United States District Court, D. Idaho
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;
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
LYNN WINMILL, CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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).
Violation of a Constitutional Right
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).
“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
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. *.
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
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).
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.
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