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Hurt v. Vantlin

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Evansville Division

March 16, 2017



          Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, Chief Judge

         Presently pending before the Court in this case are three Motions for Summary Judgment- one filed by Defendants City of Evansville (the “City”) and Evansville Police Department Detective Jeff Vantlin, Detective Jack Spencer, Detective William Arbaugh, Detective Jason Pagett, and Sergeant Larry Nelson[1] (collectively, the “EPD Defendants”), [Filing No. 254]; one filed by Kentucky State Police Detectives Zachary Jones and Matthew Wise (collectively, the “KSP Defendants”), [Filing No. 256]; and one filed by Kentucky Medical Examiner Dr. Amy Burrows-Beckham, [Filing No. 255]. Plaintiffs are pursuing various state and federal claims against each of the Defendants, alleging that they were wrongfully targeted, arrested, and prosecuted for the death of their uncle, Marcus Golike, [2] whose body was found in the Ohio River in June 2012. Plaintiffs' theory of the case is that the Defendants erroneously focused on them as suspects in Marcus' death and then used unconstitutional tactics to try to build their case by coercing Plaintiffs' confessions and fabricating evidence. For the reasons that follow, the Court grants in part and denies in part the pending motions. To the extent the motions are denied, it is because there are genuine issues of material fact surrounding Marcus' death, the voluntariness of Plaintiffs' subsequent confessions, and the Defendants' intent that prevent summary judgment. Put another way, because a reasonable jury could find in Plaintiffs' favor or in Defendants' favor on these genuinely disputed factual issues, summary judgment in Defendants' favor is inappropriate on many of Plaintiffs' claims. The Court does find, however, that KSP Medical Examiner Dr. Burrows-Beckham is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law.


         Standard of Review

         A motion for summary judgment asks the Court to find that a trial is unnecessary because there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and, instead, the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. SeeFed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). As the current version of Rule 56 makes clear, whether a party asserts that a fact is undisputed or genuinely disputed, the party must support the asserted fact by citing to particular parts of the record, including depositions, documents, or affidavits. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). A party can also support a fact by showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute or that the adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(B). Affidavits or declarations must be made on personal knowledge, set out facts that would be admissible in evidence, and show that the affiant is competent to testify on matters stated. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(4). Failure to properly support a fact in opposition to a movant's factual assertion can result in the movant's fact being considered undisputed, and potentially in the grant of summary judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e).

         In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court need only consider disputed facts that are material to the decision. A disputed fact is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Hampton v. Ford Motor Co., 561 F.3d 709, 713 (7th Cir. 2009). In other words, while there may be facts that are in dispute, summary judgment is appropriate if those facts are not outcome determinative. Harper v. Vigilant Ins. Co., 433 F.3d 521, 525 (7th Cir. 2005). Fact disputes that are irrelevant to the legal question will not be considered. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         On summary judgment, a party must show the Court what evidence it has that would convince a trier of fact to accept its version of the events. Johnson v. Cambridge Indus., 325 F.3d 892, 901 (7th Cir. 2003). The moving party is entitled to summary judgment if no reasonable fact-finder could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Nelson v. Miller, 570 F.3d 868, 875 (7th Cir. 2009). The Court views the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draws all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Darst v. Interstate Brands Corp., 512 F.3d 903, 907 (7th Cir. 2008). It cannot weigh evidence or make credibility determinations on summary judgment because those tasks are left to the fact-finder. O'Leary v. Accretive Health, Inc., 657 F.3d 625, 630 (7th Cir. 2011). The Court need only consider the cited materials, Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3), and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has “repeatedly assured the district courts that they are not required to scour every inch of the record for evidence that is potentially relevant to the summary judgment motion before them, ” Johnson, 325 F.3d at 898. Any doubt as to the existence of a genuine issue for trial is resolved against the moving party. Ponsetti v. GE Pension Plan, 614 F.3d 684, 691 (7th Cir. 2010).



