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Rainsberge v. Benner

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

July 18, 2017



          Hon. William T. Lawrence, United States District Judge.

         This cause is before the Court on the Defendant's motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 41). The motion is fully briefed and the Court, being duly advised, DENIES the motion for the reasons set forth below.


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that summary judgment is appropriate “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the admissible evidence presented by the non-moving party must be believed, and all reasonable inferences must be drawn in the non-movant's favor. Zerante v. DeLuca, 555 F.3d 582, 584 (7th Cir. 2009) (“We view the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor.”). However, a party who bears the burden of proof on a particular issue may not rest on its pleadings, but must show what evidence it has that there is a genuine issue of material fact that requires trial. Johnson v. Cambridge Indus., Inc., 325 F.3d 892, 901 (7th Cir. 2003). Finally, the non-moving party bears the burden of specifically identifying the relevant evidence of record, and “the court is not required to scour the record in search of evidence to defeat a motion for summary judgment.” Ritchie v. Glidden Co., 242 F.3d 713, 723 (7th Cir. 2001).


         The facts set forth below consist of facts supported by evidence of record, viewed in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff, as the non-moving party.[1] Additional facts are included in the Discussion section as relevant.

         A. The Events of November 19, 2013

         In November 2013, Ruth Rainsberger was 88 years old and suffering from dementia. She lived alone in an apartment in Indianapolis. Her son, Plaintiff William Rainsberger, lived close by and was her primary caregiver. He saw Ruth almost every day, did her grocery shopping, and kept her mentally engaged. Ruth had two other children: Rebecca, who lived farther away, saw her once a week, and did her laundry; and Robert, who saw his mother less frequently. Robert had recently lost his job and his home to foreclosure and had moved in with William.

         On November 19, 2013, shortly after 3:30 p.m., William went to Ruth's apartment and found the door unlocked. He entered the apartment and noticed his mother lying face down on the floor with a blanket covering much of her shoulders and head. She was still breathing, but her breathing was labored. He knelt down beside her, put his hand on her knee, and yelled, “Mom, Mom.” There was a large circle of dried blood on the blanket covering her head. There was also a large pool of what appeared to him to be congealed blood on the floor. William did not remove the blanket because it was stuck to the wound and he believed it was acting as a bandage, so removing it would cause more bleeding to occur.

         Around 3:37 p.m., William used his mother's landline phone to call 911. William told the 911 operator that someone had attacked his mother and, later in the call, that “someone bashed her head in.”

         Indianapolis Fire Department Paramedic Carl Wooldridge responded to William's 911 call. William, who had gone outside to direct the ambulance to the correct apartment, met Wooldridge outside and told him that someone had “caved his mother's head in.”

         Inside the apartment, Wooldridge observed Ruth lying on the ground between a chair and the coffee table. She was still breathing. There was a cloth with blood covering Ruth's head that appeared to be stuck to a wound on her head. The cloth had “somewhat of a hole in it right where the wound was, ” and when Wooldridge “peeled it off there was a mark at that time on her forehead that I believed to be an entrance wound.” Dkt. No. 50-7 at 8. Based on these observations, Woolridge thought that Ruth had been shot and reported that belief to the paramedics who transported Ruth to the hospital. Wooldridge later reported to Benner that he thought it was “odd” that William said his mother's head had been caved in because he had not removed the cloth to look at her injuries.

         Defendant Charles Benner, a homicide detective with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (“IMPD”), arrived at the scene around 4:15 p.m. along with fellow homicide detective Tom Tudor. Benner learned from the other officers on the scene that William and his brother Robert were both at the scene and had arrived in separate vehicles, that William had called 911, that Ruth had been found covered with a blanket, and that she had been transported to the hospital in critical condition. Tudor did an initial canvas of the building to identify potential witnesses while Benner gathered information about the medical personnel who treated Ruth.

         Benner then did a walkthrough of Ruth's apartment. The walkthrough revealed no signs of forced entry. Benner noticed some open dresser drawers in Ruth's bedroom, but the contents appeared undisturbed. The back room was cluttered with boxes and trash bags that seemed untouched. Benner found a lockbox on a closet shelf in the back room that contained what looked to him like financial documents. He also found Ruth's checkbook, cash, and credit cards in the apartment. Ruth's children reported that she used a black purse and took prescription medication for dementia. Neither was found in the apartment. Based on his observations, Benner determined that robbery did not appear to be the motive for the attack.

