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Baskin v. City of Fort Wayne

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana

October 20, 2017




         The Plaintiff, Dellis Michael Baskin, has sued the City of Fort Wayne and seven Fort Wayne Police Department officers alleging various federal and state law violations stemming from his interactions with police on July 20, 2014, and the state court criminal charges that followed. This matter is before the Court on what the Plaintiff has titled as a Partial Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 24], asking for judgment as a matter of law on fewer than all claims he asserts in this litigation. The Plaintiff believes that it is not necessary for a jury to decide his claims for false arrest, excessive force while being handcuffed and placed in a squad car, failure to intervene, or malicious prosecution because he has proven these claims as a matter of law. The Defendants maintain that they have presented facts to dispute those that the Plaintiff asserts in support of his Motion, and that these disputes and the accompanying credibility determinations must be assessed and decided by a jury.

         For the reasons stated in this Opinion and Order, the Court will deny the Plaintiff's Motion. On summary judgment, the Court does not examine the credibility of the witnesses or the weight of the evidence, and must construe all facts and take all reasonable inferences to favor the nonmoving party. In this case, there are two very different stories of what happened on July 20, 2014, and it will be the jury's task to determine whose version is accurate.


         The Three Rivers Festival took place in Fort Wayne, Indiana, on July 20, 2014. An increased police presence in the vicinity of the intersection of two downtown streets, Columbia Street and Harrison Street, was intended to provide crowd control for the mass of people leaving the bars and beer tents that closed down at 3:00 a.m. Shortly before they closed, police were called to assist with an individual who was asked to leave a beer tent because he had a gun. A chaotic scene ensued, which included members of the crowd yelling at the officers and becoming physically aggressive. The police made an arrest, but the agitated and aggressive behavior of the crowd continued when the beer tent closed. Officer Hughs, after issuing a warning to disperse or he would use OC spray (also referred to as pepper spray), directed six short bursts of OC spray directly into the air.

         After the use of the OC spray, members of the crowd began to make their way toward their vehicles and homes. Many people were attempting to leave a small area at one time, so there was heavy foot traffic in the area of Columbia Street and Harrison Street. Columbia Street was closed to vehicles, but Harrison Street was open to two-way traffic. The Plaintiff was one of the people in the streets at this time, but he was on a motorcycle. He drove his motorcycle on Columbia Street to where it created a “T” intersection with Harrison Street. The Plaintiff began to engage with the officers, expressing his concern over the use of OC spray. The parties offer differing accounts of what transpired from this point. According to testimony from the Defendants, the Plaintiff refused to leave the area despite instructions to do so, and continued to yell at the officers until he was arrested for obstruction of traffic. In the Plaintiff's version, he was not obstructing traffic. The parties also provide differing accounts of the events during and after the Plaintiff's arrest. The Defendants describe the Plaintiff as ignoring their instructions and actively resisting their attempts to place him in the squad car, while the Plaintiff describes natural and non-threatening responses to aggressive police conduct that unreasonably elicited increased force. The Court will discuss the specific differences that are relevant to the pending motion in the analysis section below.


         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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Summary judgment is not a substitute for a trial on the merits nor is it a vehicle for resolving factual disputes. Waldridge v. Am. Hoechst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 920 (7th Cir. 1994). Therefore, after drawing all reasonable inferences from the facts in favor of the non-movant, if genuine doubts remain and a reasonable fact-finder could find for the party opposing the motion, summary judgment is not appropriate. See Shields Enters., Inc. v. First Chi. Corp., 975 F.2d 1290, 1294 (7th Cir. 1992); Wolf v. City of Fitchburg, 870 F.2d 1327, 1330 (7th Cir. 1989).

