frontier Days was a huge success. Thank you to all who came out. And a special thank you to Bret Michaels for your support for first responders," police wrote on Facebook.

Law enforcement legislation

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a pair of bills in recent weeks sure to catch the eye of the law enforcement community.

The first, House Bill 2028, doubles the death benefits for families of fallen law enforcement officers and firefighters. Under previous law set in 1999, state reimbursements for burial costs were capped at $10,000. The new law raises that cap to $20,000, retroactive to June 30, 2018.

"While no amount of money can ease the terrible grief of families who have lost their loved ones because they were killed in the line of duty, I hope we can at least lessen the financial burden of an immeasurable loss of our state's finest," Pritzker said in a news release announcing his signature of the bill.

A few days earlier, the governor signed House Bill 1613, which permanently requires police to collect demographic information and other data about traffic and pedestrian stops. A previous law requiring the collection -- championed by then state Sen. Barack Obama -- was set to expire.

The legislation has won praise from civil rights groups like the ACLU, which called it "an important tool for police officers and the public to identify and combat racial disparities in law enforcement here in Illinois."

But the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police opposed the measure, saying "enough data already has been collected." However, the chiefs association said they are "okay" with their inclusion on a new task force that will analyze the data every three years.

• Got a tip or thoughts on a cops and crime-related issue to share? Email copsandcrime@dailyherald.com.

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