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Wade v. City of Fruitland

United States District Court, D. Idaho

March 4, 2014

JAMEE L. WADE, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF FRUITLAND; CITY OF FRUITLAND POLICE DEPARTMENT; AND OFFICER BILL COPELAND, CITY OF FRUITLAND POLICE DEPARTMENT, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

CANDY W. DALE, District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Jamee Wade filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants City of Fruitland, its Police Department, and Officer Bill Copeland, claiming that Officer Copeland's use of deadly force incident to a call regarding a domestic disturbance constituted excessive force under the Fourth Amendment. Wade brings two additional claims under the Idaho Tort Claims Act for reckless, willful and wanton conduct, and gross negligence.

Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the facts are undisputed as a matter of law and they are entitled to judgment on all four counts asserted in the Complaint. The Court conducted a hearing on February 26, 2014. After carefully considering the parties' arguments, the relevant authorities, and the record before the Court, the Court finds there are disputed issues of material fact that preclude summary judgment. The Court's analysis follows.

FACTS[1]

On December 22, 2011, Wade attended a movie with his mother, Eva Wade, and became agitated during the movie. During the ride home, Wade and his mother argued, and Wade threatened to kill his mother.[2] Fearing for her safety, Mrs. Wade drove to her mother's house located at N.W. 2nd Avenue in Payette County rather than returning to her home alone with her son. Initially, Wade prevented his mother from exiting the car, but she eventually was able to leave. On her way inside her mother's residence, Mrs. Wade called 911, informing the dispatcher that a relative was threatening to kill her. Once Mrs. Wade was inside her mother's residence, she locked the doors and waited for police to arrive. Wade remained in the passenger seat of the vehicle, which was parked in the driveway.

Officer Copeland and Officer Carter were dispatched separately to the residence, with Officer Copeland assigned an assisting role. Officer Copeland recalls being informed by police dispatch that Wade was making threats, but that he had remained in the car. Enroute, Officer Carter briefed Officer Copeland about an incident that occurred the night before, where Wade had called police dispatch and demanded they send out a SWAT team, and that Wade "was looking for a fight." Copeland Depo. at 90 (Dkt. 36-10.) Officer Carter had actually spoken to Wade the night before, and "talked Jamee down." Carter Depo. at 45 (Dkt. 36-11.) Carter felt Copeland needed to know of the incident the night prior so Officer Copeland could know what type of situation he might be getting himself into, as there was a possible officer safety issue. Carter Depo. at 46 (Dkt. 35-4.) As a result of Officer Carter's briefing, Officer Copeland had a "heightened sense of awareness." Copeland Depo. at 90. Officer Copeland had responded also to an attempted suicide call on September 12, 2011, the subject of which was Wade, who had slit his wrists using a small boot knife.

Officer Copeland arrived at the residence first, and turned on his spotlight and take-down lights to illuminate the area in front of the car. Officer Copeland then exited his vehicle. Officer Carter had not yet arrived.

The next set of events occurring in the driveway the night of December 22, 2011, differ depending upon witness recollection, and there is no audio or video recording of Wade's initial encounter with Officer Copeland after Copeland arrived on the scene. According to Officer Copeland, as he approached the parked vehicle, the passenger door opened, Wade exited and started walking toward the patrol car. Copeland described Wade as wearing a hoody sweatshirt and winter clothes. Copeland reportedly commanded Wade to stop and show his hands, but instead, Wade threw the sweatshirt hoody over his face, put his hands in his pockets, and continued walking toward Copeland's patrol car. Copeland allegedly gave Wade more commands to stop and show his hands, or he would shoot, but Copeland reported that Wade yelled, "Fuck it, do it, fucking, let's do it, or fucking do it, then, something to that effect." Copeland Depo. at 108-109 (Dkt. 36-10.) The entire time, Copeland avers that Wade's hands were in his pockets, his face was covered, and Wade did not obey his commands. Although Copeland did not see a weapon, because Wade failed to comply and "continued to aggress, " Copeland fired two shots and Wade went down. Copeland knew the shots hit Wade, because he described Wade as "grabbing his upper chest and arm area." Copeland Depo. at 111 (Dkt. 36-10.)