         On November 20, 2013, Ruth died from her injuries. An autopsy was performed and the cause of death was determined to be multiple blunt force trauma to the head, possibly caused by a hammer or similar object. Not surprisingly, her death was ruled a homicide.

         B. Statements by William, Robert, and Rebecca

         On the evening of the attack, Benner asked William and Robert to give statements. They both consented and were transported to IMPD Headquarters.

         During his interview, William told Benner that he had been taking care of Ruth daily for the past few years. He also handled all of her bills and finances. Ruth had approximately $80, 000 to $100, 000 in savings that was to be distributed to her three children after her death. In addition to Ruth, the only individuals with a key to her apartment were William, Robert, and their sister Rebecca. The staff of the apartment complex where Ruth lived also had a key to her apartment; however, Benner confirmed that the key had not been moved and was in its normal location at all relevant times.

         William reported to Benner that he had last seen his mother the previous night around 6:00 p.m. After visiting with her, William drove to Plainfield to spend the evening with his wife. Around 9:00 the next morning, he returned to his house at 7345 East 13th Street in Indianapolis. He stayed home until about 3:30 p.m., then went to Kroger on 10th Street in Indianapolis and bought a tea. William then drove the short distance to Ruth's apartment.

         When he arrived at Ruth's apartment, William noticed that the door was already unlocked. He went inside and saw Ruth lying on the floor with a blanket over her head. Based on Benner's training and experience, when an attacker covers his or her victim's head or face, it often indicates that the attacker had a personal relationship with the victim. William also noticed a great deal of blood and that his mother was still breathing. When asked why he did not remove the blanket, William said that in his opinion removing the blanket would do more damage because it was stuck to the wound and he believed it was acting as a bandage and preventing more bleeding. He checked the apartment to confirm that no one was there and then called 911. After calling 911, William went outside to wait for the ambulance so he could direct it to the correct apartment, as his mother's apartment can be difficult to locate.

         During his interview, Robert stated that he had not seen Ruth for a few days. In August 2013, Robert moved in with William after the bank foreclosed on his house. Robert was at William's house on November 19, 2013, when William called and told him to come to Ruth's house immediately. When he got to Ruth's apartment, Robert was stopped by police and put in a police car.

         The following day, Benner spoke with Rebecca Rainsberger, Ruth's other child. Rebecca stated that she typically checked on her mother once a week and had last been at Ruth's during the day on the day before the attack.

         At some point that day, Benner asked Rebecca, William, and Robert to come to IMPD Headquarters, ostensibly to review the results of Ruth's autopsy. Benner accused William and Robert of murdering Ruth for money and asked them to take a polygraph test. Upset at being brought to the station under false pretenses and being accused of his mother's murder, and because he considered polygraphs unreliable, William adamantly refused to take a polygraph.

         C. The Investigation

         Crime scene specialist Jennifer Lane collected potential evidence at the scene. She videotaped and photographed Ruth's apartment and collected fingerprints and DNA. A report dated April 23, 2014, stated that two DNA contributors were found on the outside back neck area and outside left sleeve of Ruth's jacket. The major contributor was Ruth; the “partial DNA profile of the minor contributor [was] from an unknown male” (i.e., not William or Robert). Dkt. No. 50-33 at 2. In addition, the DNA of another unknown male was found on the blanket that was covering Ruth's head and two stains on Ruth's sweatshirt. Benner believed that the unknown DNA was likely from the first responders who treated Ruth at the scene.

         On December 6, 2013, Benner collected video from the Kroger grocery store located on 10th Street. The store had eighty-one working cameras that day, four of which showed William. Camera 30, located in the front entry way, shows William dispose of an item in the trash. After dropping the object in the trashcan, William then pushes some buttons on the Redbox video-rental box next to the trashcan. At one point while looking at the Redbox machine, he turns to look behind him. He then enters the store.

         Camera 7, located in the self-checkout area, shows William purchasing a tea. He appears to let a customer at the adjacent checkout kiosk use his Kroger Plus Card, but he does not use the card for his own purchase. He then exits the store, locates his car, and drives away.

         Benner obtained Ruth's financial records from her bank, which showed that at the time of her death she had a checking account balance of $15, 098.90, a savings account balance of $4, 605.65, and certificate balances totaling $79, 058.15. Benner obtained a beneficiary form from Ruth's apartment showing that William, Robert, and Rebecca were the beneficiaries for all of her assets.

