Nightmare family feud: Suit alleges cop set feds on daughter-in-law
BY KIM JANSSEN Federal Courts Reporter July 7, 2014 4:08PM
Jennifer Scherr and her daughter Liza.
Updated: August 9, 2014 6:09AM
It was the family feud of nightmares.
Jennifer Scherr was the mother of an 8-year-old girl dying of brain cancer.
She says her father-in-law, a Chicago cop, helped her grow marijuana in her Evergreen Park basement to medicate her dying child’s suffering.
Officer Curtis Scherr gave her weighing scales and growing lamps, told her how not to get caught, and even helped tend what he called her “garden,” she says.
Then, in the summer of 2012, little Liza died, and everything went to hell.
Her father-in-law described Liza’s remains as a “biohazard” and wanted them removed from his daughter-in-law’s home before everyone had paid their respects, she says.
He added relatives she didn’t want included to the obituary, then brought them to the funeral, she says. He placed Catholic icons on Liza’s casket, though Liza and her mom were Protestants, she says.
And a week later, he tried to take her ashes from the funeral home and flew into a rage when he wasn’t allowed to, she says.
Then he and another cop went to a Cook County judge and got a search warrant, saying there were drugs in Jennifer Scherr’s basement.
The marijuana plants were gone by the time the DEA raided, four days after the funeral — Jennifer Scherr said she threw them out when her daughter died.
But it was just the start of a legal saga that last week ended up in the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Jennifer Scherr’s allegations — which she repeated in a recent interview with the Chicago Sun-Times — were initially made in a federal lawsuit against her 64-year-old father-in-law, alleging he violated her constitutional rights by orchestrating the raid.
Jennifer Scherr’s lawsuit was tossed out last year by U.S. District Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan, who said it was legally irrelevant that Curtis Scherr may have been motivated by an “unfortunate family feud.”
And last week the appeals court agreed, saying the only relevant facts were that Jennifer Scherr admitted she was illegally growing marijuana and that her father-in-law knew about it.
But in a 10-page opinion published by the 7th Circuit on Wednesday in Chicago, Judge Richard Posner also wrote that, if Jennifer Scherr’s allegations are true, the officer’s actions were “atrocious.”
If the allegations are true, Curtis Scherr “intended to inflict severe emotional distress on his daughter-in-law and succeeded in doing so,” Posner wrote.
And the appeals court went further still, arguing Illinois should tighten its search warrant process to avoid any similar conflicts of interest between police and raid targets in the future.
It even took the unusual step of suggesting Jennifer Scherr file a different lawsuit in state court, where Posner said she might have a more “plausible claim.”
Curtis Scherr — who had been on extended disability leave since 2005 and finally retired from the Chicago Police Department with a full pension last year — did not return calls seeking comment last week.
His attorney, Jim Sotos, said the courts’ rulings showed: “This whole case was a very sad and tragic family matter that should never have been in court.”
Sotos said there was “a whole other side to the story,” but refused to share it or to discuss any of the specific allegations in the lawsuit, none of which were addressed in either of the courts’ decisions.
The quick dismissal of the lawsuit means Curtis Scherr has never been forced to publicly account for why he filed an affidavit that led to the raid on his daughter-in-law’s home.
The affidavit, also signed by Chicago Police Officer Ruben Briones and used to win a search warrant from Cook County Judge Nick Ford, was filed in court.
Chicago Police spokesman Martin Maloney said police ended their investigation when Jennifer Scherr’s lawyer John Billhorn did not respond to a 2012 letter asking for Jennifer Scherr to speak with detectives.
Billhorn said he “can’t recall” any such letter. But he said Jennifer Scherr is considering a state court claim against her father-in-law of the kind Posner’s ruling seemed to suggest.
Jennifer Scherr said she still struggles to comprehend the “spite” with which she says her father-in-law treated her.
The hospital bed in which Liza spent her final months was still in her family’s front room when a dozen agents raided her home and rifled through rooms, looking for drugs, Jennifer Scherr said.
“I don’t understand his inner workings,” she said of her father-in-law.
“I just want him to be held accountable for his actions as a police officer.”