United States District Court, D. Idaho
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
Lynn Winmill, Chief U.S. District Court Judge
close of the evidence, the four defendants made a verbal
motion for judgment as a matter of law under Rule 50(a)(2).
To prevail on that motion, the defendants had the burden of
showing that “a reasonable jury would not have a
legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for”
plaintiff Rice. The Court granted that motion as to
defendants Morehouse, Hill, and Shaffer, and denied the
motion as to defendant Abercrombie. This Memorandum Decision,
along with the Court's rulings from the bench, shall
constitute the Court's analysis supporting that ruling.
the Fourth Amendment, officers may use only such force as is
objectively reasonable under the circumstances. Graham v.
Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989). That analysis requires
balancing the “nature and quality of the
intrusion” on a person's liberty with the
“countervailing governmental interests at stake”
to determine whether the use of force was objectively
reasonable under the circumstances. Id. at 396.
Determining whether a police officer's use of force was
reasonable “requires careful attention to the facts and
circumstances of each particular case” and a
“careful balancing” of an individual's
liberty with the government's interest in the application
of force. Santos v. Gates, 287 F.3d 846, 853
(9th Cir. 2002). Because such balancing nearly
always requires a jury to sift through disputed factual
contentions, and to draw inferences therefrom, the Circuit
has held on many occasions that summary judgment or judgment
as a matter of law in excessive force cases should be granted
sparingly. Id. “This is because police
misconduct cases almost always turn on a jury's
credibility determinations.” Id.
case, however, is one of the few where a partial judgment as
a matter of law is justified. This becomes clear upon a
review of the undisputed evidence as to each officer. In
conducting that review, the Court considered that each
officer was responding to a Code 3 call from Officer
Murikami, signaling that she was in imminent danger. While
Officer Murikami - an Idaho State Police Officer - eventually
called in a Code 4 (meaning she was no longer in danger)
while the defendant officers were in route, the undisputed
evidence is that (1) the Idaho State Police had a different
radio frequency from that of the Boise City Officers or the
Ada County Officers; (2) none of the four defendants had
radios with the capability of monitoring the Idaho State
Police frequency, and (3) none of them heard the Code 4.
Thus, each officer arrived on the scene assuming - reasonably
- that Rice posed a serious threat to Officer Murikami.
Rice was pulled from his car by other officers and taken to
the ground, Officer Hill positioned himself near Rice's
head and left shoulder. His sole physical contact with Rice
occurred when he placed his right hand on the middle between
Rice's shoulder blades to help hold Rice down on the
ground. During this time, Officer Hill held a flashlight in
his left hand. As soon as other officers handcuffed Rice,
Officer Hill took his right hand off Rice and stepped away
from him. Officer Hill applied no other force to Rice or had
any other physical contact with him.
Shaffer jumped in when Officer Murikami lost control of
Rice's left arm while removing Rice from his car. Officer
Shaffer grabbed Rice's left arm and - with Officer
Morehouse - took Rice down to the ground. The Court
previously held the officers had qualified immunity for this
take-down, so it is not an issue in this case. Once the two
officers took Rice to the ground, Officer Shaffer lost
control of Rice's left arm as Rice landed on it.
Thereafter, Officer Shaffer was trying to get control of
Rice's left arm. Eventually Officer Shaffer got control
of the left arm and helped other officers handcuff Rice.
Officer Shaffer applied no other force to Rice or had any
other physical contact with him.
Morehouse was on Rice's right side, leading him to the
back of the car with, first, Officer Murikami and then, when
Officer Murikami lost her grip, with Officer Shaffer on
Rice's left side. When Officer Morehouse and Officer
Shaffer took Rice to the ground, Officer Morehouse landed
with both knees on the ground. While lying flat on the
ground, Officer Morehouse was trying to maintain control of
Rice's right arm. He was eventually able to get on his
knees and scoot up to Rice's side where he was able -
with the assistance of another officer - to get Rice's
right arm in position to be handcuffed. At no time did
Officer Morehouse put his knees onto Rice - the Officer's
knees were on the ground - and at no time did he strike him
in any way.
Officers Morehouse and Shaffer took Rice to the ground,
Officer Abercrombie came in, got down on his knees, and took
ahold of Rice's right arm, assisting Officer Morehouse in
controlling Rice's right arm. At one point, officer
Abercrombie raises up and repositions himself to apply more
pressure by pressing his knee or shin to Rice's shoulder
or back. Rice claims that this action was a “knee
strike” that caused him considerable pain and injury;
Officer Morehouse counters that he was merely applying