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Smith v. Adams

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

April 9, 2019

MARQUELLE L. SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
HERBERT ADAMS OFFICER, BLAKE HOLLINS OFFICER, J.T. VANCLEAVE OFFICER, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, DENYING PLAINTIFF MARQUELLE SMITH'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, AND DIRECTING ENTRY OF FINAL JUDGMENT

          SARAH EVANS BARKER, JUDGE

         Plaintiff Marquelle Smith brought this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that he was subjected to excessive force and racial discrimination by Evansville Police Department officers during a traffic stop on February 20, 2017. Dkt. 25 at 2. He further alleged that the officers impeded his access to medical care after being tasered. Id. The Court screened his Complaint on May 25, 2017, and allowed his claims against Officer Adams, Officer Hollins, Officer Vancleave, and Sheriff Williams to proceed. Id. The remaining claims and defendants were dismissed. On May 9, 2018, the Court granted the defendants' partial motion to dismiss. Dkt. 40. The only claims remaining are Mr. Smith's excessive force and impediment of medical care claims against Officers Adams, Hollins, and Vancleave.

         Now before the Court are cross motions for summary judgment filed by the defendants, dkt. 57, and Mr. Smith, dkt. 61.[1]

         I. Summary Judgment Legal Standard

         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. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). 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. Gekas v. Vasilades, 814 F.3d 890, 896 (7th Cir. 2016). 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). To survive a motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party must set forth specific, admissible evidence showing that there is a material issue for trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). 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. Skiba v. Illinois Cent. R.R. Co., 884 F.3d 708, 717 (7th Cir. 2018). It cannot weigh evidence or make credibility determinations on summary judgment because those tasks are left to the fact-finder. Miller v. Gonzalez, 761 F.3d 822, 827 (7th Cir. 2014). 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. Grant v. Trustees of Indiana University, 870 F.3d 562, 573-74 (7th Cir. 2017). The non-moving party bears the burden of specifically identifying the relevant evidence of record. D.Z. v. Buell, 796 F.3d 749, 756 (7th Cir. 2015).

         When reviewing cross-motions for summary judgment, all reasonable inferences are drawn in favor of the party against whom the motion at issue was made. Valenti v. Lawson, 889 F.3d 427, 429 (7th Cir. 2018) (citing Tripp v. Scholz, 872 F.3d 857, 862 (7th Cir. 2017)). The existence of cross-motions for summary judgment does not imply that there are no genuine issues of material fact. R.J. Corman Derailment Servs., LLC v. Int'l Union of Operating Engineers, Local Union 150, AFL-CIO, 335 F.3d 643, 647 (7th Cir. 2003).

         II. Material Facts [2]

         Consistent with the foregoing, the following facts were evaluated pursuant to the standards set forth above. Moreover, certain actions taken and statements made during the relevant shooting, arrest, handcuffing, and subsequent medical care are not in dispute because the Court can base its decision on the audio and video evidence of the body camera videos taken. See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 379-81 (2007) (“[the court] should have viewed the facts in the light depicted by the videotape”).

         Defendants Officers Adams, Hollins, and Vancleave have been patrolmen with the City of Evansville Police Department (“EPD”) for over five years each. Officer Amuzie[3] has been a patrolman with the EPD for three years. Officers Adams, Hollins, Vancleave, and Amuzie have all received training through the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy and the Southwestern Indiana Law Enforcement Academy and receive regular training on an annual basis.

         On February 20, 2017 at approximately 10:20 p.m.[4], multiple EPD officers, including the defendants, were dispatched to the area of Jefferson Avenue and Bedford Avenue in Evansville, Indiana based on a 911 call for “shots fired and six males [sic] subjects fighting” and that someone had a gun. Multiple witnesses in the area confirmed shots had been fired, including Randy Wolfe (“Wolfe”) and his girlfriend, Connie DeWeese (“DeWeese”), and Latiess Reed (“Reed”), a resident of 831 Jefferson Avenue. Dkt. 59-5 at 9-10.

         When the officers arrived at the scene, they were in fully marked police cars and wearing their police uniforms with police badges on display. The officers were familiar the area because of similar runs prior to February 20, 2017, including the specific address of 831 Jefferson Avenue as being a residence involved with prior runs for “shots fired.”

         On February 20, 2017, when the EPD officers, including the defendants arrived, they observed 10-15 people near Jefferson Avenue and Bedford Avenue. Officers Hollins and Amuzie arrived first with Officer Adams arriving shortly thereafter. Officers Adams, Hollins, and Amuzie observed three males near a parked car that was facing eastbound on Jefferson Avenue. One of the males - later identified as Mr. Smith - appeared to be arguing near a car with the other two subjects. Ms. Reed confirmed that Mr. Smith was “mad” because someone had damaged his passenger side mirror. Dkt. 59-5 at 9. Mr. Smith also confirms he was upset at that time and had been drinking that night. Dkt. 59-6 (Smith Depo) at 28:9-10, 32:45-8.

