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Jones v. Wheeler

June 1, 2007

WILLIAM F. JONES, JR. PLAINTIFF
v.
DAVID WHEELER, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY; LEE FREEMAN, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Leon Holmes United States District Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

William F. Jones, Jr., brought claims for violation of his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment*fn1 rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a civil conspiracy claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and state-law claims for assault, battery, and false imprisonment against Jefferson County Deputy Sheriff David Wheeler and Pine Bluff Police Officer Lee Freeman, in their individual and official capacities. Freeman, individually and in his official capacity, has moved for summary judgment. Wheeler, in his official capacity, has moved for summary judgment.*fn2 For the following reasons, these motions are granted in part and denied in part.

A court should grant summary judgment when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). The party moving for summary judgment bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis of its motion and identifying the portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986); Group Health Plan, Inc. v. Philip Morris USA, Inc., 344 F.3d 753, 763 (8th Cir. 2003). When the moving party has carried its burden under Rule 56(c), the non-moving party must "come forward with 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio, 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1985) (quoting FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e)). The non-moving party sustains this burden by showing that there are "genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. When a non-moving party cannot make an adequate showing on a necessary element of the case on which that party bears the burden of proof, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court must view the facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment. Boerner v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., 260 F.3d 837, 841 (8th Cir. 2001) (citing Rabuska v. Crane Co., 122 F.3d 559, 562 (8th Cir. 1997)). If the evidence would allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the non-moving party, summary judgment should be denied.

Derickson v. Fidelity Life Assoc., 77 F.3d 263, 264 (8th Cir. 1996) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248).

I.

On or about June 16, 2005, Freeman, Wheeler, and several other officers of the Tri-County Drug Task Force executed a search warrant on Jones's residence. Wheeler, a Jefferson County Deputy Sheriff, entered the home first, followed by the other officers. Freeman, a Pine Bluff Police Officer, was fourth or fifth in the line of officers as they entered Jones's home.

Two individuals, Jones's brother and a woman, were in the front room of Jones's home. Jones was in the back of the home in a bedroom. The parties agree that Jones, his brother, and the woman all complied with the officers' commands to get down on the floor and were handcuffed. None of the three occupants of the home resisted the officers.

The parties disagree, however, as to what happened when Jones was handcuffed. Jones testified that Wheeler pulled Jones's hand back over his head trying to get it behind his back, causing injury to Jones's hand. He further testified that Freeman hit him in the side with a flashlight or similar object, causing injury to Jones's hip. Jones admits, however, that three officers went ahead of Freeman to secure Jones in the back room, that Freeman and another officer put handcuffs on Jones's brother and the woman in the front room, and that Jones, after being handcuffed, was escorted into the front room. Wheeler admits that he handcuffed Jones, but denies pulling on Jones's hand or otherwise using any force on Jones. Freeman denies hitting Jones or even touching him at any time during the encounter. Wheeler and Freeman both testified that Freeman was not in the bedroom when Jones was handcuffed.

After Jones, his brother, and the woman were handcuffed, they were held in the front room by one officer while Freeman, Wheeler, and the other officers searched the home. The officers did not have an arrest warrant for Jones. Wheeler and Freeman both testified that the policies of their law enforcement agencies require that all occupants of a home are to be handcuffed and detained while a search warrant is executed. The record does not reveal the length of time that Jones and the other two individuals remained handcuffed. Freeman testified that he thought the search lasted from about 5:00 p.m. to 6:10 p.m., but that he was not sure of this information.

Jones also asserts that Wheeler and Freeman damaged his property by knocking his door off its hinges, knocking holes in his walls, and destroying his furniture. Freeman and Wheeler both testified that the officers knocked at Jones's door upon their arrival, announced their presence, and waited a few seconds, but no one answered the door. Wheeler admitted that he pulled Jones's door open, but denied knocking it off the hinges. Wheeler and Freeman both denied putting any holes in the walls. During his deposition, Freeman was asked, "In your training in executing search warrants, what are you told about damage to personal property?" Freeman responded, "We would have to pay for it, so that's why we don't do it." Both Wheeler and Freeman testified that they did not notice whether the walls already had any holes in them at the time of the search.

Jones admitted in his deposition that he did not actually see Wheeler or Freeman damage his property. He denies that the officers knocked and announced their presence, however, and he testified that he heard a "big bang" when the officers entered his home. Jones stated that could not see what was happening throughout his home during the search because he was held in one spot, "[b]ut when [he] came back in there, stuff was all tore up." Jones has produced photographs of his home, showing holes in the sheetrock walls.

The parties agree that it is a policy, practice, and custom of the City of Pine Bluff that police officers "shall use only that force that is reasonably necessary to effectively bring an incident under control, while protecting the lives of the officer or anther [sic]" and that police officers should never violate the constitutional rights of citizens. The parties also agree that the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department has a use of force policy that provides that the use of force should be in direct relation to the level of threat encountered by an officer with the officer using the least amount of force necessary to subdue an individual.

Freeman and Wheeler both testified that handcuffing all occupants of a residence is standard procedure when executing a search warrant. Wheeler stated that this procedure is for officer safety. Wheeler testified that exceptions to this rule may apply, however, for small children or elderly or pregnant individuals. Neither Wheeler nor Freeman indicated whether this standard procedure is the product of an official policy of Jefferson County, the City of Pine Bluff, or the Tri-County Drug Task Force.

II.

Wheeler and Freeman both seek summary judgment in their official capacities. Freeman also seeks summary judgment in his individual capacity, while Wheeler admits that, if Jones's testimony is believed, Jones has established claims against Wheeler individually.

A. Freeman in his Individual Capacity

Jones asserts claims against Freeman in his individual capacity arising from Jones's alleged hip injury, his detention during the search, and the alleged damage to Jones's property caused during the search. Jones asserts a violation of his Fourth Amendment right against excessive force and state-law claims for assault and battery arising from Freeman's alleged actions in hitting Jones's hip.*fn3 Jones asserts that his Fourteenth Amendment right against deprivation of property without due process of law was violated by Freeman's destruction of property during the search. Jones asserts claims for violation of his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable seizure, violation his Fourteenth Amendment right against deprivation of liberty without due process of law, and false imprisonment under state law arising from his detention during the search. Finally, Jones claims that Freeman and Wheeler conspired with each other to deprive him of his constitutional rights.

Freeman first argues that he is entitled to qualified immunity. Freeman then argues that, even if he has no immunity, he is entitled to summary judgment as to all of Jones's claims because Jones has not produced evidence from which a reasonable jury could find Freeman liable. These issues are addressed separately below.

1. Qualified Immunity

Qualified immunity shields law enforcement officers from liability for civil damages where "their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 2738, 73 L.Ed. 2d 396 (1982). "Qualified immunity is an affirmative defense for which the defendant carries the burden of proof." Sparr v. Ward, 306 F.3d 589, 593 (8th Cir. 2002). The purpose of qualified immunity is to allow public officials to perform their duties in a manner they believe to be correct without fear for their own financial well-being. Id. "Toward this end, the rule has evolved that an official performing discretionary functions will generally be immune from liability unless a reasonable person in his position would have known his actions violated clearly established law." Id. (citing Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640, 107 S.Ct. 3034, 3039, 97 L.Ed. 2d 523 (1987)). "A court engaged in a qualified immunity inquiry uses a two-step process." Lawyer v. City of Council Bluffs, 361 F.3d 1099, 1103 (8th Cir. 2004). The first question is, taken in the light most favorable to the party asserting the injury, whether the facts alleged show that the official's conduct violated a constitutional right. Craighead v. Lee, 399 F.3d ...


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