United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Dublin Division
LENA WILLIAMS, individually and as administrator of the Estate of Melvin Williams, Deceased, Plaintiff,
JEFFERY DEAL, in his individual capacity as a Police Officer of the City of East Dublin, WILLIAM LUECKE, in his individual capacity as Chief of Police of the City of East Dublin, and CITY OF EAST DUBLIN, a municipal corporation of Georgia, Defendants.
DUDLEY H. BOWEN, District Judge.
Presently pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. Upon review of the parties' briefs, the relevant case law, and the evidence of record, the motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART for the following reasons.
A. Factual Background
This case arises from the lethal shooting of Melvin Williams ("Williams") by Jeffery Deal ("Deal"), an employee of the East Dublin Police Department ("EDPD"), following a traffic stop and altercation on May 14, 2010. A portion of the incident was captured on video by a dashboard camera mounted on Deal's vehicle. At summary judgment, a district court should adopt facts consistent with video evidence and disregard facts that are "clearly contradicted" by the video, where - as here - there is no indication that the video was doctored, altered, or otherwise distorts the facts. Scott v. Harris , 550 U.S. 372, 378-81 (2007). Thus, for ease of reference, the Court presents a factual summary of the incident with the undisputed video evidence isolated in its own section.
1. Events Prior to Activation of Dashboard Camera Video
According to Deal, he observed a car fail to stop at a stop sign at the intersection of Boat Ramp Road and Buckeye Road, at 9:00 a.m. or shortly thereafter on May 14, 2010. (Doc. No. 120, Deal Dep. at 151-52, 155, 172.) At that time, Deal was parked in a marked police vehicle one block north on Buckeye Road at the Amba Food Mart. (Id. at 151.) Williams turned right (south) onto Buckeye Road and sped away from Deal. (Id. at 152, 154.) Deal accelerated after him, but did not turn on his emergency lights or sirens or call dispatch. (Id. at 152-55, 159-60, 168-69.) After driving one block south on Buckeye Road, Williams turned left onto Daley Street. (Id. at 154.) When Deal reached Daley Street, he apparently saw Williams turning right onto Marion Street. (Id. at 156.) Deal continued south on Buckeye Road and parallel to Williams's route on Marion Street. (Id. at 156-57.) While driving parallel to Williams, Deal apparently caught a glimpse of Williams's vehicle as they both simultaneously reached Roberson Lane, which runs perpendicular between Buckeye and Marion. (Id. at 157-58, 162-63.) Deal saw Williams either continue south on Marion or turn right on Roberson. (Id.; Doc. No. 125, Ex. 12 "GBI Interview" at 8:45 to 9:15.) At that point, Deal continued south on Buckeye and turned right on Derriso Lane, which was away from the route being taken by Williams. (Deal Dep. at 157.) Deal thought he would have a good vantage point from Derriso Lane. (Id. at 163.) Deal proceeded down Derriso Lane and turned around. (Id. at 164-68.)
2. Dashboard Camera Video
At 9:06:01 a.m., Deal turned around in the yard of a residential lot on Derriso Lane, drove about 200 feet toward Buckeye Road, and turned left (north) on Buckeye Road. As soon as Deal turned left onto Buckeye Road, Williams's vehicle was visible heading north on Buckeye Road and immediately pulled into a driveway about 100 yards away. Deal drove toward Williams and turned on his emergency lights as he pulled behind Williams's vehicle in the driveway. (Video at 9:06:01 to 9:06:34.)
Deal immediately exited his vehicle and, with his hand on his holster, ran toward the driver-side of Williams's vehicle. (Id. at 9:06:35.) Much of the ensuing scene is outside the view of the dashboard camera, but the audio is still captured. (Id. at 9:06:36 to 9:07:00.) Deal immediately stated, "Get in the car. Don't get out the car on a traffic stop." The audio then begins to capture sounds of a physical struggle. After several seconds of struggle, Williams exclaimed: "What is wrong with you!" Deal, apparently trying to make a radio dispatch, stated "1018 Buckeye." Williams exclaimed again: "Man, what is wrong with you!" Briefly, the sounds of struggle continued. (Id.)