         D. Phone Records

         IMPD detective Benjamin Bierce obtained phone records for William, Robert, Rebecca, and Ruth. Rebecca's cell phone records confirmed that she was not in the vicinity of Ruth's apartment on the day her mother was attacked. Ruth's landline phone records show a phone call to Robert's cell phone number at 3:40 p.m. Robert's cell phone records show that he received two phone calls from Ruth's landline number, one at 2:40 p.m. and the other at 3:40 p.m. Bierce provided the phone records to Benner during the winter of 2013-2014.

         During the summer of 2014, while collecting phone records for another case, Bierce learned that due to cell tower construction, some calls made in Indianapolis were being routed through cell towers in Chicago, Illinois. Calls that were routed through Chicago were recorded in Central standard time. After learning this new information, Bierce reviewed the cell phone records he had obtained for several open investigations, including Robert's records. Bierce found that some of the calls on Robert's records had been routed through Chicago. Accordingly, he created a spreadsheet titled “Results” that converted the calls on Robert's phone records that had been routed through Chicago to Eastern standard time (Indianapolis time). The Results spreadsheet shows that the two calls to Robert's cell phone from Ruth's landline were made on November 19, 2013 at 3:40:38 p.m. and 3:40:51 p.m. Bierce created the Results spreadsheet in July 2014 and provided it to Benner.

         E. The Probable Cause Affidavit

         On May 22, 2014, Benner executed a probable cause affidavit that contained the following statements:

• On November 19, 2013 at approximately 3:38 pm IMPD 911 dispatch received a call from the address of 801 N. Shortridge Rd, Apartment H 11. The caller said that someone had “bashed” his mother's head in. Officer Lewis arrived on scene along with IFD. Officer Lewis said that the victim's head was covered with a blanket when they arrived on scene. The victim, identified as Ruth Rainsberger, was transported to Wishard hospital in critical condition. The caller, identified as William Rainsberger, and his brother, Robert Rainsberger, were transported to Police Headquarters to give a statement. It should be noted that during the initial investigation, both medic and hospital personnel believed that the victim may have sustained a gunshot wound. The fact that the 911 caller said his mother's head was bashed in without actually seeing her head is indicative to the affiant that he may have knowledge of how she sustained the injury.
• On December 4, 2013 I took a statement from Firefighter Carl Wooldridge. Wooldridge said he was the first to have contact with the caller who was standing outside of the apartment building when fire arrived on scene. The white male on scene told Wooldridge that someone had “caved his mother's head in.” Wooldridge went to the apartment door and noticed it was slightly ajar. The victim was lying on the floor between a chair and a coffee table. Wooldridge said it was immediately apparent to him that the victim was breathing even though she had a blanket covering her head. He said the blanket appeared to cover the entire head and not just one side. The blanket was soaked in blood and was stuck to the victim's head. Wooldridge thought it was strange that the caller said her head was caved in when it was obvious that he had not removed the blanket to check on his mother. Fire and ambulance personnel thought the victim may have been shot and thought it was not normal that there was not any blood spatter on the walls or ceiling. Wooldridge said the apartment seemed to be in orderly condition. The caller was identified as William Rainsberger.
• I requested crime lab to the scene and 4439 CSS Lane responded to the scene. A walkthrough of the apartment revealed that there were no signs of forced entry. There were a few drawers in the victim's bedroom that were pulled out halfway with no sign of anyone rifling through the contents. There were a large amount of boxes in a back room that were untouched. There was a lockbox in the back room in plain view that contained savings bonds belonging to the victim. The victim's checkbook, some cash and credit cards were still present inside the apartment. The only blood found on the scene was on the blanket and on the floor where the victim was found.
• On November 19, 2013 I conducted an interview of William Rainsberger at Police Headquarters. William said he has been taking care of his mother on a daily basis for the past few years. He pays all of her bills and has power of attorney responsibility over her finances. He said he last saw his mother on Monday night around 6:00 pm. He left her apartment and went to Plainfield to spend the night with his wife. He returned home to 13th Street around 9:00 am on Tuesday morning and just hung out at home all day. He said that around 3:30 pm he went to the Kroger on 10th St and bought an iced tea. He then drove across the street to check on his mother. He said he checked her mailbox and went out to his car before going to her door. He said when he used his key to open the door if appeared that the door was already unlocked. He opened the door and saw his mom lying on the floor with a blanket over her head. He walked around a coffee table and put his tea down on the table. He saw some blood on the floor and on the blanket so he called 911. He said his mom was breathing loudly as if she was snoring. I asked why he didn't take the blanket off to check his mom and he said he thought he would do more damage by touching her. He called 911, left the apartment after closing the door, and went outside to ...

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