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Maddox v. City of Sandpoint

United States District Court, D. Idaho

September 29, 2017

DANA MADDOX on behalf of D.M and D.M., and RAYMOND FOSTER on behalf of H.F., minor children and heirs of JEANETTA RILEY, deceased;
v.
CITY OF SANDPOINT, a political subdivision of the State of Idaho, CITY OF SANDPOINT POLICE DEPARTMENT, a department of the City of Sandpoint, SKYLAR CARL ZIEGLER, in his individual and official capacity, MICHAEL HENRY VALENZUELA, in his individual and official capacity, GARRET L. JOHNSON, in his individual and official capacity, COREY COON, in his individual and official capacity, JOHN OR JANE DOES #1-10, Employees of the Sandpoint Police Department, and ROSEMARY BRINKMEIR and BONNER CUNTY GENERAL HOSPITAL, Defendants. SHANE RILEY, an individual, and as Personal Representative, heir and husband to the deceased, and on behalf of their unborn child, Plaintiff,

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          B. LYNN WINMILL, CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         INTRODUCTION

         Before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 55). Although Defendants moved for summary judgment on all claims, the parties agreed by stipulation to first resolve the question of whether the Defendant officers are entitled to qualified immunity. (Dkt. 56). Briefing on the issue of qualified immunity was completed on January 30, 2016. The Court heard oral argument on March 9, 2017, and took the matter under advisement. For the reasons explained below, the Court finds that the Defendant officers are not entitled to qualified immunity, and thus will deny Defendants Motion for Summary Judgment.

         BACKGROUND

         On July 8, 2014, police officers with the City of Sandpoint Police shot and killed Jeanetta Riley outside the Bonner General Hospital in Sandpoint. Def.'s Br. at 3, Dkt. 55-1. At approximately 9:13 pm, Defendant Officers Skylar Ziegler, Michael Valenzuela, and Garret Johnson responded to a 911 radio call from dispatch reporting a possible weapons offense. Johnson Aff. ¶ 8-9, Dkt. 55-7. Dispatch reported there was a female outside the Bonner General Hospital with a knife, threatening to kill people. Coon Aff. Ex. E at. 21:12:51, Dkt. 55-3. Officers Ziegler, Valenzuela, and Johnson responded to the scene in two patrol cars with their lights and sirens on. Ziegler Aff. ¶ 8, Dkt. 55-9. While en route to the hospital, dispatch advised that they received a panic alarm call and two additional calls from emergency room staff, again reporting that “the suspect is female, the male reported her as having a knife and wanting to kill people.” Id.

         Officer Ziegler arrived on the scene first. Id. at 5. Officers Valenzuela and Johnson arrived shortly thereafter in the same patrol vehicle. Id. Immediately upon arriving, the officers observed Shane Riley walking across the street, pointing back towards a white van. Valenzuela Aff. ¶ 14, Dkt. 55-8. On video, Jeanetta Riley can be seen seated in the passenger seat of that white van when Office Ziegler arrived. Coon Aff. Ex. C at. 2:34, Dkt. 55-3. The passenger door was open. Id. There was no one else present. Id.

         Officer Ziegler exited his vehicle with his sidearm drawn, and yelled for Jeanetta to “walk over here” and to “show me your hands.” Ziegler Aff. ¶ 16, Dkt. 55-9; Coon Aff. Ex. D at 1:49, Dkt. 55-3. Officer Valenzuela exited the other vehicle with his assault rifle drawn and began to approach Jeanetta from the street. Valenzuela Aff. ¶ 16, Dkt. 55-8; Coon Aff. Ex. B at 3:04, Dkt. 55-3. Officer Ziegler then began to approach Jeanetta, also from the street. Coon Aff. Ex. D at 1:51, Dkt. 55-3. Officer Johnson exited his vehicle with his sidearm drawn, and he and Officer Valenzuela both yelled at Jeanetta to “show me your hands.” Johnson Aff. ¶ 14, Dkt. 55-7; Valenzuela Aff. ¶17, Dkt. 55-8. Jeanetta responded “F*** you, ” but at some point, raised her hands and began walking towards Officer Johnson as he approached her along the sidewalk. Id; Coon Aff. Ex. B at 3:09, Dkt. 55-3. In her right hand, Jeanetta had a filet knife with a four-and-a-half-inch blade. Coon Aff. Ex. F at 8-9, Dkt. 55-5.

