Police, The Fourth Amendment, Qualified Immunity

Deputy Donavin Geiger allegedly fails to identify himself as law enforcement, choosing instead to hurl curse words

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Case:  Crawford v. Geiger, Court of Appeals, 6th Circuit 2016


At approximately 9:00 pm on August 26, 2012, plaintiff Mark Crawford received a phone call from his mother, Jane Crawford, informing him that she and her daughter (also Crawford’s sister), plaintiff Debra Ornelas, had heard what sounded like a break-in at the family’s furniture store, Crawford’s Furniture. Ms. Crawford asked her son to come investigate the noise immediately.

After hanging up, Crawford told his nephew, plaintiff Brendon Reed (also Ornelas’ son and Ms. Crawford’s grandson), that Ms. Crawford believed someone was breaking into one of the furniture store’s warehouses and had asked Crawford and Reed to “get there right now.” Crawford then proceeded to retrieve ammunition, a Colt .45 pistol, and shotgun. Thereafter, he and Reed—who was armed with an AR-15 rifle—climbed into Reed’s Dodge pickup truck. With Reed driving, it took the two men approximately a minute to a minute-and-a-half to travel between Crawford’s house and Ms. Crawford’s property, where Crawford’s Furniture was located.

Meanwhile, after she and Ms. Crawford heard what sounded like noise from a break-in, Ornelas drove her vehicle behind the Crawford’s Furniture warehouses to investigate. At the same time, Ornelas was on her cell phone with her daughter-in-law (also Reed’s wife), Christine Reed. Although Ornelas knew that her mother was planning to call Crawford, she instructed Christine to call 911. Shortly after Ornelas hung up with Christine, an Allen County, Ohio dispatcher called Ornelas to follow-up on the 911 call Christine had placed. The dispatcher informed Ornelas that police officers were en route to Crawford’s Furniture and remained on the line with Ornelas until she saw an officer and his canine partner on the property. Ornelas later learned that this particular police officer was defendant Donavin Geiger, a deputy with the Allen County Sheriff’s Department.

Deputy Geiger approached Ornelas, who was still seated in her vehicle, and told her to go back to Ms. Crawford’s house. Ornelas complied, parking her vehicle near the patio adjacent to the house; meanwhile, Geiger proceeded to approach the warehouses from the north.

When they reached Crawford’s Furniture, Reed parked his truck approximately 30 feet from Ms. Crawford’s house, and Crawford jumped out of the truck to retrieve his pistol and ammunition. After Crawford re-entered the truck, the two men proceeded to “speed load” the pistol, the rifle, and the shotgun, then drive toward the warehouses “dynamically,” i.e., loudly and with the truck’s bright headlights turned on. At this time, they had no idea that Ornelas had called 911 or that Geiger, a police officer, was searching the premises.

As Reed was turning left to “do a sweep behind the warehouses,” he saw a bright light and stopped the truck. Reed and Crawford then exited the truck to “cover [the] perceived threat”—Reed armed with his rifle and Crawford holding his shotgun and wearing the pistol holstered on his left side.

The parties’ accounts of what occurred next diverge considerably. According to Plaintiffs, after Reed parked the truck, he and Crawford assumed a “triangle” formation in relation to the person shining the bright light—who they later learned was Deputy Geiger—with their firearms trained on the light source. Crawford announced, “Mark A. Crawford, identify yourself, you’re trespassing on private property.” (R. 69-4, PageID# 1145; R. 69-6, PageID# 1335). Crawford continued to identify himself by name and as the property owner,[1] and both he and Reed told Geiger “identify yourself” several times. According to Plaintiffs, Geiger never identified himself (by name or as a police officer), but instead trained his very bright flashlight on Crawford and Reed and shouted, “put [y]our guns down” and “get on the fucking ground.” (SeeR. 69-4, PageID# 1140, 1142, 1146; 69-6, PageID# 1328, 1334-36, 1342-44). This “standoff” continued for approximately 15 to 40 seconds. At their respective depositions, both Crawford and Reed testified that they refused to obey Geiger’s commands to drop their weapons and get on the ground because they could not see him in the dark, did not realize he was a police officer (at in least in part due to his refusal to identify himself), and perceived him as an “unknown threat.”

About 30 to 40 seconds into the standoff, Crawford heard radio traffic, a sound with which he was familiar based on his prior employment in the military and as a corrections officer. Upon hearing the radio traffic, Crawford “took a leap of faith,” assumed the person shining the bright light in his direction was a law enforcement officer, and put his shotgun on the ground. Crawford also instructed Reed to drop his rifle and step away from the weapon. Reed complied. Crawford raised his hands in the “surrender position,” but never reached for or removed the pistol on his belt because Geiger did not specifically instruct him to drop this second firearm and “anybody knows you don’t touch a pistol locked down in your holster if your hands are up[.]” (See R. 69-6, PageID# 1346, 1350-51, 1353).

While talking to Ms. Crawford in front of the house, Ornelas overheard at least part of the standoff between Geiger, Crawford, and Reed. The “first audible thing” Ornelas heard was Geiger “saying that he was going to shoot somebody in the fucking head.” (R. 69-7, PageID# 1766). “[D]irectly after that,” she heard her brother say, “Mark A. Crawford, property owner.” (Id.). Although she could discern some of what was being said during this confrontation, Ornelas did not “understand what all the yelling was about,” and assumed that Geiger had mistaken Crawford and Reed for “the people breaking into the warehouse.” (Id. at 1766-67).

Hoping to dispel any misunderstanding, Ornelas hurried over to the warehouses. There, she saw Crawford and Reed standing next to the driver’s side of Reed’s truck. Initially, Ornelas tried to explain to Deputy Geiger that Crawford was the property owner, Reed was her son, and that she herself had called 911. However, when the yelling between Geiger and Crawford continued and no one appeared to be listening to her, Ornelas approached Reed to ask what was wrong.

Meanwhile, even after Crawford had assumed the “surrender position,” Deputy Geiger continued saying “get on the ground” and “I’ll shoot you in the fucking head.” (R. 69-6, PageID# 1345-46, 1352-53, 1409). Crawford refused to comply with this command because he believed Geiger was “out of control” and feared for his own safety. Around the same time, several more police officers arrived on the scene, including defendant Cory Lee, a deputy for the Allen County Sheriff’s Department, and defendants-appellants Nicholas Hart and Jesse Evilsizer, a sergeant for the Lima Police Department and an officer for the Elida Police Department, respectively. Deputy Lee, Sergeant Hart, and Officer Evilsizer were all responding to a call for assistance that Deputy Geiger had made over his radio during the initial standoff with Crawford and Reed. In his call for assistance, Geiger stated that he had encountered “armed suspects.”

As the other officers began to arrive, Deputy Geiger changed his command to Crawford from “get on the ground” to “put your hands on the truck.” When Crawford complied with the latter order, Geiger “bounce[d] [Crawford’s] head off the hood of the truck” and said, “Now you’re going to jail motherfucker,” as he put his full body weight on Crawford’s neck. (See R. 69-6, PageID# 1357, 1361, 1371). Geiger also removed Crawford’s pistol from his holster.

Written by Burgers Allday

August 18, 2016 at 5:38 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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