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Day v. Wooten

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

January 10, 2020

Shanika Day, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellees,
Franklin Wooten, et al., Defendants-Appellants.

          Argued November 6, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division. No. l:17-cv-04612 - Tanya Walton Pratt, Judge.

          Before Easterbrook, Manion, and Barrett, Circuit Judges.


         Terrell Day died tragically while in police custody on September 26, 2015. This occurred while his hands were cuffed behind his back after he had winded himself during a chase following an apparent shoplifting. The autopsy report concluded his cause of death was a lack of oxygen in his blood, caused in part by his obesity, an underlying heart condition, and restricted breathing due to having his hands cuffed behind his back. In this § 1983 excessive force action brought against the arresting officers, the district court concluded the officers were not entitled to qualified immunity because "reasonable officers would know they were violating an established right by leaving Day's hands cuffed behind his back after he complained of difficulty breathing." For the reasons set forth below, we disagree with the district court's conclusion of law and accordingly reverse.

         I. Background

         A. Assumed Facts

         Before relating the facts, we first address which facts we must accept or assume for purposes of this interlocutory appeal of the denial of qualified immunity. The plaintiffs argue we must accept both "the 'facts that the district court assumed when it denied summary judgment,' and ... 'the plaintiff's version of the facts."' This misstates the standard established by our case law. We are instead presented with a choice between "[s]everal sources of undisputed facts [that] may frame our review" of the purely legal question presented by a denial of qualified immunity. White v. Gerardot, 509 F.3d 829, 833 (7th Cir. 2007). We may "take, as given, the facts that the district court assumed when it denied summary judgment." Id. (quoting Washington v. Haupert, 481 F.3d 543, 549 n.2 (7th Cir. 2007)). Alternatively, "we may conduct our review by 'accepting the plaintiff's version of the facts.'" Id.; see also Jewett v. Anders, 521 F.3d 818, 819 (7th Cir. 2008). And finally, whether we accept the district court's assumed facts or the plaintiff's version of the facts, we may also look to undisputed evidence in the record even if the district court did not consider it. White, 509 F.3d at 833 n.5; see also Thompson v. Cope, 900 F.3d 414, 419 (7th Cir. 2018).

         Although we are free to choose either the district court's assumed facts or the plaintiff's version, it is most often appropriate to accept the facts assumed by the district court in its denial of summary judgment. Haupert, 481 F.3d at 549 n.2. Accordingly, we accept the district court's statement of facts. See Day v. City of Indianapolis, 380 F.Supp.3d 812, 817-21 (S.D. Ind. 2019). In a few instances, which we note, we look to undisputed evidence not included in the district court's order but provided elsewhere in the record.

         Terrell Day was eighteen years old and weighed approximately 312 pounds[1] at the time of his death, with a history of obesity and an underlying heart condition. On September 26, 2015, Day was confronted by a loss-prevention officer outside the Burlington Coat Factory at Washington Square Mall in Indianapolis after Day apparently shoplifted a watch from the store. Day returned the watch but refused to return to the store with the loss-prevention officer. A mall security officer who joined the confrontation noticed Day had a gun in his pocket. There are varying accounts of what occurred next, but it is undisputed that a chase ensued in which Day ran out of the mall, through the parking lot, and across a street to a gas station. He there collapsed on a grassy slope. Law enforcement soon arrived in response to a radio call describing an armed shoplifter. At this point, the gun was no longer on Day's person, but was lying in the grass a few feet away and out of his reach.

         Officer Denny, the second officer to arrive on scene, handcuffed Day behind his back with a single set of handcuffs. He testified that Day's hands came together easily behind his back. He noticed Day was overweight, sweating, and breathing heavily. Day told the officers he was having trouble breathing; Officer Denny told Day he had exerted himself by running and instructed him to take deep breaths in and out to slow his heart rate. Officer Denny otherwise did not observe any signs of distress or of Day's trouble breathing.

         Officer Denny initially instructed Day to remain in an upright seated position, which he believed to be the most comfortable position for Day and ideal for the officers' safety. However, Day would not maintain this position, but instead laid down and rolled down the slope. After two attempts to keep Day seated upright, Officer Denny instead positioned Day to lie on his side. Officer Denny believed this was the best course of action to prevent Day from asphyxiating by rolling onto his stomach. While repositioning Day, Officer Denny observed Day had defecated on himself. He attributed this to Day having over-exerted himself during the chase.

         Sergeant Wooten arrived shortly after Officer Denny detained Day. Sergeant Wooten monitored Day while Officer Denny completed his investigative duties as the arresting officer. Sergeant Wooten and other officers repositioned Day several times when he rolled onto his stomach. Day complained to Sergeant Wooten that he could not breathe; however, Sergeant Wooten was skeptical of these complaints because Day also claimed to have done nothing wrong and was asking to be released. All the same, Sergeant Wooten called for an ambulance to evaluate Day approximately five minutes after Day was initially detained. Sergeant Wooten observed that Day appeared to calm down and began to breathe normally.

         The ambulance arrived, and two paramedics examined Day. In response to their questions, Day told the paramedics he had no preexisting medical conditions. He was able to speak to them in clear, full sentences. Their examination involved multiple tests, including listening to Day's breathing and checking his heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood oxygen saturation.[2] Day's hands remained cuffed behind his back throughout the examination. The paramedics concluded Day was breathing regularly and normally. Based on their examination, the paramedics believed Day did not need to go to a hospital.

         At that point, the paramedics asked Sergeant Wooten to sign a release form so they could transfer custody of Day back to law enforcement. Sergeant Wooten did so. The form he signed was called a "Treatment/Transport Refusal," and is meant to be signed by a patient when he refuses to be transported to the hospital after being evaluated by paramedics. However, when the paramedics determine a handcuffed prisoner does not need to be transported to the hospital, they have an officer sign the form as a witness of the transfer, not as a representative of the prisoner.

         Officer Denny requested a "jail wagon" to transport Day to a detention facility. When the jail wagon arrived, the driver found Day unresponsive. At that point Day was lying on his back on the asphalt with his hands still cuffed behind his back. When the driver and Sergeant Wooten attempted to stand Day up, his legs straightened and his knees locked. When Day failed to respond either verbally or physically to two "sternum rubs" (a painful stimulus administered to an unresponsive subject's chest to invoke a reaction), the driver asked Sergeant Wooten to call a second ambulance.

         The second ambulance arrived with a different team of paramedics, approximately forty-three minutes after the first ambulance had arrived.[3] Sometime between the departure of the first ambulance and the arrival of the second, a second pair of handcuffs was added to Day's wrists.[4] When the paramedics arrived, Day's eyes were open, and he was breathing, but his pulse was weak. Day was loaded into the back of the ambulance and the paramedics began to perform CPR. After attempting without success to revive Day for 30 minutes, he was pronounced dead. The coroner dispatched to the scene examined Day's body and found no visible signs of trauma. However, the autopsy report listed his cause of death as "Sudden Cardiac ...

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