Then, they both enter the view of the dashboard camera. (Id. at 9:07:01.) At that time, Deal was slightly hunched over with both hands on the holster-side of his body near his firearm, and Williams appeared to be pulling or grabbing at Deal around his upper torso. Williams threw and landed a close-fisted punch at Deal's head. Deal immediately backed away and out of the view of the camera. Still facing Deal, Williams paused and then stepped forward toward Deal. As soon as Williams advanced a step forward, Deal fired a shot, and Williams fell to the ground. (Id. at 9:07:04.) Deal then loudly commanded, "Get on the ground!" (Id. at 9:07:05.) The entire fight lasted just under thirty seconds. (Id. at 9:06:37 to 9:07:05.)
Deal immediately radioed dispatch. Williams struggled to lift his head off the ground. Deal stated, "Stay on the ground." Someone - later identified as Keith Patterson, an eye-witness - yelled toward Deal from Buckeye Road, and Deal responded, "I'm all right, man. Thank you, brother. Yes sir, thank you." Deal continued pointing his firearm at Williams and commanded: "Stay on the ground. Put your hands out." At that point, Williams was clearly incapacitated, laid his head on the ground, and ceased moving. Deal continued to speak with dispatch. Though partially out of the frame, it appears that Deal entered Williams's car and attempted to open the trunk. (Id. at 9:07:06 to 9:09:44.) Other officers and EMTs began to arrive. They were unable to find a pulse on Williams and unsuccessfully attempted to resuscitate him. Officers continued to investigate the scene, and the camera was eventually turned off. (Id. at 9:09:45 to 9:49:00.)
3. Deal's Statements
Deal has made several statements regarding the incident. First, Deal repeatedly explained the traffic stop, fight, and shooting to other officers arriving at the scene, as captured by the dashboard camera microphones. Second, on the day of the incident, Deal was interviewed by GBI agent Jerry Jones. Third, Deal wrote an incident report on the day of the incident. Lastly, about two years after the incident, Deal was deposed and submitted a sworn declaration. After resolving conflicts and inconsistencies in favor of Williams, Deal's statements reveal the following.
After pulling into the driveway, Deal saw Williams remove his seat belt, open the door, and jump out as if he was going to flee. (Video at 9:10:00 to 9:10:20, 9:11:40 to 9:11:50; GBI Interview at 9:40 to 11:00; Deal Dep. at 58.) Deal could see that Williams did not have a weapon in his hands. (Deal Dep. at 139, 146.) As shown on the video, Deal rushed toward Williams and commanded him to get in the car. Deal gave Williams only a brief moment to obey the command. (Deal Dep. at 208, 210, 225; Video at 9:06:35 to 9:06:45.) Then, Deal grabbed Williams and tried to push him back into the vehicle. (Video at 9:10:00 to 9:10:20, 9:11:40 to 9:11:50, 9:16:50 to 9:17:00; Deal Dep. at 56.) Deal grabbed and pushed Williams "in case he was going to try to fight or run." (Deal Dep. at 146.)
At that point, Deal and Williams quickly got "tied up, " and a vigorous fight began. (GBI Interview at 11:00 to 13:00.) Deal and Williams knocked each other over and fought on the ground. (Id.) As they wrestled and got back on their feet, Williams hit Deal in the head a couple times with closed fists, and Deal responded with some knee strikes. (Id.; Video at 9:11:40 to 9:11:50, 9:16:50 to 9:17:05; Deal Dep. at 208.) Deal attempted to get out his pepper spray but was preoccupied blocking Williams. (GBI Interview at 12:50 to 13:00.)
Williams then grabbed Deal's firearm holster and made several violent jerking motions. (GBI Interview at 13:45 to 14:30; Video at 9:12:10 to 9:12:30, 9:17:40 to 9:18:15; Deal Dep. at 217-20; Deal Decl. ¶ 9.) Deal struggled to hold on to his firearm, and the holster unsnapped. (GBI Interview at 13:45 to 14:30; Video at 9:13:40 to 9:13:50, 9:17:10 to 9:18:15; Deal Decl. ¶ 9.) Somehow, Deal knocked Williams's hands off the firearm and, emerging with the gun, backed away, and raised it toward Williams. Then, as soon as Williams started advancing toward him, Deal fired the lethal shot at Williams. (GBI Interview at 14:30 to 15:00; Video at 9:07:00 to 9:07:05, 9:11:25 to 9:11:35, 9:12:10 to 9:12:30, 9:13:40 to 9:13:50, 9:17:10 to 9:18:15.) At the moment Deal fired his weapon, he was approximately six feet away from Williams. (Deal Dep. at 97-103.) Deal has never stated, and the video bears out, that he did not issue any warning to Williams immediately prior to firing his weapon.