         The following factual background is set forth pursuant to the standards detailed above. The facts stated are not necessarily objectively true, but as the summary judgment standard requires, the undisputed facts and the disputed evidence are presented in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs as the non-moving parties, drawing all reasonable inferences in their favor. See Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000). That said, because the Court ultimately finds that multiple genuine issues of material fact preclude summary judgment on many of Plaintiffs' claims, the Court will not address every factual discrepancy between the parties. Instead, the Court will set forth the overarching background of the case.

         A. Marcus' Death

         Marcus was a diagnosed schizophrenic who on multiple occasions had threatened to commit suicide by jumping from a bridge in Evansville. [Filing No. 262-1; Filing No. 261-8 to Filing No. 261-15; Filing No. 262-3 at 2; Filing No. 259.] He was released from prison on June 7, 2012, and listed the Rescue Mission in Evansville as his address. [Filing No. 254-1 at 1.]

         On June 17, 2012, three teenagers found a dead male-later identified as Marcus-in the Ohio River. [Filing No. 256-20 at 4; Filing No. 256-4 at 3-4.] Marcus had an Indiana University Hoosiers baseball cap in the front right pocket of his pants and paper maps of Evansville in the front left pocket of his pants. [Filing No. 256-4 at 4.] He was wearing clothing that indicated that he may have been living in a homeless shelter. [Filing No. 256-4 at 4.]

         Kentucky State Police (“KSP”) served as the lead investigators for two days until Marcus was identified as an Evansville resident. [Filing No. 256-20 at 5.] During an autopsy, KSP Medical Examiner Dr. Burrows-Beckham recovered a letter from the decedent's pocket. The letter was from the Social Security Administration and was addressed to Marcus at an Evansville address. [Filing No. 256-4 at 4.] Dr. Burrows-Beckham contacted KSP Detective Jones on June 18, 2012 and “advised that the autopsy was completed and that she ruled the cause of death to be manual strangulation” because of trauma to and fracture of the hyoid bone in Marcus' neck. [Filing No. 256-4 at 4-5; Filing No. 254-1 at 1.] Dr. Burrows-Beckham also noted that one of Marcus' ribs was fractured and that it appeared to have occurred at the time of his death because of hemorrhaging around the tissue. [Filing No. 256-4 at 5.]

         KSP Detective Jones met with EPD Detective Vantlin, and they agreed that EPD would take the lead because “the incident most likely had taken place in Evansville.” [Filing No. 256-20 at 5.] On June 27, 2012, Marcus' identity was conclusively determined through fingerprint analysis. [Filing No. 256-4 at 5.]

         B. Initial Investigation

         On June 20, 2012, KSP Detectives Wise and Jones and EPD Detective Vantlin talked to Debbie Hurt-Marcus' foster sister. [Filing No. 254-1.] Debbie is William, Deadra, and Andrea's mother-Deadra is Debbie's biological daughter, and Debbie later adopted William and Andrea. Debbie told the officers that Marcus had last been at her house on Saturday, June 16, 2012, and that she made him dinner and went to bed, but that Marcus stayed up playing chess with William and then Marcus was gone in the morning. [Filing No. 254-1 at 2.] EPD Detective Vantlin also talked to William, who stated that Marcus was at Debbie's house on Thursday, June 14, 2012 and that they played a game of chess and talked for two hours. [Filing No. 256-4 at 6.] EPD Detective Vantlin told William that Debbie said Marcus was at the house on Saturday, June 16th, not on Thursday, June 14th, and William confirmed that it could have been Saturday, June 14th. [Filing No. 254-1 at 3.] EPD Detective Vantlin noticed that William had two minor abrasions on his right hand near his knuckles and that his hand appeared to be slightly swollen. [Filing No. 254-1 at 3.] William told EPD Detective Vantlin that he has anger issues and had punched a tree. [Filing No. 254-1 at 3.] William also pointed to an older wound and said he did it when grating laundry soap and that the newer skin breaks happened when he reached into the freezer at the ice cream shop where he works. [Filing No. 254-1 at 3.] According to KSP Detective Jones, William stated that he did not think he could pass a polygraph but that he would be willing to take one or come to EPD for further interviewing if needed. [Filing No. 256-4 at 6.]