         As Officers Ziegler and Valenzuela approached Jeanetta, they continued to yell for her to “show me your hands.” Coon Aff. Ex. B at 3:06, Dkt. 55-3. Office Johnson yelled for Jeanetta to “drop the knife, ” and she responded “No!” and continued to walk towards him. Johnson Aff. ¶ 15, Dkt. 55-7; Coon Aff. Ex. B at 3:10, Dkt. 55-3. At the same time, Officer Ziegler re-holstered his sidearm and drew his taser. Ziegler Aff. ¶ 16, Dkt. 55-9; Coon Aff. Ex. B at 3:10, Dkt. 55-3. Officers Valenzuela and Ziegler continued to approach Jeannetta, again yelling at her to “drop the knife, ” while Officer Ziegler brought his taser up and pointed it at Jeanetta. Coon Aff. Ex. B at 3:11, Dkt. 55-3, Ex. F at 8, Dkt. 55-5. Jeanetta yelled “Bring it on.” Coon Aff. Ex. B at 3:12, Dkt. 55-3. At some point, Jeanetta changed course and began walking towards Officers Ziegler and Valenzuela. After Jeanetta turned away, Officer Johnson saw a taser dot on her and reached for his own taser. Linscott Decl. Ex. C at 6, Dkt. 61-3.

         Officers Valenzuela and Ziegler again yelled at Jeanetta to “drop the knife, ” and continued to approach her. Coon Aff. Ex. B at 3:13, Dkt. 55-3. Jeanetta responded again “No.” Id. at 3:14. Officer Ziegler still had his taser pointed at Jeanetta. Id. Either Officer Valenzuela or Officer Ziegler again yelled for Jeanetta to “drop the knife.” Id. The officers reversed course and began to back away, and Officer Ziegler lowered his taser and raised his service weapon. Id. at 3:15. Jeanetta responded again, louder, “No!” Id. at 3:16.

         Officer Valenzuela fired his assault rifle three times, striking Jeanetta once in the sternum and once in the right shoulder. Id. At 3:16; Coon Aff. Ex. F at 8, Dkt. 55-5. Jeanetta fell forward and the knife bounced against the ground and flew into the street. Id. Officer Ziegler fired his sidearm twice, striking Jeanetta once in the back. Id. Officer Valenzuela's shot striking Jeanetta's sternum was fatal, as was Officer Ziegler's shot striking her back. Coon Aff. Ex. F at 8, Dkt. 55-5.

         Plaintiffs' filed suit under 42 U.S. § 1983, claiming the Defendant officers used excessive force against Jeanetta in violation of her Fourth Amendment rights, among other claims. Am. Compl. at 8. Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, asserting they were entitled to qualified immunity with respect to Plaintiffs' § 1983 claims.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate where a party can show that, as to any claim or defense, “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). One of the principal purposes 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.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). There must be a genuine dispute as to any material fact - a fact “that may affect the outcome of the case.” Id. at 248.

         The evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and the Court must not make credibility findings. Id. at 255. Direct testimony of the non-movant must be believed, however implausible. Leslie v. Grupo ICA, 198 F.3d 1152, 1159 (9th Cir. 1999). On the other hand, the Court is not required to adopt unreasonable inferences from circumstantial evidence. McLaughlin v. Liu, 849 F.2d 1205, 1208 (9th Cir. 1988).

         The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine dispute as to material fact. Devereaux v. Abbey, 263 F.3d 1070, 1076 (9th Cir. 2001) (en banc). 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 nonmoving party's case. Fairbank v. Wunderman Cato Johnson, 212 F.3d 528, 532 (9th Cir.2000).

         This shifts the burden to the non-moving party to produce evidence sufficient to support a jury verdict in her favor. Deveraux, 263 F.3d at 1076. The non-moving party must go beyond the pleadings and show “by her [ ] affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, or admissions on file” that a genuine dispute of material fact exists. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324.

