A Northbrook man accused of killing his son filed a federal lawsuit Monday alleging that Northbrook police violated his constitutional rights during their arrest and subsequent interrogation of him.
Hyungseok Koh, 58, has been imprisoned since police arrested him on April 16, 2009, when , Paul Koh, then 22. Attorneys for the state allege that Koh stabbed Paul to death in the doorway of the family’s Northbrook home. Prosecutors cite his videotaped confessions to the Northbrook Police Department as evidence, among other things.
But Koh’s lawyers say that police never should have arrested him in the first place. The suit filed in federal court Monday charges one Wheeling police officer and eight Northbrook police officers, including Chief Charles Wernick, with counts of false arrest, coercive interrogation and conspiracy against Koh and his wife, Eunsook. With each count, his lawyers seek $100,000 in compensatory damages and $50,000 in punitive damages, along with attorneys’ fees.
A spokesperson for the Northbrook Police Department said he could not comment on legal proceedings involving police officers. Meanwhile, lawyers and witnesses involved in Koh’s murder trial are under a gag order, meaning that they are prohibited from speaking to members of the press. Patrick Walsh, a lawyer with Elliot R. Zinger & Associates, which is representing Koh, explained that he was limited in what he could comment on, even in the separate case against the police officers, because of the gag order.
“I think it pretty much speaks for itself in regard to what is important,” he said.
Koh’s Attorneys Accuse Northbrook Police of Wrongful Arrest, Coercion
Koh called 911 twice at about 3:30 a.m. April 16, 2009, to report that he needed help for his son at the family’s Birch Road home, according to the suit. Four police officers arrived about 15 minutes later to find Paul Koh lying in the entryway with wounds on his neck, head, face, chest and hands. Next to his body was a large knife covered in blood.
According to the suit, Hyungseok Koh was “in a state of panic” and wanted to drive his son to the hospital in his car, “but was thwarted in doing so.” The suit alleges that instead, Koh and his wife, Eunsook, were “transported against their will” to the police station, and that the couple asked several times on the way if they could follow their son’s body to the hospital.
Koh’s attorneys say that there was no evidence to support the arrest. Among other issues, they cite the fact that no bloody clothes were found in the Kohs’ home and the fact that police did not conduct interviews with neighbors or friends before transporting Koh and his wife to the police station.
Once he was in custody, officers interrogated Koh in three separate videotaped interviews beginning at 7:30 a.m., according to the suit. Koh, who emigrated from Korea before his son was born, is not a native English speaker, so Northbrook police enlisted the help of the Wheeling police officer named in the suit, who is of Korean descent but not a native Korean speaker.
During the interrogation—while he was “in obvious shock and grieving”—Koh was “yelled at, lied to, manipulated and repeatedly wrongfully accused of his son’s murder,” his lawyers allege.
According to court documents, Koh confessed to his son’s murder while he was being interrogated and even described how he killed him. But his attorneys say that through “physical and psychological coercion,” the police officers named in the suit “created false and misleading oral statements, which they then attributed to [Koh] as factual.” Koh’s attorneys as evidence in the criminal case against him, but both failed.
Case Involves Koh’s Constitutional Rights
Koh’s attorneys allege that through their actions, the Northbrook and Wheeling police officers deprived Koh of his constitutional rights as set forth by the fourth, fifth and 15th amendments, which govern arrests, abuse of government authority and due process in civil and criminal proceedings.
The filing was timed to meet the statute of limitations on legal proceedings related to the arrests, which proscribes that all cases must be filed within two years of the event.
“Regardless of the state of the criminal proceeding, we had to file these to preserve them for after the criminal proceeding,” Walsh said. “We are certainly looking forward to litigating this case.”
Cheryl Fayne-DePersio, communications manager for the village of Northbrook, said the village did not yet know who would be representing the police officers in the suit.
“We’re looking into the matter, how it will be handled,” she said.
Along with Chief Wernick, the Northbrook police officers named in the suit are: Detectives Graf and Ustich, Commanders Eisen and Dunham, and Officers Johnson, Meents and Celia. Wheeling Police Officer Sung Phil Kim is also named.
Koh remains in jail, with bail set at $5 million, according to the Cook County Sheriff’s website. His next court appearance is scheduled for April 27 in Skokie Circuit Court.