         Debbie later called KSP Detective Jones and stated that her foster son Harley Wade had previously choked her almost to the point of her passing out and that she was scared he might be involved in Marcus' death. [Filing No. 256-4 at 6.] The detectives wanted to interview Harley, but because he was placed in foster care and a ward of Indiana, they could not interrogate him and “decided to move our focus to William Hurt.” [Filing No. 256-4 at 6.]

         On June 28, 2012, EPD Detective Vantlin and KSP Detectives Wise and Jones went to the home of Marcus' brother and told him that Marcus' body had been recovered from the Ohio River. [Filing No. 259.] Marcus' brother's response was “[i]s it verified he was killed, other than jumping off a bridge? Because he has been on that bridge three times before threatening to kill himself.” [Filing No. 259.]

         C. Interrogations and Confessions

         On June 28, 2012, William went to EPD headquarters and signed a waiver of his Miranda rights. [Filing No. 256-4 at 6; Filing No. 256-7 at 2.] He was 18 years old at that time. [Filing No. 256-24 at 27.] William was interrogated for approximately five hours and ultimately confessed to being involved in Marcus' death and dumping his body in the Ohio River by the Dress Plaza. [Filing No. 256-4 at 6-7; Filing No. 256-8 (transcript of interrogation).] William stated that he, Deadra, Andrea, and Harley were in the Hurt's van when they saw Marcus. [Filing No. 254-6 at 27-28.] William said they stopped the van and were joking with Marcus and then it “started to get out of hand” and Harley got mad and started hitting Marcus. [Filing No. 254-6 at 29.] William said he also punched Marcus more than five times and then Harley choked Marcus. [Filing No. 254-6 at 30-31.] William said Marcus passed out and then Harley kicked him two or three times. [Filing No. 254-6 at 33.] William said they then tied Marcus up with sheets and put him in the back of the van. [Filing No. 254-6 at 35-38.] William said that Deadra was driving the van and that they dumped Marcus in the river. [Filing No. 254-6 at 40-41.] William said they then went to clean out the van at a gas station at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. and then bought $20 to $30 of candy and other items from the Kangaroo convenience store and used Marcus' debit card. [Filing No. 254-6 at 53-54; Filing No. 254-6 at 57-60.] At the end of the interrogation, KSP Detective Jones told William, “[Y]ou did a good job. You did all right. It took you a while to get there, but you did.” [Filing No. 254-6 at 67.] William responded, “Was I close to it?” [Filing No. 254-6 at 68.]

         The parties dispute the voluntariness of William's confession, which was videotaped. [See Filing No. 252 (manually filed videotape of William's interrogation); Filing No. 258 at 4-5 (EPD Defendants' version of William's allegedly voluntary confession); Filing No. 257 at 6-9 (KSP Defendants' version of William's allegedly voluntary confession); Filing No. 267 at 12-14 (Plaintiffs' version of William's allegedly involuntary confession).]

         After William was interrogated, Deadra was arrested and signed a waiver of her Miranda rights at EPD headquarters. [Filing No. 256-7 at 1; Filing No. 258 at 17.] Deadra was 19 years old at that time. [Filing No. 256-24 at 27-28.] She was interrogated for approximately one hour and fifty-two minutes. [Filing No. 256-9 (transcript of interrogation).] Deadra was told that William had confessed and had told the officers that she had driven them to the river with Marcus unconscious in the back of the van. [Filing No. 256-9 at 2.] Deadra adamantly denied any involvement. [Filing No. 256-9 at 2.] Officers told her, among other things, that “[t]he only way that you're going to save your ass or anybody else's ass, is if you tell the truth. If not, you're going to hang. Do you understand this?” [Filing No. 256-9 at 11.] Ultimately, Deadra confessed to being involved in Marcus' death by driving the van. [Filing No. 256-9 (transcript of interrogation).]

         The parties dispute the voluntariness of Deadra's confession, which was videotaped. [See Filing No. 252 (manually filed videotape of Deadra's interrogation); Filing No. 258 at 6-7 (EPD Defendants' version of Deadra's allegedly voluntary confession); Filing No. 257 at 9-11 (KSP Defendants' version of Deadra's allegedly voluntary confession); Filing No. 267 at 14-15 (Plaintiffs' version of Deadra's allegedly involuntary confession).]

