Preliminary comment: Usually civil conspiracy claims against police officers seem to be dismissed on summary judgement.
Case: Lennon v. SHARON HILL BOROUGH, Dist. Court, ED Pennsylvania 2014
Decision: No qi for most of the the policemen, not even on the conspiracy claim. Judge seems to think it is possible that the Sharon Hill Police Chief might have punched Plaintiff and then conspired with his officers to concoct a story that Plaintiff attacked the police so that Plaintiff would not be in a good position to try to get the police in trouble for punching him.
Case: Youngblood v. City of Bakersfield, Dist. Court, ED California 2014
Decision: No qi for popo-dog Bronx and his handler, Bakersfield Police Officer Christopher Dalton.
Case: SNEADE v. Rojas, Dist. Court, D. Massachusetts 2014
On March 24, 2008, Sneade made an emergency call to the Worcester Police Department (“WPD”) as the result of an argument between she and her uncle, Alfred Sneade (“Alfred”) who was intoxicated. The dispatcher who took the call reported that a woman could be heard screaming in the background and that a subsequent 911 emergency hang up call was received from the residence. Officer Rojas and Officer Andrew Cravedi (“Cravedi”) responded to the call. Shawn Daley (“Daley”), a counselor working with Williamson, Sneade’s oldest son, stood outside the home as Officers Rojas and Cravedi approached the front door to the residence.
The residence was a three decker apartment building. Sneade, Williamson, Russell (Sneade’s daughter), Sneade’s son Nathan, and Alfred all lived on the first floor. Two adult dogs, Bruno and Ceece, and their four puppies also lived in the apartment. Bruno was a four year old Boxer/Chow Chow mix; he weighed approximately eighty-five pounds.
Upon exiting his marked police car, Officer Rojas heard the screaming and shouting of a female voice. Daley identified himself as Williamson’s counselor and told the officers that the disturbance was at Sneade’s residence. Sneade let Officer Rojas into the house. Officer Cravedi remained outside as Officer Rojas entered the residence. Sneade continued to yell at someone inside and appeared agitated.
Officer Rojas entered Sneade’s apartment through a living room with couches and a TV; to the right was a threshold leading to a dining room; and beyond the dining room, to the right, was a door leading into the kitchen. As Officer Rojas entered the residence, Russell was seated on one of the sofas in the living room. Williamson and Nathan were in Sneade’s bedroom watching television.
Once Officer Rojas entered, Sneade began to walk toward the kitchen to lead Officer Rojas to her intoxicated uncle who was in the kitchen. As Sneade opened the door to the kitchen, Bruno ran out of the kitchen, stood in the dining room and barked at him. Bruno came to a stop, sat down and continued to bark at Officer Rojas. Bruno was 1-2 feet away from Officer Rojas, who was at the threshold to the dining room. Officer Rojas put on his gloves and fired his gun at Bruno twice; one shot hit Bruno in the shoulder, the other hit him in the head. The two shots were fired within seconds of each other. At the time that Officer Rojas fired his gun, neither Sneade nor any of her family members were in the dining room; there were no individuals in his line of fire, or in danger of being struck. Russell, who was closest, was sitting behind Officer Rojas on a couch in the living room. Officer Rojas never asked anyone in the residence to get control of Bruno before firing his gun and did not attempt any lesser use of force to control Bruno. The events of the shooting happened quickly and took a matter of seconds.
Williamson came out of the bedroom after hearing the shots and his mother screaming. He found Bruno in a pool of blood; he sat next to the dog and held him. After the shooting, Sneade ordered Officers Rojas and Cravedi out of the residence.
Backup police were called after the shooting. Approximately four additional Worcester police officers arrived at the Sneade residence after the shooting. Plaintiffs rebuffed any further police assistance using expletives and other harsh words to indicate their displeasure towards the police. At Plaintiffs’ request, Bruno was transported by a City animal control officer to the Foster Hospital for Small Animals at Tufts University Veterinary Clinic. He had to be euthanized.
Decision: The opinion states that it is unlikely the pet owners will win, but District Judge Timothy S. Hillman decided that there was not enough evidence in the record to decide the case just yet.
[E]ven if a jury were to find that Officer Rojas wrongfully shot Bruno, as a matter of law, his conduct would not rise to the requisite level of outrageousness and atrocity sufficient to permit recovery. Furthermore, the loss of a pet is very traumatic and emotional. But Massachusetts law creates an extremely high hurdle which must be overcome in order to maintain a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Even assuming that a jury determines that Officer Rojas acted unreasonably in shooting Bruno, there is no evidence in the record to support a finding that any Plaintiff suffered the severe emotional distress (such that no reasonble person could be expected to endure it) sufficient to make out a claim.
Comment: Speaking not as a judge, or a lawyer, but as a person, I think that watching your pet dog get shot in the head should qualify as “severe emotional distress.”
The taser records also indicated that Officer Springs apparently uses his taser with some frequency, a matter which may also raise concerns. Although the question of whether an officer may be trigger happy does not impact the qualified immunity analysis because the “doctrine focuses on `the objective reasonableness of an official’s conduct,’” Andrews v. Hickman Cnty, 700 F.3d 845, 953 (6th Cir. 2012), “without regard to [an officer's] underlying intent or motivation” Graham, 490 U.S. at 397, this is something that the Cookeville Police Department may want to investigate.
