Robert John Blakey
Robert John Blakey

A woman arrested for filming outside a suburban Cook County courthouse got the go-ahead to pursue her claims that sheriff’s deputies violated her constitutional rights.

In a written opinion last week, U.S. District Judge John Robert Blakey did not rule on the merits of the First and Fourth Amendment counts in the lawsuit Amanda Jane Bergquist filed against four deputies and other defendants.

But Blakey held Bergquist had adequately stated claims that deputies retaliated against her for exercising her right to free speech and subjected her to unreasonable searches and seizures by detaining her and taking her camera.

And citing Monell v. Department of Social Services of the City of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (1978), Blakey held Bergquist had adequately stated a claim that the purported constitutional violations stemmed from an official policy of the Cook County Sheriff’s office.

A trial in the case is set for March 2021.

In March 2018, Bergquist entered the Bridgeview Courthouse to take care of a ticket. Security personnel was not allowed to enter after deputies found a handheld camera in her purse.

Bergquist went outside and started filming the courthouse’s exterior.

She alleges Deputy Donald Milazzo approached her and said a “judicial law or order” barred her from filming the courthouse.

When she asked to see the order, Bergquist alleges, Milazzo told her to go into the courthouse so he could get her name and write a report.

Milazzo took her camera and directed Deputies Kenneth Dorociak and Jennifer Larson to handcuff her after she refused to go inside, Bergquist alleges.

She contends Dorociak and Larson complied with the order and took her into the courthouse. The deputies then repeatedly demanded a form of identification and asked her why she had filmed the courthouse, Bergquist contends.

When she refused to answer the deputies’ questions, she alleges, Milazzo and Larson threatened her with a jail sentence.

She asked to call her lawyer, but was never given the opportunity to do so, Bergquist alleges.

She maintains Milazzo deleted the footage from her camera and searched her purse, where he found her ID card.

Milazzo kept his supervisor, Deputy Chief Kelly Jackson, informed about the situation during the three hours she was detained, Bergquist alleges.

She contends Milazzo and Larson brought her before Cook County Circuit Judge Peter A. Felice, who ordered her to hand over her camera’s SD card and return to court in two days.

When she returned to court, she got the SD card back, Bergquist says. She says she later recovered the deleted footage.

Bergquist filed her suit in May 2018.

One count accuses deputies of arresting Bergquist in retaliation for exercising her First Amendment right to film a public building.

Another count accuses deputies of refusing to release Bergquist in retaliation for demanding to speak to an attorney, asserting her right to remain silent and refusing to identify herself or consent to a search of her camera and purse.

In their motion to dismiss, the defendants maintained prohibiting filming outside the courthouse constitutes a reasonable restriction on First Amendment rights.

And that restriction is imposed by the circuit court’s General Administrative Order No. 2013-01, the defendants maintained.

The order prohibits “mobile computing and telecommunication devices” that are “capable of connecting to the internet or making audio or video recordings” in the circuit court.

In his opinion Friday, Blakey agreed that First Amendment rights are not absolute.

“For instance, restrictions on First Amendment rights exist through statute, ordinance, regulation or some other published restriction with a legitimate governmental purpose,” Blakey wrote, citing cases that included Braun v. Baldwin, 346 F.3d 761 (7th Cir. 2003).

“Indeed, reasonable filming restrictions remain commonplace rules for certain government buildings (including federal courthouses).”

However, Blakey continued, “the general order, by its plain terms, prohibits filming only in the courthouse.”

And the defendants failed to cite any other legal provision that would reasonably restrict filming outside the courthouse, Blakey wrote.

Blakey also denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss the five Fourth Amendment counts in Bergquist’s suit.

The counts accuse the defendants of unlawfully arresting Bergquist, unlawfully seizing her camera and camera footage and unlawfully searching her camera and purse.

Probable cause is an absolute defense to a claim of unlawful detention, Blakey wrote.

Quoting Abbott v. Sangamon County, Ill., 705 F.3d 706 (7th Cir. 2013), he wrote there is probable cause “if the totality of the facts and circumstances known to the officer at the time of the arrest would warrant a reasonable, prudent person in believing that the arrestee had committed, was committing or was about to commit a crime.”

Because the general order does not prohibit filming outside a courthouse, Bergquist has adequately stated claims that the defendants arrested her without probable cause and unlawfully seized her purse and camera, Blakey wrote.

And because Bergquist has adequately stated a claim that she was unlawfully arrested, he wrote, she has adequately stated claims that deputies unlawfully searched her and her possessions.

The case is Amanda Jane Bergquist v. Donald Milazzo, et al., No. 18 C 3619.

Bergquist is represented by Jonathan D. Lubin of the Law Office of Jonathan Lubin in Skokie and Madeline M. Sinkovich and Solomon M. Radner of Excolo Law PLLC in Southfield, Mich.

Radner said Bergquist and her legal team are pleased with Blakey’s ruling.

“Ms. Bergquist was needlessly and unlawfully subjected to unlawful arrest and detention for nothing more than refusing to kowtow to a police officer who was attempting to violate her rights and intimidate her,” he said in an email.

“Quite frankly, every member of the public should be concerned that there are law enforcement officers in the area who believe it is proper to arrest people for taking pictures in public.”

The defendants are represented by Assistant State’s Attorneys Antonio Lee and Cory J. Cassis.

Spokespeople from the sheriff’s office and the state’s attorney’s office could not be reached for comment.