         After William and Deadra were interrogated, Andrea was brought in for questioning. [Filing No. 258 at 18.] She signed a juvenile waiver of her Miranda rights at EPD headquarters with her guardian, Ron Hurt, present. [Filing No. 256-7 at 3.] Andrea was 16 years old at that time. [Filing No. 256-24 at 28.] Andrea was interrogated for approximately two hours and sixteen minutes. [Filing No. 252.] She adamantly denied being present for or involved in Marcus' death, even after being told that William and Deadra said she was in the van. [Filing No. 256-27.] Andrea later said that she had been in the van, but then she recanted the testimony. [Filing No. 256-27 at 22-28].

         The parties dispute the voluntariness of Andrea's confession, which was videotaped. [See Filing No. 252 (manually filed videotape of Andrea's interrogation); Filing No. 258 at 7-8 (EPD Defendants' version of Andrea's allegedly voluntary confession); Filing No. 257 at 11-12 (KSP Defendants' version of Andrea's allegedly voluntary confession); Filing No. 267 at 15-16 (Plaintiffs' version of Andrea's allegedly involuntary confession).]

         D. Subsequent Investigation

         A police report by EPD Detective Spencer dated July 2, 2012 states that he took William to the Dress Plaza early on June 29, 2012 and that William directed him to the ramp where Marcus' body was dumped. [Filing No. 256-10 at 38.] The report indicates that William said he believed that Marcus was dead when he was thrown in the river. [Filing No. 256-10 at 38.] William attests that he never went to the Dress Plaza on June 29, 2012. [Filing No. 261-31.]

         EPD Detective Vantlin's police report details the extensive investigation he undertook to find corroborating evidence after Plaintiffs confessed to being involved in Marcus' death. [Filing No. 254-1 at 12-19.] On July 5, 2012, EPD Detective Vantlin learned that Marcus received approximately $527 per month from social security benefits. [Filing No. 254-1 at 14.] He later learned that there was no activity on Marcus' bank account between June 14th and the day he died. [Filing No. 254-1 at 15.] The last transaction on the account was for $30 at 1:44 pm on June 12, 2012, leaving a remaining balance of $0.08. [Filing No. 254-1 at 17.]

         EPD Detective Vantlin's report notes that during a prior interview with Marcus' brother, KSP Detective Jones “collected a letter . . . addressed to [Marcus] from the Social Security Administration. The letter indicated that [Marcus] had been overpaid and he owed them $726.00.” [Filing No. 254-1 at 17.]

         Detective Vantlin visited the scene where Marcus' body was allegedly dumped, but he “did not locate any evidence from Marcus Golike or the suspects.” [Filing No. 254-1 at 12.] A search warrant was executed at Debbie Hurt's house, but no corroborating evidence was located. [Filing No. 254-12 at 13.]

         On July 6, 2012, EPD Detective Vantlin met with Sarah Richter, a clerk at the Kangaroo Express who worked the night of June 17, 2012. [Filing No. 254-1 at 14.] Detective Vantlin's report states that Ms. Richter told him that she “remembered some kids, possibly 4, come into the store between 2 AM and 4 AM. They bought about $30.00 worth of candy and soda and used a debit card to pay for the items.” [Filing No. 254-1 at 14.] The Kangaroo Express surveillance video from the night of Marcus' death was unavailable because it had already been recorded over. [Filing No. 254-1 at 14.] EPD Detective Vantlin reviewed surveillance video from other locations but “did not see any of the suspects associated with this case.” [Filing No. 254-1 at 16.]

         On July 26, 2012, Ms. Richter was shown four photo arrays.[4] [Filing No. 254-1 at 21-22.] The police report indicates that she was 60-70% certain she recognized the photo of a male who is not one of the Plaintiffs, stated that Harley and another male who is not one of the Plaintiffs “looked familiar, ” recognized Andrea “100%” as “one of the group in question, ” and recognized Deadra “80%.” [Filing No. 254-1 at 21-22.]

