Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Barnett v. Gilkey

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

January 30, 2018




         Mark and Jessica Barnett bring this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on behalf of themselves and their minor son, D.B., claiming that D.B. was subject to excessive force during his detention at the Yell County Juvenile Detention Center (“JDC”). Plaintiffs name the following defendants: Yell County (the “County”); the City of Danville (the “City”); Bill Gilkey (“Gilkey”); Steve Pfeifer (“Pfeifer”); Kristi Padgett; Rick Padgett; Timothy Spears; and Michael Spears.

         Before the Court are (1) a motion for summary judgment by Michael Spears (ECF Nos. 26, 27, 28) and Plaintiffs' response in opposition (ECF Nos. 33, 34); (2) a motion for summary judgment by the City, Padgett, and Steve Pfeifer (collectively, the “City Defendants”)(ECF Nos. 36, 37, 38), Plaintiffs' response in opposition (ECF No. 52), and the City Defendants' reply (ECF No. 54); (3) a motion for summary judgment by the County, Gilkey, and Kristi Padgett (collectively, the “County Defendants”)(ECF Nos. 43, 44, 45), Plaintiffs' response in opposition (ECF No. 53), and the County Defendants' reply (ECF No. 55); and (4) Plaintiffs' motion to amend the complaint (ECF No. 40), the County Defendants' response in opposition (ECF No. 46), and Plaintiffs' reply (ECF No. 49). After careful consideration, and for reasons that follow, Michael Spears's motion for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part, the City Defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted, the County Defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted, and Plaintiffs' motion to amend is denied. Remaining for trial are Plaintiffs' individual capacity claims against Timothy Spears and Plaintiffs' supplemental battery claim against Michael Spears.

         I. Background

         On March 22, 2014, thirteen-year-old D.B. was serving the ninth day of a ten-day detention at the JDC. That evening, D.B. was confined in lockdown, [1] and he became upset when he overheard other juvenile detainees, who were sitting outside his cell, making threatening and derogatory remarks about his sister. D.B. began yelling and pounding on his cell door, and Robin Barefield (“Barefield”), an assistant administrator at the JDC, went to D.B.'s cell and attempted to calm him down. Later, Barefield texted Defendant Timothy Spears, a Danville police officer, and requested assistance. In deposition, Barefield testified that she asked Spears to perform a “walk through, ” which she described as follows:

They just come and would through the back. The juveniles can see them. Sometimes they stop and talk to the kids[, ] and they just come and check on things. . . . Usually, if an officer comes in from outside and the kids see an officer in uniform, they're more [respectful] to - - than just detention officers who wear plain clothes.[2]

         Barefield further testified that police officers would assist in restraining juvenile detainees if necessary.

         When Timothy Spears received Barefield's text, he was at the Yell County Sheriff's Office talking to his brother Michael Spears, who was working as a sheriff's deputy. Together, the brothers responded to Barefield's request for help, and soon after they arrived at the JDC, they accompanied Barefield to D.B.'s cell. An inaudible video of the events that followed shows that Michael Spears deployed or extended his baton and held it firmly in his right hand, while Barefield unlocked the door to D.B.'s cell. Michael Spears stood at the entrance of the door, looked in and said something, and D.B. immediately walked out of his cell. Michael Spears, with baton in hand, talked to D.B. for a brief moment before he abruptly grabbed him by the neck and turned him 180 degrees toward a wall.

         Keeping a grip on D.B.'s neck holding his baton, Michael Spears pushed D.B. into the wall and held him there. Timothy Spears then approached D.B.'s left side, grabbed D.B.'s left elbow and held it, while quickly forcing D.B.'s left forearm up to his head. It appears from the video that Timothy Spears wrenched D.B.'s arm into an extremely unnatural position, and it is undisputed that the maneuver broke the juvenile's left humerus. Timothy Spears held D.B.'s left arm in the bent position for a moment, said something to D.B., and then released D.B.'s arm, which fell limp and dangled at his side. Timothy Spears then handcuffed D.B. Michael Spears maintained his hold on D.B.'s neck and held him against the wall during the entire incident, until Timothy Spears secured the handcuffs. The video ends with the Spears brothers leading D.B. away in handcuffs, and D.B.'s left arm appears flaccid, as though dangling from his left shoulder.

         In deposition, D.B. described the foregoing events as follows:

I mean, something that's happening that fast, whenever you get slammed up against a wall like that, I didn't know what was happening. They told me to stand up and walk out of my cell. So I stood up and walked out of my cell, and that's whenever they slammed me up against the wall.
And the next thing I know, I just heard a big pop and seen stars. So one of them was holding a baton, so I thought they hit me with the baton, but it turned out to be my arm.[3]

         D.B. further testified that when Timothy Spears put him in handcuffs, his arm started hurting and he was nauseous.

