JOLIET, IL — Last year’s decision by City Manager Jim Capparelli and Joliet’s City Council not to reach an out-of-court settlement in a 2018 excessive force lawsuit brought against Joliet police officer Nick Crowley ultimately cost Joliet’s taxpayers more than $220,000, a Joliet Patch analysis found.
In 2018, Winnetka attorney Ian Barney of Barney & Hourihane filed a civil rights lawsuit against Crowley and Joliet stemming from the arrest of Joliet resident Christopher Simenson on May 28, 2016, in downtown Joliet.
The Itasca law firm defending Crowley and the city of Joliet denied any wrongdoing, and instead of reaching an out-of-court settlement, attorneys Michael Bersani and David Mathues chose to take the city’s case to a jury trial, which they ended up losing last summer.
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After four days of trial testimony, a jury seated at the Dirksen Federal Building in Chicago awarded compensatory damages of nearly $8,000 to Simenson.
More importantly, because the plaintiff won, Joliet was also forced to pay the legal bills for Simenson’s lawyer. And those legal bills topped $100,000.
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A recent Joliet Patch Freedom of Information Act request found that Joliet taxpayers had to pay a total of $119,245 to the plaintiff’s side because the city’s lawyers lost the Crowley case at trial.
The payout breakdown to the plaintiff was as follows:
- $7,771 for Simenson’s compensatory damages
- $108,000 for plaintiff’s attorney, Ian Barney
- $3,474 in additional costs and expenses associated with the plaintiff’s lawsuit.
In addition to the $119,245, Hervas, Condon & Bersani collected at least $104,343 in payments from Joliet, even though its law firm took the case to trial and lost, Joliet Patch determined.
For defending Crowley and the city, Joliet officials paid Hervas, Condon & Bersani: $30,334 in 2018, $8,698 in 2019, $,8,460 in 2020 and $56,851 in 2021.
According to its LinkedIn profile, “Hervas, Condon & Bersani, P.C. is a law firm rich in local government law and litigation experience. HC&B represents counties, villages, cities and park districts throughout the State of Illinois.”
In December, Joliet Patch reported that Joliet paid $511,357 to Hervas, Condon & Bersani to defend the city in multiple lawsuits, many involving the Joliet Police Department, between November 2020 and October 2021.
For the Simenson trial in downtown Chicago, the Itasca law firm had not just one, but two law firm partners inside the federal courtroom to defend Joliet and Officer Crowley.
As a result, Joliet’s taxpayers were paying between $430 and $450 in hourly attorneys fees during the entire Simenson trial, which lasted four days.
Bersani and Mathues billed Joliet more than $42,000 for their trial-related expenses in Chicago. For the first six months of 2021, Bersani and Mathues each billed Joliet at an hourly rate of $215. Their hourly fees increased to $225 per hour last July.
In addition, Bersani billed Joliet $996 for staying three nights at the JW Marriott, 151 West Adams St., Chicago, June 27-29, while Mathues, billed Joliet $920 for his three-night stay in a different room at the same Marriott hotel.
On the first day of the jury trial, June 28, Bersani billed Joliet for 10 hours of legal work while Mathues billed Joliet for 11.6 hours.
For day two of the trial, Bersani billed Joliet for 11.2 hours, while Mathues billed Joliet for 11 hours. For day three, Bersani billed 10.5 hours, and Mathues billed Joliet for 10.8 hours.
For day four, the final day of Simenson’s trial, July 1, Bersani billed Joliet for 10.5 hours at $225 per hour. Mathues billed Joliet for 10.8 hours, at his new billable rate, also $225 per hour.
After deliberations, the federal jury verdict went against Joliet and Crowley and in Simenson’s favor.
Back in 2018, Simenson’s lawyer from Winnetka filed the federal lawsuit against Crowley and Joliet accusing Crowley of excessive force and making a false arrest.
According to the deprivation of civil rights lawsuit:
Simenson was sitting on a park bench along the Des Plaines River near the Jefferson Street Bridge shortly after midnight on May 28, 2016. He was waiting for his mother to give him a ride home when several Joliet officers, including Crowley and Officer Luis Ayala approached him, asking if everything was OK.
Simenson learned that someone called 911 and reported that a man said he was going to jump off the Jefferson Street Bridge.
Simenson insisted to Joliet police that he never threatened to jump off the Jefferson Street Bridge, and he was just waiting for his mother to give him a ride home.
Simenson told the Joliet officers there must have been a misunderstanding because he told one of the Harrah’s Casino security guards, John Torres, that he was going to wait at the Jefferson Street Bridge — not jump off the bridge.
While the Joliet police talked with Simenson, a Joliet Fire Department ambulance showed up. Officer Ayala asked Simenson to meet with the paramedics at the back of the ambulance.
“At some point while Plaintiff was at the rear of the ambulance, he was approached by Defendant Crowley,” the lawsuit noted. “Defendant Crowley told Plaintiff that Plaintiff was going to the hospital in the ambulance.”
Simenson insisted he was fine, he was not suicidal and there was a misunderstanding. Simenson reiterated that his mother would be arriving shortly to give him a ride home.
That’s when Crowley became aggressive, insisting Simenson was going to the hospital, either voluntarily or in handcuffs.
“As Defendant Crowley forcibly placed Plaintiff’s hands behind his back, he slammed Plaintiff face-first onto the rear bed of the ambulance,” Simenson’s lawyer informed jurors. “As Plaintiff was slammed onto the rear bed of the ambulance, Plaintiff’s face struck the corner of a metal gun box.”
Crowley’s aggression caused Simenson to split his face open just under his eye, causing heavy bleeding.
“At no point prior to being slammed into the ambulance did Plaintiff physically resist Defendant Crowley, or any other Joliet police officer, in any way,” Simenson’s lawyer argued.
After shoving Simonson’s face into the back of the ambulance, Crowley had Simenson arrested on misdemeanor charges of resisting a peace officer.
On June 21, 2016, Joliet Police Detective Dwayne Weis filed the criminal complaint against Simenson, stating that Simenson “knowingly resisted the performance of Nicholas Crowley … knowing Nicholas Crowley to be a peace officer engaged in the execution of official duties, in that the defendant pulled away from Nicholas Crowley.”
On Feb. 14, 2017, the Will County State’s Attorney’s Office of Jim Glasgow dismissed the Joliet Police Department’s criminal charge against Simenson before trial.
Simenson “was only charged with an offense because Plaintiff was injured by Defendant Crowley during the incident,” his lawyer argued.
Crowley has been one of Joliet’s more controversial police officers in recent years.
In July 2017, several Joliet police supervisors had Crowley arrested and charged with two felony counts of reckless discharge of a firearm following an argument inside the townhouse he shared with his future wife.
During Crowley’s Will County Courthouse bench trial, his future wife, Joliet Police Officer Cassie Socha, testified that Crowley fired his gun into the ceiling of their townhouse during the early morning hours after her rescue pit bull named Gia began growling and tried to bite her.
Before the gun incident, the two off-duty officers had been drinking at parties, restaurants and bars all throughout the day around New Lenox and Joliet before they drove home together from Anthony’s Steakhouse & Pub near the Louis Joliet Mall shortly after 3 a.m.
In May 2018, Will County Judge Daniel Kennedy found Crowley not guilty of the criminal charges. The next month, Joliet Police Chief Brian Benton gave Crowley a 30-day unpaid suspension determining Crowley committed five violations of police department policies:
- Failure to perform his duties
- Conduct unbecoming a police officer
- Failure to notify of a discharge of a gun
- Failure to submit a report of a discharge of a gun
- Displaying a firearm without reasonable cause.
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