         ANALYSIS

         The doctrine of qualified immunity “protects government officials from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009). Qualified immunity gives government officials “breathing room to make reasonable but mistaken judgments about open legal questions. When properly applied, it protects all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.” Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 563 U.S. 731, 743 (2011).

         To determine whether an officer is entitled to qualified immunity, the Court must ask whether the facts alleged, taken in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, show “(1) ... the officer's conduct violated a constitutional right, and (2) the right at issue was clearly established at the time of the incident such that a reasonable officer would have understood his or her conduct to be unlawful in that situation.” Torres v. City of Madera, 648 F.3d 1119, 1123 (9th Cir. 2011). Courts may use their discretion deciding which of the two prongs to analyze first. Mueller v. Auker, 576 F.3d 979, 993 (9th Cir. 2009).

         1. Violation of a Constitutional Right

         The use of force, deadly or not, violates the Fourth Amendment when it is “objectively unreasonable.” Torres, 648 F.3d at 1123. Courts analyze the use of force “from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.” Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 396 (1989). If the use of force is reasonable, “taking into account all relevant circumstances, ” there is no constitutional violation. County of Los Angeles v. Mendez, 137 S.Ct. 1539, 1547 (2017).

         The “settled and exclusive framework” for determining the reasonableness of excessive force is “whether the totality of the circumstances justifie[s] a particular sort of search or seizure.” Mendez, 137 S.Ct. at 1546. The Court must balance “the type and amount of force inflicted” against “the importance of the government interests at stake.” Miller v. Clark County, 340 F.3d 959, 964 (9th Cir. 2003). As outlined in Graham, in analyzing the governmental interest, the Court must consider “(1) the severity of the crime at issue, (2) whether the suspect posed an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and (3) whether the suspect was actively resisting arrest.” Id. at 964.

         The Graham factors are not exclusive. See Mattos v. Agarano, 661 F.3d 433, 441 (9th Cir. 2011). Rather, the Court must examine “the totality of the circumstances and . . . whatever specific factors may be appropriate in a particular case.” Bryan v. MacPherson, 630 F.3d 805, 826 (9th Cir. 2010) (internal quotations and citations omitted). Relevant factors may include “whether officers gave a warning before employing the force” and “whether there were less intrusive means” the officers may have used. Glenn v. Washington Cnty., 673 F.3d 864, 876 (9th Cir. 2011). Finally, the analysis may include whether the officers engaged in “unreasonable conduct prior to the use of force that foreseeably created the need to use it.” Mendez, 137 S.Ct. at 1547, fn. *.[1]

         The reasonableness of a particular use of force cannot be determined through the application of mechanical rules because reasonableness must “be assessed by carefully considering the objective facts and circumstances confronting the officers, ” Smith v. City of Hemet, 394 F.3d 689, 701 (9th Cir. 2005). As such, determining whether a particular use of force was unreasonable is a highly fact specific inquiry.

         On summary judgment, the Court must draw factual inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, and “may not resolve genuine disputes of fact in favor of the party seeking summary judgment.” Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1866 (2014. “Because the excessive force inquiry nearly always requires a jury to sift through disputed factual contentions, and to draw inferences therefrom . . . summary judgment or judgment as a matter of law in excessive force cases should be granted sparingly.” Smith, 394 F.3d at 701. However, “defendants can still win on summary judgment if the district court concludes, after resolving all factual disputes in favor of the plaintiffs, that the officer's use of force was objectively reasonable under the circumstances.” Scott v. Henrich, 39 F.3d 912, 915 (9th Cir. 1994).

         “A simple statement by an officer that he fears for his safety or the safety of others is not enough, there must be objective facts to justify such concern.” Deorle v. Rutherford, 272 F.3d 1272, 1281 (9th Cir. 2001). Though direct factual evidence is often one-sided in a deadly force case because “the officer defendant is often the only surviving eyewitness, ” Henrich, 39 F.3d at 915, here there are witnesses on both sides able to give competent evidence as to the material facts at issue. Because these witnesses “come to this case with their own perceptions, recollections, and even potential biases . . . genuine disputes are generally resolved by juries in our adversarial system.” Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. at 1868.

         A. Type and ...


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