Case: Walker v. City of Cookeville, Dist. Court, MD Tennessee 2014
On March 29, 2007, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Chelsea Bechman was issued a traffic citation for failing to carry proof of insurance. She failed to appear or pay the fine, and a warrant was issued for her arrest. Bechman eventually appeared, and the Linn County District Court recalled the warrant on September 26, 2008. The Linn County District Court faxed the warrant recall information to the Cedar Rapids Police Department that same day.
On the evening of March 29, 2009, Cedar Rapids Police Officer Mitchell A. Magill was on duty as a patrol officer. Around 9:00 p.m., Officer Magill observed Bechman’s husband, Timothy Bechman, commit a traffic violation, and Officer Magill initiated a traffic stop. Timothy Bechman was driving Chelsea Bechman’s car. From information gleaned from his squad car computer—referred to as a “hit”—Officer Magill learned about what he later described as a “possible” Linn County arrest warrant for Chelsea Bechman. Officer Magill’s squad car computer identified the charge on the “possible” warrant: failure to carry proof of insurance. Timothy Bechman informed Officer Magill that Chelsea Bechman was at home.
After parting company with Timothy Bechman, Officer Magill called Officer Eric D. Butler to accompany him for assistance. Officers Magill and Butler proceeded to the Bechman home in separate squad cars. Officers Magill and Butler knocked at the door, and Chelsea Bechman (hereafter, Bechman) answered the door with her ten-month-old baby in her arms.
Officer Magill explained to Bechman the officers were there “in relation to a possible warrant.” Officer Magill told Bechman the warrant was for “a failure to appear for fines for insurance.” Bechman correctly advised Officers Magill and Butler the matter had been resolved and the warrant had been recalled. Officer Magill called the Cedar Rapids Police Department to “check through dispatch to learn whether [the warrant] was still valid.” The dispatcher did not verify the warrant was still valid. According to the transcript of the call, the dispatcher told Officer Magill, “Linn County is going to go ahead and fax over the hit confirmation to the Hinzman Center and the jail will go ahead and take her there and then they’ll double check with. . . the Clerk’s office on Monday morning reference [sic] the warrant, but they’re going to fax over the hit confirmation to the jail so you can go ahead and take her there.” In Officer Magill’s words, “the Sheriff’s office would confirm the existence of the warrant with the Clerk of Court the next morning.” Officer Magill did not have any reason to arrest Bechman other than the unverified “possible” warrant.
While the officers were in Bechman’s home, Bechman told the officers she was breast feeding her infant daughter and she needed to use the bathroom because she was menstruating. The officers refused to allow Bechman to use the bathroom without the door open and one of the two male officers watching. Bechman had no choice but to use the bathroom with Officer Butler observing her from the hallway. In addition, these male officers would not allow Bechman to exchange her breast milk soaked shirt for a dry one, or to put on a bra, unless one of them watched her change her clothes. She declined to do so.
Leaving the baby with Bechman’s husband, Officer Magill handcuffed Bechman, led her to his squad car, and drove her to the jail. At the jail, Bechman was strip searched and given a body cavity search. Bechman was detained at the jail overnight—the first time she had been separated from her nursing infant. The jailers released Bechman the next morning.
Case: BECHMAN v. Magill, Court of Appeals, 8th Circuit 2014
Case: Miles v. McNamara, Dist. Court, ND Illinois 2014
On June 26, 2011, Miles and Brian Walsh were each driving in the same direction on Western Avenue in Chicago. Miles was in the right lane and Brian Walsh was in the left lane about 15 feet ahead of Miles. Brian Walsh turned into an empty parking lot on the right side of the street, cutting off Miles. Miles then pulled into the same parking lot, exited his car, and walked over to Brian Walsh’s car. He proceeded to give the “much younger” Brian Walsh a “high volume lecture” about “proper driving.” (Dkt. 15, Amended Complaint (“Am. Compl.”) ¶¶ 16-17.)
After the encounter, Brian called family friends employed by the Chicago Police Department (“CPD”) and reported the incident. He also told his father, Tim Walsh, about what had transpired. Tim Walsh, a Chicago firefighter, “recruited” his “friends and/or acquaintances” within the CPD to help. (Id. ¶ 19.) CPD employees visited the Walshes’ home on or about June 28, 2011, presenting Brian Walsh with a photo array of suspects. Brian Walsh implicated Miles, who was arrested on September 8, 2011, despite defendant officers’ possession of a video that allegedly “absolved Plaintiff of any criminal culpability.” (Id. ¶ 20.) He was indicted for one count of attempted robbery, two counts of aggravated battery in a public place, and one count of unlawful restraint. Following a bench trial in March 2012, Miles was found not guilty of those three offenses but was found guilty of reckless conduct, a misdemeanor that the criminal court judge explained was a lesser included offense of the other crimes charged. (Dkt. 18, Ex. 1; dkt. 24 at 4; dkt. 26 at 9.) Miles was fined $200, placed on court supervision for 18 months, and required to take anger management classes. (Dkt. 18, Ex. 1 at 3.)
Miles brought suit about a year later against the Walshes, the CPD officers he alleges were involved in his arrest, unknown officers, and the City of Chicago . . .
Decision: The police did just fine — the officers get qi on their arrest of Plaintiff Miles.
Comment: I am not sure whether I have a problem with this or not. Is it acceptable that police had discretion to charge Plaintiff Miles with battery, while not charging Defendant Brian with reckless driving (or perhaps vehicular battery, or some such)? Perhaps what bothers me a bit about this case is the fact that the apparent selectivity in law enforcement was pretty clearly based upon Defendant Brian’s family connection to the Chicago Police Department. Then again, maybe what happened here is an acceptable outcome — I am just not sure.