Mrs. Wade, who had moved inside the house to her mother's bedroom, had a view of the driveway from the bedroom window. She describes the events differently. She stated she saw Wade "get out of the car with his hands up in the air and walk toward the police car that was at the end of the driveway." Eva Wade Depo. at 27 (Dkt. 35-4.) Mrs. Wade described Wade's hands as in the air "as soon as he got out of the car." Eva Wade Depo. at 65 (Dkt. 36-9.) Mrs. Wade remembers that Wade's hands were in the air "from the time he got out of his vehicle until the time he was out of [her] sight." Mrs. Wade also described her son as "not aggressive, " which she could see when she observed him walking. Eva Wade Depo. at 76 (Dkt. 36-9.) After Wade walked out of Mrs. Wade's line of sight at the window, she heard two shots. The next time Mrs. Wade saw her son was out by the road, after hearing three more gunshots. Eva Wade Depo. at 70 (Dkt. 36-9.)

Wade recalls he was told by Officer Copeland to exit the vehicle, and put his hands in the air, "which [he] did, " and to take steps toward Officer Copeland, which he did. Wade Depo. at 69, 92 (Dkt. 36-8.) Wade heard Officer Copeland say, "stop, " and that because he was "halfway through a step, " Wade finished his step, and that is when he was shot in the abdomen and in the right upper arm. Wade Depo. at 70 (Dkt. 36-8.) After falling to the ground, Wade does not recall the next series of events. Id. at 95-97 (Dkt. 36-8.)

Copeland contends that he continued to give Wade commands while Wade was on the ground to "show his hands, " and to stay on the ground, but that Wade stood up, and began advancing upon Officer Copeland. Copeland Depo. at 115 (Dkt. 36-10.) Officer Copeland described Wade as continuing to "aggress" him, and failing to obey his commands to stop, causing Copeland to back up out into the road. Copeland Depo. at 111-113 (Dkt. 36-10.) Copeland did not see a weapon when Wade approached. Id. But Copeland described Wade as aggressively advancing upon him, swinging his arms and stalking toward him, and failing to comply with Officer Copeland's verbal commands to stop and get on the ground. Officer Copeland fired three more rounds, and Wade fell to the ground.

Officer Carter arrived just prior to the second round of shots to see Officer Copeland fire on Wade, and witnessed Wade fall to the ground. Carter Depo. at 34 (Dkt. 36-11.) Officer Carter had activated his camera and video recording device upon arriving at the scene. Officer Carter described Wade's gestures and demeanor as indicating rage. Carter Depo. at 47. Defendants provided the video recording of the second round of shots fired. Naylor Decl. Ex. C.[3] Copeland and Carter then secured Wade and the scene.

Defense expert Greg Meyer, a former member of the Los Angeles Police Department, has offered the opinion that Officer Copeland's tactical actions as the first responder to arrive on scene were reasonable based upon his prior knowledge of Wade, and the sudden aggressive action by Wade. As a result, Mr. Meyer is of the opinion that Copeland's initial use of deadly force was objectively reasonable given the totality of the circumstances, and that the second use of deadly force against a determined, hostile and aggressively advancing subject was objectively reasonable. In Mr. Meyer's opinion, Wade's hands could not have been raised over his head when the first two shots were fired based upon the trajectory of the bullet that hit Wade in the upper arm.

According to Plaintiff's expert Jeffrey Noble, who was the Deputy Chief of Police with the Irvine, California, Police Department for 28 years, neither use of force was reasonable. Mr. Noble is of the opinion that Officer Copeland's fear for his safety was irrationally based solely upon Wade's attire and the fact Wade's hands were in his pockets. Further, Mr. Noble's opinion is that the second use of deadly force, after Wade was shot twice, was unreasonable because Wade was already wounded, was not brandishing a weapon, and was out of arm's reach of Officer Copeland, and another police officer was on the scene.

Officer Copeland's use of force was investigated by the Idaho State Police, which concluded their investigation on January 31, 2012. Based upon the ISP investigation and an Administrative Panel Review, Officer Copeland's use of force was determined not to violate any use of force policy of the City of Fruitland Police Department.

Based on the above facts, Wade's four count Complaint alleges one constitutional violation under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 of excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment (Counts I and II); reckless, willful, and wanton conduct (Count III) pursuant to Idaho Code § 6-901; and gross negligence pursuant to Idaho Code § 6-901 (Count IV). Defendants seek summary judgment on all four of Wade's claims.

DISPOSITION

1. Summary Judgment Standards

A principal purpose of summary judgment is to "isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims...." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). It is "not a disfavored procedural shortcut, " but is instead the "principal tool[ ] by which factually insufficient claims or defenses [can] be isolated and prevented from going to trial with the attendant unwarranted consumption of public and private resources." Id. at 327. "[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986).

The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Devereaux v. Abbey, 263 F.3d 1070, 1076 (9th Cir. 2001). To carry this burden, the moving party need not introduce any affirmative evidence (such as affidavits or deposition excerpts) but may simply point out the absence of evidence to support the ...


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