         Officers Adams, Hollins, and Amuzie all took defensive positions with their firearms drawn but aimed at the ground and flashlights out. They told the subjects near the car to show their hands, be quiet, and move away from the car. Two of the subjects, but not Mr. Smith, moved towards the sidewalk and away from the car and showed their hands, while Mr. Smith remained by the car.

         Officers Adams, Hollins, and Amuzie did not know whether Mr. Smith had a firearm but continued issuing commands to Mr. Smith to show his hands and to not get in the car. Mr. Smith did not stop and, instead, entered his car and started the engine. Officers Hollins, Adams, and Amuzie continued to yell at Mr. Smith to exit the car. Dkt. 60 (Ex. 7) (Off. Hollins Camera) at 00:03. At that time, Officer Adams was standing in the middle of the street on Jefferson Avenue. Mr. Smith put the car in drive and accelerated toward Officer Adams. Dkt. 60 (Ex. 7) at 00:08. The tire tracks from Mr. Smith's car can be seen in the road. Dkt. 60 (Ex. 8) (Off. Adams Camera) at 4:08. As Mr. Smith's car passed Officer Adams, it veered towards Officer Hollins, and Officer Adams believed Mr. Smith could be attempting to run Officer Hollins over. Officer Adams was also hit with something in his knee.

         Multiple EPD officers, including Officers Hollins, Adams, and Amuzie, heard Mr. Smith's tires squeal as he was accelerating and believed Mr. Smith was accelerating his car toward Officer Adams in an attempt to cause serious bodily injury or deadly harm to Officer Adams. Officers Hollins, Adams, and Amuzie were also concerned that Mr. Smith's car could cause serious bodily injury to Officer Hollins, who was in the path of the car, and other civilians who were in the area. Witness Wolfe also observed Mr. Smith's car drive east on Jefferson Avenue “towards the direction of the officers” and “heard the driver accelerate the car.” Dkt. 59-5 at 9.

         As a result of their belief, Officer Adams and Officer Hollins each fired his EPD-issued firearm at the tires and body of the car attempting to stop Mr. Smith's car. Officer Adams fired his EPD-issued firearm three times. Officer Hollins fired his EPD-issued firearm one time. The bullets struck Mr. Smith's tire and rear door and caused Mr. Smith to crash his car into a garage across the street. Dkt. 59-6 at 45:4-10; Dkt. 59-7 (EPD Photographs) at 1-2. Officer Adams and Officer Hollins did not fire their weapons again after Mr. Smith's car stopped. Officer Vancleave arrived on the scene after Mr. Smith's car crashed into the garage.

         Officer Hollins and Officer Adams then quickly approached Mr. Smith's car with their firearms out and issued additional, verbal commands to Mr. Smith for him to show his hands and exit the car. Dkt. 60 (Ex. 8) at 00:01; Dkt. 60 (Ex. 7) at 00:13. Mr. Smith heard the officers tell him to turn off the car and put his hands out the window. Dkt. 59-6 at 47:13-16. Witness Wolfe also observed the EPD officers approach Mr. Smith's car and give him commands to exit the car. Dkt. 59-5 at 7. While Mr. Smith initially put his hands outside of his car, dkt. 60 (Ex. 8) at 00:05, he pulled them back into his car outside the view of the officers. Dkt. 60 (Ex. 8) at 00:16. Mr. Smith then threw what the officers believed to be drug contraband out the window of his car and continued to keep his hands inside the car. Dkt. 60 (Ex. 8) at 00:22.

         Officers Hollins approached Mr. Smith's car with Officers Adams covering him. Dkt. 60 (Ex. 8) at 00:27; Dkt. 60 (Ex. 7) at 00:38. When Officer Hollins attempted to open the car door, he realized it was locked and proceeded to unlock it in order to get Mr. Smith out of his car and onto the ground. Dkt. 60 (Ex. 8) at 00:27; Dkt. 60 (Ex. 7) at 00:50. At the same time, Mr. Smith put his hands down towards his waist band and appeared to be reaching for something inside of the car. Dkt. 60 (Ex. 8) at 00:30. The officers then told Mr. Smith to keep his hands outside the car and not to reach for anything. Dkt. 60 (Ex. 8) at 00:30. They also ordered Mr. Smith to get out of the car and give them his hands, but Mr. Smith refused. Dkt. 60 (Ex. 8) at 00:32. At some point though, Mr. Smith began repeating, “Pull me out.” Dkt. 60 (Ex. 8) at 00:35; Dkt. 60 (Ex. 7) at 00:55. Officer Vancleave grabbed Mr. Smith's arm in an attempt to keep Mr. Smith's hands in view of the officers while pulling Mr. Smith out of the car through the window. Dkt. 60 (Ex. 8) at 00:35; Dkt. 60 (Ex. 7) at 00:55. Midway through Officer Vancleave's effort to pull Mr. Smith out of the window, Mr. Smith began forcibly pulling away from the officers and hooked his foot inside the car in an apparent attempt not to allow himself to be pulled out of the car. Mr. Smith also then again appeared to reach for something inside of his car. Mr. Smith admits that after the officers told him to show his hands, he still reached into his car towards his waist but claims he was attempting to unbuckle his seatbelt. Dkt. 59-6 at 51:7-15. As a result of Mr. Smith's movements, Officer Vancleave tased Mr. Smith one time not knowing for what Mr. Smith was reaching. Dkt. 60 (Ex. 8) at 00:37; Dkt. 60 (Ex. 7) at 00:57. Mr. Smith was then pulled from the car.