         A. False Arrest

         “Where an arrest occurs without probable cause, the plaintiff may bring a claim for unreasonable seizure” under § 1983 and the Fourth Amendment. Bentz v. City of Kendallville, 577 F.3d 776, 779 (7th Cir. 2009) (citing A.M. v. Butler, 360 F.3d 787, 798 (7th Cir. 2004); see also Ienco v. Angarone, 429 F.3d 680, 683 (7th Cir. 2005) (“a false arrest is an unreasonable seizure prohibited by the Fourth Amendment”). “The existence of probable cause to arrest a suspect for any offense . . . will defeat a Fourth Amendment false-arrest claim.” Sroga v. Weiglen, 649 F.3d 604, 608 (7th Cir. 2011); Fernandez v. Perez, 937 F.2d 368, 370 (7th Cir. 1991). Law enforcement officers have probable cause to arrest a suspect when “‘the facts and circumstances within their knowledge and of which they have reasonably trustworthy information are sufficient to warrant a prudent person in believing that the suspect had committed' an offense.” Mustafa v. City of Chi., 442 F.3d 544, 547 (7th Cir. 2006) (quoting Kelley v. Myler, 149 F.3d 641, 646 (7th Cir. 1998)).

         On July 20, 2014, Sgt. Farrell arrested the Plaintiff for obstructing traffic. Indiana law on that date made it an offense to “recklessly, knowingly, or intentionally obstruct[] vehicular or pedestrian traffic.” Ind. Code § 35-44.1-2-13 (modified 2015). The Plaintiff asserts that Sgt. Farrell did not have probable cause to arrest him for obstructing traffic. As proof, the Plaintiff designates Officer Hannon's testimony that he instructed the Plaintiff to stop to avoid a collision on Harrison Street. He also offers the testimony of a bystander about her cell phone video which, he argues, shows that the Plaintiff's motorcycle was not far enough into Harrison Street to block any vehicular traffic.

         The Plaintiff argues that the bystander's testimony, the cell phone video, and Officer Hannon's testimony all show that no reasonable jury could find that the Defendants had probable cause to arrest the Plaintiff for obstructing traffic. This evidence, he argues, proves that he was not in the way of traffic until he pulled out, but there was no basis to arrest him at that point because an officer directed him to stop. The Defendants, however, have put forth evidence that Sgt. Farrell and Officer Hannon instructed the Plaintiff to clear the intersection multiple times before he finally pulled out onto Harrison Street as if to leave. The Defendant officers who witnessed this state that the Plaintiff pulled out without looking for oncoming traffic. They admit that the Plaintiff was told to stop to avoid a collision at that point, but they maintain that Sgt. Farrell again told the Plaintiff to move on and that he failed to do so despite ample opportunity.

         Sgt. Farrell's testimony on this point alone would create a genuine issue of material fact. The Plaintiff asserts that the Court should not credit Sgt. Farrell's testimony regarding the events leading up to the arrest because the cell phone video “clearly shows that the motorcycle is not in the intersection and is sitting several feet short of Harrison.” (Pl.'s Mem. 20, ECF No. 25.) According to the Plaintiff, the Court would not be making an improper credibility determination if it disregarded Sgt. Farrell's account because “[w]hen opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts for purposes of ruling on a motion for summary judgment.” Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007) (court was not required to accept the plaintiff's version of a car chase as benign where it was refuted by videotape of the chase that “more closely resembled a Hollywood-style car chase of the most frightening sort, placing police officers and innocent bystanders alike at great risk of serious injury”).

         The Plaintiff's false arrest claim is not amenable to summary resolution. First, the Plaintiff presents and interprets all of the evidence in a light most favorable to himself, the moving party. He ignores the fact that the Defendants have presented evidence that supports a different version of the events leading up to the Plaintiff's arrest. This includes not just Sgt. Farrell's testimony, but Officer Hannon's testimony that the Plaintiff was indeed refusing to move from a position that obstructed traffic on Harrison, despite being told to move and having ample opportunity to do so. According to this testimony, he was told to stop only when he pulled further into the street without looking and almost caused a collision with a vehicle. Thereafter, he again had time to move, but instead chose to stare down the officers. Additionally, the cell phone video is not as conclusive as the Plaintiff contends. The recording does not even begin until after the Plaintiff has been placed in handcuffs. The video is not taken from a perspective that conclusively shows how far the motorcycle extended onto Harrison Street, if at all. While the Plaintiff has provided an expert's analysis of the video that supports one interpretation, the Defendants have also ...

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