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Jones v. Town of Highland Indiana

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

September 6, 2016

JOSHUA R. JONES, ET AL., Plaintiffs,
v.
TOWN OF HIGHLAND INDIANA, ET AL., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          PHILIP P. SIMON, CHIEF JUDGE

         This case involves the tragic shooting of a mentally ill man, Joshua Jones, inside his home by a police officer who was called there to respond to a domestic dispute. Jones was 27 at the time and suffered from schizophrenia. He lived in the home with his mother. The police were called to the residence because Jones' odd and frightening behavior made his mother concerned for her safety. Two officers arrived at the residence and a struggle involving Jones, his mother, and the two officers ensued, which ultimately resulted in one of the officers fatally shooting Jones. Jones' mother filed this action on behalf of herself, Jones, and Jones' estate against the officers and several others alleging claims of excessive force, wrongful death, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Several of the claims and defendants were previously dismissed, and because I find that the shooting, while immensely tragic, was a reasonable use of force, the remaining claims are now disposed of on the defendants' motion for summary judgment.

         Background

         At the time of his death, Joshua Jones was 27 years old, stood 5 foot 7 inches tall, and weighed 177 pounds. [DE 31-5 at 2.] Jones lived with his mother, Marcella Amos, in a second floor apartment in Highland, Indiana. [DE 28-1 at 6; DE 28-8 at 141.] Jones was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2008 and had a history of being noncompliant with his prescribed medications. [DE 28-8 at 39-41, 112, 214.] Amos testified that people were often misled by Jones' size, and described Jones as having been “extra strong” since he was a child. [DE 31-2 at 3.] Since the age of five, Jones had been taking martial arts lessons on and off. Jones attempted to join the U.S. Marine Corps in the fall of 2008 but was sent home after a week and a half due to mental illness. [DE 28-8 at 59.]

         Jones has an unfortunate history of prior commitments to mental health facilities. In January 2009, Amos had Jones committed to a mental ward in Merrillville, Indiana after Jones was not acting himself one night-he broke his cell phone by throwing it down, and it “seemed like he didn't understand English.” [Id. at 35, 38.] At some point after Jones' first commitment, Amos visited the Highland Police Department to let them know that, although her son was not violent, she might need their help to have him committed a second time. [Id. at 36-38.] Amos testified that she “might have talked to the police chief” during this visit. [Id. at 36.] During Jones' second commitment-this time at St. Margaret in Dyer, Indiana-Amos testified that it “took three to four policemen” to restrain Jones and “they kind of had to eventually body-slam him.” [DE 31-2 at 3.] Amos had Jones committed for a third time, this time to St. Catharine's. [Id. at 22]. On this third occasion, two Highland Police Officers and two paramedics took Jones away. The record is unclear on the date of these last two commitments, except that his commitment to St. Catherine's occurred after his commitment to St. Margaret.

         After his commitment in 2009, Jones was prescribed medication for his schizophrenia, which initially consisted of monthly shots, but at the time of his commitment at St. Margaret, he wasn't taking his shots. [DE 28-8 at 37-39.] By January 2012, Jones was supposed to take four pills every day; two milligrams of risperidone twice a day, and two milligrams of benzodiazepine twice a day. [Id. at 42.] Jones died on Tuesday, January 31, 2012, just after midnight. The last time he took any of his prescribed medication was Sunday, January 29, 2012, and it was only a half-dose. [Id. at 41.] And Jones did not take any of his medication the four days prior to that. [Id. at 41-42.]

         According to Amos, her son “had been acting different” on Monday, January 30. [Id. at 43.] In the afternoon, he “came and kind of put his arm around [Amos'] neck from behind, ” which Amos said was out of character for Jones despite him saying that he was just playing around. [Id. at 43-44.] Amos says that Jones had “weird, strange looks on his face” and was “acting strange, watching [her].” [Id. at 44.] Jones also cursed earlier in the day, which Amos says he didn't normally do, when she asked if he was going to take his medication. [Id.] But when Amos asked Jones if he needed to talk to someone or go to the doctor, he responded “No, I don't need to talk to anyone.” [Id. at 60.]