         According to Mr. Smith, only Officer Hollins and Officer Vancleave touched Mr. Smith once he was outside his car. Dkt. 59-6 at 55:7-10. Once Mr. Smith was outside the car, the officers continued to give commands to Mr. Smith to give them his hands, but his hands remained under his stomach and out of sight of the officers. Dkt. 60 (Ex. 8) at 00:50. The officers attempted to lift Mr. Smith up to get his hands, but he continued to forcibly resist the officers by pulling away and pulling his body away from the officers. Dkt. 60 (Ex. 7) at 1:13. The officers were eventually able to handcuff Mr. Smith. Dkt. 60 (Ex. 8) at 01:02. For a moment, Mr. Smith apologized to the officers stating, “I'm sorry officers.” Dkt. 60 (Ex. 7) at 01:34; Dkt. 60 (Ex. 8) at 1:19. Even after Mr. Smith apologized, he continued to forcibly struggle with the officers and pull his arms away and even yelled, “Fuck that” and “I don't give a fuck, ” at the officers. Dkt. 60 (Ex. 8) at 1:37; Dkt. 60 (Ex. 7) at 1:52. The officers then told Mr. Smith to roll over, so they could get him off the ground. Dkt. 60 (Ex. 7) at 1:52; Dkt. 60 (Ex. 8) at 1:37.

         During this time, EPD officers attempted to keep the peace with a crowd of people that was forming. Dkt. 60 (Ex. 8) at 1:37. At that point, a crowd of people began forming and an unknown individual began walking towards the officers forcing the officers to take their focus off of Mr. Smith and towards the unknown male telling him to go inside his home. Dkt. 60 (Ex. 8) at 01:45; Dkt. 60 (Ex. 7) at 2:02. The unknown individual continued walking towards the officers causing one officer to state, “Watch this guy.” Dkt. 60 (Ex. 8) at 2:06. Not knowing what the unknown male was doing, not knowing if Mr. Smith still had a weapon on him, and as a result of Mr. Smith's aggressive behavior, Mr. Smith had to be secured by taking him to the ground again and taking Mr. Smith to subdue him. Dkt. 60 (Ex. 8) at 2:07; Dkt. 60 (Ex. 7) at 2:14. In the meantime, Mr. Smith became angry when he asked if he could smoke a cigarette and when denied that request, stated, “What do you mean, ‘Hell no?'” and started to forcibly resist the officers again by trying to pull away from the officers' grip and get away. Dkt. 60 (Ex. 7) at 2:16; Dkt. 60 (Ex. 8) at 2:09. Mr. Smith also started screaming and cussing at the officers, including “Fuck off” “Fuck y'all, ” and “I don't give a fuck.” Dkt. 60 (Ex. 8) at 2:10; Dkt. 60 (Ex. 7) at 2:23. Mr. Smith continued to repeat threatening statements to the officers. Dkt. 60 (Ex. 7) at 2:30; Dkt. 60 (Ex. 8) at 2:14.

         Officer Adams then approached the unknown male and asked him to back away and go inside, which the unknown male would not do. Dkt. 60 (Ex. 8) at 2:17. At the same time, Mr. Smith was lifted up from the ground so that the officers could search him. In response, the unknown male stated, “Now you see why I carry mine” and later referred specifically to carrying a “gun.” Dkt. 60 (Ex. 8) at 2:26. Officer Adams believed the unknown male was referring to carrying a firearm. Mr. Smith continued to threaten the officers and attempted to roll over from his stomach to face the officers. Mr. Smith continued to issue what the officers believed were threats, including “You a ho-ass nigga that's on top of me. Bitch you better press yo energy on me. Bitch you better press it.” The officers continued to issue verbal commands to Mr. Smith to stop and attempted to use their weight on Mr. Smith to subdue him. Mr. Smith continued to yell, “I don't give a fuck what you do to me.” Dkt. 60 (Ex. 7) at 3:03.

         While being escorted to a police car, Mr. Smith continued to threaten the officers by stating he would “swing at you.” Crack cocaine and marijuana were found on Mr. Smith's person. Following his arrest, when asked why he tried to kill two EPD officers, Mr. Smith would only state, “Charge me, charge me.” When the officers searched Mr. Smith's car, they found a large bag of ...


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