         In a declaration dated August 18, 2015, Ms. Richter attests that when she spoke with EPD Detective Vantlin, “I told him that I do not remember any kids coming into the store during those hours.” [Filing No. 261-33.] With regard to her alleged photo identifications, Ms. Richter attests as follows:

5. The only other direct interaction I had with an Evansville police officer was a little while later, on a different day. That police officer came to the Kangaroo Express when I was working and asked me to look at photographs to see if I recognized any of the people in them. He showed me three or four large photographs. I told him that some of them looked familiar, but that I didn't know whether it was because I recognized them from seeing them on TV. I watch the news and had seen a lot of news reports about the four kids who were arrested for murdering their uncle.
6. I told the police officer that kids usually come in the store during the daytime. Plus, the Kangaroo Express I worked at was located in a predominately African American neighborhood and I would have especially noticed three to four white kids in the store using a debit or credit card to pay for items.

         [Filing No. 261-33.]

         E. Criminal Prosecutions

         On June 30, 2012, a Vanderburgh Superior Court judge found probable cause to arrest William and Deadra for Murder, Attempted Robbery Resulting in Serious Bodily Injury, and Criminal Confinement. [Filing No. 254-16 at 1-2; Filing No. 254-17 at 1-2.] William was ultimately charged with Murder, Robbery Resulting in Serious Bodily Injury, and Obstruction of Justice and held in prison. [Filing No. 254-16 at 3.] Deadra was ultimately charged with Murder, Attempted Robbery Resulting in Serious Bodily Injury, and Obstruction of Justice and held in prison. [Filing No. 254-17 at 3.] The case against Andrea was dismissed before formal charges were filed. [Filing No. 254-18 at 1.]

         On August 31, 2012, Deadra filed a motion asking the trial court to suppress her confession. [Filing No. 254-17 at 5.] On October 25, 2012, after hearing oral argument on the motion, the trial court granted it and suppressed Deadra's confession. [Filing No. 254-17 at 6.] The charges against Deadra were dismissed on October 30, 2012. [Filing No. 254-17 at 7.] Deadra was imprisoned for more than four months from the time of her arrest until her release. [Filing No. 254-12.]

         The trial court denied a motion to suppress William's confession. [Filing No. 254-16 at 4-5.] A pretrial conference was held on February 14, 2013, and EPD Detectives Pagett and Arbaugh stated that while transporting William to jail following his confession on June 28, 2012, William stated, “It's fine, I have to pay for what I did” and asked “[d]o you think they will just give me a year in jail for this?” [Filing No. 254-22.] EPD Detectives Pagett and Arbaugh were asked to record those statements in a supplemental case report and they did. [Filing No. 254-22.] William denies ever making those statements. [Filing No. 254-25 at 34.]

         A jury trial was held, and the jury found William not guilty of Murder and Robbery. [Filing No. 254-16 at 10.] The jury could not agree on a verdict for the Obstruction of Justice charge. [Filing No. 254-25 at 10.] William was imprisoned for approximately eight months from the time of his arrest until his release after the jury trial. [Filing No. 254-16.]

         F. Federal Case

         On June 27, 2014, Plaintiffs filed a Complaint in this Court, asserting various federal and state claims against the Defendants. [Filing No. 1.] It remains the operative Complaint, although the Court dismissed some of Plaintiffs' claims in an Order on Motion for Partial Judgment on the Pleadings. [Filing No. 112.] Plaintiffs subsequently filed a Statement of Claims, confirming that they assert the following claims in this litigation:

• Federal malicious prosecution pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the EPD Defendants and the KSP Defendants;
• A Fourth Amendment claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the EPD Defendants and the KSP Defendants;
• A Due Process claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the EPD Defendants, the KSP Defendants, and Dr. Burrows-Beckham;[5]
• A failure to intervene claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the EPD Defendants, the KSP Defendants, and Dr. Burrows-Beckham;
• Conspiracy to deprive constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the EPD Defendants, the KSP ...

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