         Some time later that day, Jones entered Amos' bedroom holding a knife with one hand while bending the blade of the knife with the other. [DE 28-8 at 44, 52-53.] Amos told Jones “about three or four times” to put the knife back, and he did so when he saw that Amos was about to get up from her bed. [Id. at 52.] Some time after this incident, while Amos was going to the kitchen to return a plate of food, Jones reached out to touch her neck at a “pulse point, ”something Jones had learned about in his martial arts classes. [Id. at 54.] Amos blocked him. [Id.] Jones then told Amos that it looked like she had a lump on her neck, so Amos proceeded to the bathroom to check. [Id.] As Amos was on her way, Jones asked her what she was scared of and why she was “running.” [Id.] Amos responded that she wasn't running and that she wasn't afraid; she was “just looking to see if there [was] a lump on [her] neck.” [Id.] In fact, Amos was afraid because Jones was near a container full of knives. [Id. at 46, 123.]

         After checking her neck in the bathroom, Amos went back to her bedroom, locked her door, and blockaded the door. [Id. at 45, 54.] Amos says she blockaded the door based on instinct since Jones was not acting normal. To put it plainly, she was in “safety mode.” [Id. at 46.] In fact, Amos was so alarmed by Jones' behavior that while blockaded in her bedroom, she texted her mother instructing her to call the police, which her mother did. [Id. at 46-47.]

         This is when Officer Orth and Corporal Anderson came into the picture. After the 911 call from Amos' mom, both were dispatched to Amos' home for a domestic disturbance “possibly between a mother and son.” [Id. at 140.] An ambulance was also dispatched to Amos' home so that Jones could be taken to the hospital for medical attention. [Id. at 143.] Before Orth and Anderson rang the buzzer of Amos' house, Jones asked his mother if she called the police. [Id. at 47.] She feigned ignorance and asked Jones what the police were there for and told him to let them in. [Id.] “[R]ight before the buzzer rang, ” Amos heard Jones “fumbling like he might have picked up a knife.” [Id.] Amos “hurried up” and texted her mother again imploring her to call the police immediately and let them know that she thought Jones picked up a knife. [Id.]

         Jones let the officers in and Amos slowly came out of her room. [Id. at 48.] Orth, Anderson, and Amos talked in the living room area of the house. Amos told the officers that her son was schizophrenic and recounted the strange things he had done earlier that day, including that he had threatened her with a knife. [Id. at 67, 142; DE 9 at 5-6.] So the officers well knew that they were dealing with someone with a serious mental illness. Amos asked Jones to move out of the kitchen area, away from the knives, and into the living room. [DE 28-8 at 48.]

         In the meantime, Amos' mom called 911 as Amos had requested. This call came into dispatch at 12:51 am on January 31. She told the dispatcher, consistent with what Amos had told her, that Jones “might have a knife.” [Id. at 13-14.]

         Meanwhile, back inside the Amos apartment, Amos asked Jones to show the officers the knife he had earlier, but Jones denied having a knife. [DE 28-1 at 19.] While Orth, Amos, and Jones were in the living room area talking, Anderson stepped away to talk to dispatch on his radio. [Id.] The dispatcher informed Anderson that Jones might have a knife. [DE 28-8 at 14.] At that moment, Jones suddenly lunged at his mom and hit her in the face, knocking her onto her back in the hallway. [Id. at 49-50; DE 28-1 at 19.] Jones jumped on her and started swinging at her. [DE 28-8 at 50.]

         The parties offer somewhat differing versions of what happened next. Amos testified that as Jones was on top of her on the floor of the hallway, Orth struggled with Jones and ended up on top of him. [Id.; DE 31-2 at 10.] Amos was on her back, Jones was directly on top of her and facing her, and Orth was on Jones' back also facing Amos. [DE 31-2 at 10.] Jones was moving his arms about in a sort of “[g]et off me” motion. [Id.] Orth then said “Tase him, tase him, ” and Anderson, who was standing away from the struggle, responded by saying “I'm coming. I'm coming.” [Id. at 11.] Anderson came over and positioned himself on top of Orth. [Id.] Amos then heard Jones yell ...


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