         Based on the foregoing events, Timothy and Michael Spears faced state charges for third-degree battery. Michael Spears pleaded no contest, and a jury found Timothy Spears guilty as charged. On June 27, 2014, Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit under § 1983, charging that D.B. endured excessive force in violation of his constitutional rights. Plaintiffs also bring supplemental state claims under the Arkansas Civil Rights Act (“ACRA”) and state tort law.

         II. Michael Spears

         Plaintiffs charge that Michael Spears used excessive force against D.B in violation of his constitutional rights, and they bring supplemental state law claims for battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Michael Spears moves for summary judgment on all claims.[4]

         Excessive Force Claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and ACRA.[5]

Section 1983 provides a cause of action for constitutional deprivations caused by persons acting under color of state law. However, the doctrine of qualified immunity shields government employees acting within the scope of their duties from suit under § 1983 so long as their conduct does not “violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would know.” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). Michael Spears asserts that he is entitled to qualified immunity, arguing that the amount of force that he personally used against D.B. was slight and did not rise to the level of a constitutional violation.

         Determining whether a defendant is entitled to qualified immunity involves a two-step inquiry. The first question is whether, taken in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the facts show that the defendant's conduct violated a constitutional right. See Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201, 121 S.Ct. 2151, 2156 (2001). If the answer is no, the inquiry is over because the defendant is entitled to qualified immunity. If the answer is yes, the second question is whether the constitutional right at issue was clearly established. Id.

         When a plaintiff claims that he was subjected to excessive force while in custody, the applicable constitutional standard varies according to whether the plaintiff was an arrestee, a pretrial detainee, or a convicted inmate. See Andrews v. Neer, 253 F.3d 1052, 1060-62 (8th Cir. 2001). Here, D.B. was confined to the JDC for a ten-day period, and his status was comparable to a pretrial detainee. Accordingly, the Court finds that his excessive force claims should be analyzed under an objective, Fourteenth Amendment standard. See Kingsley v. Hendrickson, 135 S.Ct. 2466, 2473, --- U.S. --- (2015). Plaintiffs must show that the force that Michael Spears purposely or knowingly used against D.B. was objectively unreasonable. See id.

         Whether the application of force was unreasonable turns on the facts and circumstances of each particular case, and “the actions of each officer [must be assessed] ‘from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, including what the officer knew at the time, not with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.'” Ryan v. Armstrong, 850 F.3d 419, 427 (8th Cir. 2017)(quoting Kingsley, 135 S.Ct. at 2473)(quoting Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 396, 109 S.Ct. 1865 (1989)). Factors relevant to assessing the objective reasonableness of force include “the relationship between the need for the use of force and the amount of force used; the extent of the plaintiff's injury; any effort made by the officer to temper or to limit the amount of force; the severity of the security problem at issue; the threat reasonably perceived by the officer; and whether the plaintiff was actively resisting.” Id.

         It is undisputed that Michael Spears grabbed D.B. by the neck and spun him around to face a wall. It is also undisputed that while Michael Spears held D.B. against the wall, Timothy Spears manipulated D.B.'s left arm in a manner that caused a serious bone fracture. However, D.B. testified in deposition that Michael Spears's actions, specifically, grabbing him by the neck and holding him against the wall, did not injure him.[6] While it does not appear from the silent video that D.B. was actively resisting orders or that he posed a threat to anyone, the record shows that the amount of force employed by Michael Spears was de minimis and did not rise to the level of a constitutional violation. Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 539 n.21, 99 S.Ct. 1861, 1874 n.21 (1979)(quoting Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651, 674, 97 S.Ct. 401(1977)(“There is, of course, a de minimis level of imposition with which the Constitution is not concerned.”).

         At the time of the incident in this case, it was clearly established that a state actor may be liable under § 1983 if he fails to intervene to prevent the use of force by another official. See Putman v. Gerloff, 639 F.2d 415, 423 (8th Cir. 1981). “This duty of a police officer to intervene to prevent the excessive use of force-where the officer is aware of the abuse and the duration of the episode is sufficient to permit an inference of tacit collaboration-was also recognized in numerous appellate decisions as of 2006, without any serious dispute from other quarters.” Krout v. Goemmer, 583 F.3d 557, 565 (8th Cir. 2009)(citations omitted). Here, however, Plaintiffs do not claim that Michael Spears knew that Timothy Spears was using excessive ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.