Muhammad v. Pearson, No. 15-3044 (7th Cir. 2018)Annotate this Case
Officer Pearson and other Chicago police officers executed a search warrant for “apartment 1.” There was a problem with the warrant. Apartment 1 did not exist. The building contained apartment 1A and apartment 1B. The officers searched apartment 1A but did not find the drugs and related items they were seeking. Pearson nonetheless arrested an occupant, Muhammed. The occupants filed sued Pearson under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging unlawful entry and false arrest. The district court granted Pearson summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed on narrow grounds. Law enforcement officers who discover that a search warrant does not clearly specify the premises to be searched must ordinarily stop and clear up the ambiguity before they conduct or continue the search. If they do not, they may lose the legal protection the warrant provides for an invasion of privacy and accompanying restraints on liberty. Pearson, however, testified that he did not know there were two apartments and offered undisputed, reliable, and contemporaneous documents confirming his after-the-fact testimony that the address searched was actually the correct target of the search authorized by the ambiguous warrant. Pearson had arguable probable cause to arrest plaintiff Muhammad for suspected drug trafficking, though Pearson quickly confirmed that Muhammad was not the right suspect and released him within 15 minutes, so summary judgment based on qualified immunity was also correct on that unlawful arrest claim.