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Rudd v. Jonesboro City of Jonesboro

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Jonesboro Division

September 9, 2016

TERESA RUDD, Individually and as Administratrix of the Estate of CHAVIS CHACOBIE CARTER, deceased PLAINTIFF
v.
THE CITY OF JONESBORO, et al . DEFENDANTS

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Kristine G. Baker United States District Judge.

         On July 28, 2012, Chavis Chacobie Carter tragically committed suicide in the back seat of a police car in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Mr. Carter's mother, Teresa Rudd, individually and as the administratrix of Mr. Carter's estate, brings this action against four defendants: the City of Jonesboro; Ronald Marsh, individually and in his official capacity as a police officer with the City of Jonesboro; Keith Baggett, individually and in his official capacity as a police officer with the City of Jonesboro; and Michael Yates, individually and in his official capacity as Chief of Police for the City of Jonesboro. In her complaint, Ms. Rudd alleges six types of claims against the defendants: (1) various violations of Mr. Carter's rights under the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution against Officers Baggett and Marsh; (2) municipal liability for failure to train against Chief Yates and the City of Jonesboro; (3) various violations of Mr. Carter's civil rights under Arkansas law including his rights under Article II of the Arkansas Constitution and the Arkansas Civil Rights Act, codified at Ark. Code Ann. § 16-123-101, et seq., to be free from unreasonable search and seizure, cruel and unusual punishment, excessive force, and to be afforded due process of law; (4) negligence; (5) negligent hiring, supervision, and retention; and (6) wrongful death.

         Before the Court is defendants' motion for summary judgement (Dkt. No. 42). Ms. Rudd has responded to defendants' motion, and the defendants have replied to Ms. Rudd's response (Dkt. Nos. 46; 47). In her response to defendants' motion, Ms. Rudd concedes that defendants are entitled to summary judgment on “Counts 3, 4, 5, and 6 of the Complaint” (Dkt. No. 46-2, at 5). Count 3 alleges violations of Mr. Carter's civil rights under Arkansas law. Counts 4 and 5 allege negligence and negligent hiring, supervision, and retention, respectively. Count 6 alleges wrongful death. Ms. Rudd also “does not contest Chief Yates' immunity in his individual capacity” and “does not allege that any written municipal policy was per se unconstitutional on its face in the ‘pure' sense, as contemplated in Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (1978)” (Id.). Ms. Rudd objects to summary judgment “with respect to the individual liability of Defendants Baggett and Marsh as well as the City's municipal liability for failure to train” (Id.). Therefore, the Court will limit its analysis to the claims to which Ms. Rudd responds, not those she concedes.

         For the following reasons, the Court grants defendants' motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 42). Ms. Rudd's claims are dismissed with prejudice, with the exception of her Fourth Amendment claim. The Court directs the parties to notify the Court within seven days of the entry of this Order as to whether any Fourth Amendment claims remain pending in this action.

         I. Background

         The following facts are taken from Ms. Rudd's response in opposition to defendants' statement of undisputed material facts, unless otherwise indicated (Dkt. No. 46-1). On July 28, 2012, Officer Baggett was dispatched to Haltom Street in Jonesboro, Arkansas, after a citizen reported that a white truck was suspiciously driving up and down the street with its lights off. Upon arriving at Haltom Street, Officer Baggett saw a white truck parked with only its parking lights on. Officer Baggett turned on his police cruiser's blue lights and made contact with the occupants of the truck (Dkt. No. 43-1, ¶ 6).

         Two Caucasian males and an African American male were seated in the front seat of the truck. Officer Baggett asked them to identify themselves. The driver produced a driver's license identifying him as Sean Hembry. The other two occupants did not have identification, so they provided names and dates of birth. The man seated in the middle stated that his name was Timothy Teal and that he was born on July 19, 1993. The other passenger said that his name was Laryan Bowman and that he was born on April 4, 1991. Officer Baggett ran this information through dispatch and only got a return on Mr. Hembry. Officer Baggett then requested a second officer to assist him, and Officer Marsh radioed that he would respond to Officer Baggett's location (Dkt. No. 43-1, ¶ 11). Officer Baggett got more information from Mr. Teal and Mr. Bowman and was able to get a return on Mr. Teal from dispatch, but not on Mr. Bowman. Officer Marsh arrived at the scene, and Officer Baggett had him take Mr. Bowman from the truck to his squad car.

