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Split Court Bites on Chokehold Appeal

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An accused dealer will be retried after appellate court judges in the 3rd District found cops used “unpermitted force” when they pried a cache of crack cocaine from his mouth during a 2016 traffic stop. Cops admitted to grabbing Quennell Augusta by the throat after they pulled him over in Galesburg for failing to signal — a violation of the state’s prohibiton on police chokeholds that was enacted in the wake of Eric Garner’s death at the hands of New York City cops. The circuit judge who handed Augusta a six-year stretch for possession with intent to deliver in a Knox County bench trial denied a motion to suppress that evidence, ruling cops were within their rights in going after the plastic bag Augusta had tucked in his cheek.

Augusta’s appeal hinged both on the chokehold law and on probable cause and panel members each drew on differing aspects of the case in thier rulings. Writing the lead opinion,  Justice William Holdridge said that even though neither officer applied a choke, cops violated Augusta’s Fourth Amendment rights when they made contact with his neck. Justice Mary McDade said she considered the stop ‘subterfuge’ in concurring that cops executed an unreasonable seizure under state law, noting the turn-signal claim allowed them to act on a ‘hunch’ that Augusta was in possession. In a six-page dissent, Judge Robert Carter called denial of the motion to suppress an implicit assumption about police motive. He said the ruling could be challenged under the lesser-contact provision of the chokehold law, given that cops testified both that they sought to preserve evidence and that they feared ingestion of the drugs might induce a medical event.