4. Keith Patterson's Account of the Incident
Keith Patterson was an eye-witness to the incident. (Doc. No. 50, Patterson Decl. ¶ 4.) Patterson was in the passenger seat of a car traveling north on Buckeye Road and observed part of the fight between Williams and Deal. (Id.; see also Doc. No. 47, Ex. 5 "Patterson GBI Interview" at 2:00 to 4:30, 8:50 to 14:30, 18:00 to 18:30; Doc. No. 123, Patterson Dep. at 33-68, 97-99.) During the fight, Patterson saw Williams punching Deal and grabbing and pulling at Deal's firearm. (Patterson Decl. ¶¶ 4-6; Patterson Dep. at 27, 34, 46, 52-53, 97-99; Patterson GBI Interview at 11:00 to 14:30.) Patterson observed Deal and Williams briefly separate and the lethal shot fired as Williams advanced toward Deal. (Patterson Decl. ¶¶ 5-6.)
There is, however, some reason to question Patterson's ability to observe and recount the entire incident. The rearfacing camera on Deal's vehicle shows that Patterson may not have witnessed much of the altercation outside of the portion captured by the view of the primary camera. Additionally, there are a number of facts that detract from Patterson's credibility.
5. Shawnn Rogers's Account of the Incident
Shawnn Rogers was the driver in the same car as Keith Patterson and also claims to have witnessed a portion of the incident. (Doc. No. 47, Ex. 6 "Rogers GBI Interview" at 3:15 to 3:30; Doc. No. 124, Rogers Dep. at 14, 17-18.) Rogers saw Williams hitting and grabbing Deal. (Rogers GBI Interview at 1:15 to 2:00, 6:45 to 7:45; Rogers Dep. at 9.) Deal appeared to be losing the fight. (Rogers Dep. at 15.) Rogers thought that Williams might have been trying to grab Deal's gun, but he was not sure. (Rogers GBI Interview at 1:15 to 2:00.) Rogers saw Deal trying to get away from Williams. (Id. at 1:15 to 2:00, 6:15 to 6:30; Rogers Dep. at 16.) After Deal managed to get away and draw his weapon, Williams moved toward Deal, and Deal shot Williams. (Rogers GBI Interview at 1:15 to 2:00.) Rogers heard the shot but was not looking at Williams and Deal at that very moment. (Id. at 8:30 to 8:45.) Rogers stopped to ask Deal if he was okay before continuing on. (Id. at 9:20 to 10:40.) Deal appeared to be cut of breath. (Id.) Deal signaled that he was fine and Rogers drove away. (Id.)
6. The Glass Pipe in Deal's Vehicle
During the GBI investigation, a glass pipe with a burnt end and unknown residue was found in the vehicle being used by Deal on the day of the incident. (Deal Dep. at 184-92 & Exs. 13 & 14.) The pipe was located in an open ashtray in the center console. (See id.) Deal could not explain the presence of the pipe; he states that he must have overlooked it during his vehicle inspection that morning. (See id.) Deal testified that he did not use drugs on the day of the incident cr at any time in his life. (Id. at 192-95.) Deal offered to provide the GBI with hair, blood, and urine samples. (Deal Dep. at 192-93.) Indeed, GBI Agent Jerry Jones decided to collect a urine sample on the day of the incident, and the results were negative. (Id.; Doc. No. 46, Ex. 3 at 63-65, 114-15, 129.) The record is relatively silent in regards to any subsequent investigation into the pipe's presence in the vehicle. (See Doc. No. 127, Ex. 15; Luecke Dep. at 84-88.)
B. Procedural History
On June 17, 2011, Plaintiff Lena Williams filed suit individually and as administrator of the estate of her deceased son, Melvin Williams. On September 16, 2011, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint asserting federal and state law claims against Deal and William Luecke, Chief of Police of the City of East Dublin Police Department, and a federal claim against the City of East Dublin. The case was significantly delayed by ill-conceived defense tactics, including numerous discovery disputes, motions, and an unsuccessful appeal. On September 27, 2013, the Court terminated four pending motions for summary judgment due to the "hopelessly labrynthine" state of the docket and permitted the parties to revise and refile consolidated motions for summary judgment. (Doc. No. 175.) ...