         Officer Marsh asked Mr. Bowman about his name and whether he had any drugs on him. At this point, Mr. Bowman identified himself as Chavis Chacobie Carter and “handed Officer Marsh a small bag of what appeared to be marijuana, which he had in his front shirt pocket” (Dkt. No. 46-1, ¶ 9).[1] Officer Marsh checked Mr. Carter's shorts pockets, then grabbed hold of his pants and shook them up and down.[2] He then placed Mr. Carter in the back of his police car. Mr. Carter was not handcuffed and was allowed to keep his cell phone. At some point, when Officer Marsh returned to his car to check Mr. Carter's identification, he took the cell phone from Mr. Carter.

         After Mr. Carter was placed in the police car, a data base search of his real name revealed that there was an active warrant out of the state of Mississippi for his arrest. Officer Baggett also found a set of scales under the passenger seat of the truck where Mr. Carter had been seated. Officer Marsh removed Mr. Carter from the back of his police car, searched him, and placed him under arrest for the outstanding Mississippi warrant. Officer Marsh cuffed Mr. Carter's hands behind his back and returned him to the back seat of his police car, where Mr. Carter had previously been. Officers Baggett and Marsh were a short distance away from Officer Marsh's car when they heard a sound, but they were not sure of its origin. Within two minutes, the officers returned to their cars. When Officer Marsh got in his car, he smelled gun powder. He turned around and saw that Mr. Carter had shot himself in the head with a Cobra .380 pistol.[3]Mr. Carter was still alive, and the officers radioed for emergency medical services. Mr. Carter ultimately died from the gunshot wound. Dr. Stephen A. Erickson, Deputy Chief Medical Examiner at the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory and Pathologist of Record, declared that Mr. Carter committed suicide.

         An internal affairs investigation was convened to investigate Mr. Carter's death. The report concluded that Officer Marsh's initial search of Mr. Carter was improper, as the search “is visible on [Officer] Baggett's video and it did not appear to include him actually touching Mr. Carter's body at all except to touch the back of his arm as he is walking him back to his unit” (Dkt. No. 46-1, ¶ 25). The report also noted that a “search of the backseat would have been warranted and preferable, but that was not done” (Id.). According to the report, Officer Marsh searched the back seat of his police unit earlier in his shift, and no one had been in the unit after his previous search. Based on that information, the report concluded that it was “very likely that the weapon Mr. Carter used to shoot himself . . . was concealed in the unit while he was seated in the unit without being handcuffed and then retrieved by him after the second, more thorough search” (Id.). Ms. Rudd does not offer an alternate theory on how Mr. Carter came to possess the gun in the back of Officer Marsh's police vehicle, and she does not dispute that Mr. Carter ended his own life.

         II. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is proper if the evidence, when viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, shows that there is no genuine issue of material fact in dispute and that the defendant is entitled to entry of judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A factual dispute is genuine if the evidence could cause a reasonable jury to return a verdict for either party. Miner v. Local 373, 513 F.3d 854, 860 (8th Cir. 2008). “The mere existence of a factual dispute is insufficient alone to bar summary judgment; rather, the dispute must be outcome determinative under prevailing law.” Holloway v. Pigman, 884 F.2d 365, 366 (8th Cir. 1989). However, parties opposing a summary judgment motion may not rest merely upon the allegations in their pleadings. Buford v. Tremayne, 747 F.2d 445, 447 (8th Cir. 1984). The initial burden is on the moving party to demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323. The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to establish that there is a genuine issue to be determined at trial. Prudential Ins. Co. v. Hinkel, 121 F.3d 364, 366 (8th Cir. 2008). “The evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).

         III. Discussion

         Ms. Rudd does not contest defendants' motion for summary judgment on many of her claims. Based on her response, only two contested claims remain in this case: (1) claims against Officers Baggett and Marsh for alleged violations of the United States Constitution; and (2) claims against the City of ...


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