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Monday, November 30, 2015

Officers Had Qualified Immunity for Criminal Trespass Arrest

A timber company had a contract with a property owner to harvest timber on the owner's property. According to the property owner, the timber company harvested trees beyond the owner's fence line, extending into neighboring property. When the owner discovered this, he sent a "cease and desist" letter to the timber company and informed the company that it was no longer welcome on the property.  Nevertheless, the timber company continued to enter the property to harvest timber and was subsequently arrested by the county sheriff.  

The company sued the county and sheriff, claiming "false arrest" based on its argument that it had the right to be on the property pursuant to the timber deed.  The county defended its actions, arguing that it had the right to arrest the timber company where the owner notified the company that it would contact the sheriff if the company refused to leave the property and respect the cease and desist letter.

Both the district court and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the county.  First, even if the company had a lawful right to be on the property initially (through the timber deed), if a person refuses to leave after receiving notice from the owner to depart, that person can be guilty of criminal trespass under Illinois law. Second, the timber deed did not protect the timber company where the company allegedly harvested timber beyond that allowed in the agreement. And finally, the sheriff and officers had established qualified immunity for its actions where it had probably cause to arrest for criminal trespass where it had contacted the state's attorney for advise on whether the actions constituted criminal trespass. 

Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf


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