United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division
OPINION AND ORDER
WILLIAM S. DUFFEY, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the Court on Defendants Charles Dix, Ray
Hunt, Aaron Jackson, and Dan McGhee's (collectively,
"Defendants") Motion for Summary Judgment .
12, 2013, Judge Clarence F. Seeliger of the DeKalb Superior
Court issued a contempt order regarding Natania Griffin, the
mother of Plaintiffs Donovan Hall and Roger Reuben, Jr.
("Plaintiffs"). (Defs.' Statement of Material
Facts [46.2] ("DSMF") ¶ 1; Pl's Resp.
[56.1] ("R-DSMF") ¶ 1; [50.1] at 2). The order
stated that, because Ms. Griffin failed to pay $1, 000 in
guardian ad litem fees as previously ordered by the
court, the court found her in contempt. Judge Seeliger
ordered Ms. Griffin to purge her contempt by paying $1, 000
to the DeKalb County Sheriff within 30 days. The order
further stated that, if Ms. Griffin failed to pay the $1, 000
within 30 days, the DeKalb County Sheriff is ordered to
incarcerate her in the DeKalb County jail until the $1, 000
is paid in full. ([50.1] at 2). The order was received by the
DeKalb County Sheriff on June 19, 2013. (Id.). An
arrest order information sheet provided a physical
description of Ms. Griffin and her address: 4563 Carissa
Court, Ellenwood, GA 30294. ([50.2]).
night of July 25, 2013, Investigator Harold Sean Williams and
Investigator Aaron retrieved Ms. Griffin's arrest
warrant. (See DSMF ¶¶ 6-8; R-DSMF
¶¶ 6-8). At the time, Investigator Williams was
training Deputy Niyema Smith on how to execute warrants.
(DSMF ¶ 9; R-DSMF ¶ 9). Investigator Williams,
Investigator Jackson, and Deputy Smith arrived at Ms.
Griffin's address around 1:13 a.m. (DSMF ¶¶
13-14; R-DSMF ¶¶ 13-14). The officers ran the tag
on the car in the driveway, and learned that it was
registered to Plaintiff Roger Reuben and Ms. Griffin. (DSMF
¶ 16; R-DSMF ¶ 16). Following standard protocol,
Investigator Jackson went to the rear of the house to ensure
that no one ran out of the back, and Investigator Williams
and Deputy Smith went to the front of the house. (DSMF ¶
15; R-DSMF ¶ 15).
Investigator Williams and Deputy Smith got to the front door,
they first determined whether they could see any movement or
hear any noises in the house. (DSMF ¶ 17; R-DSMF ¶
17). After determining there was no movement or noise, Deputy
Smith knocked on the door, while Investigator Williams took a
step back and watched inside the house through a large window
above the front door. (DSMF ¶ 19; R-DSMF ¶ 19).
After Deputy Smith knocked, Investigator Williams claims he
saw Ms. Griffin crawling on the floor at the top of the
stairs. (DSMF ¶ 20). Ms. Williams denies that she would
ever crawl on a floor. (Griffin Dep.  at 38:19-22).
Investigator Williams shined his flashlight inside the house
to let the occupant know that he could see them. (DSMF ¶
21; R-DSMF ¶ 21). He then announced "DeKalb County
Sheriffs Office." (DSMF ¶ 22; R-DSMF ¶ 22;
Williams Dep.  at 32:25-33:3; 35:23-36:3). Defendants
contend that Ms. Griffin ignored Investigator Williams and
continued crawling on the floor. (DSMF ¶ 23). Deputy
Smith and Investigator Williams were persistent in trying to
get the occupants of the house to respond to their request to
respond to them at the door. They did so by knocking on the
door, progressively harder, at various intervals then ringing
the doorbell, and stating that the occupants needed to come
to the door. (See Video ). Eventually, Ms.
Griffin and one of the Plaintiffs came downstairs.
(Id.). Deputy Smith contends that, when Ms. Griffin
asked why they were there, she held the contempt order up to
the window. Plaintiffs contend Deputy Smith only said
"you're going to open the door, and then I'll
tell you what's going on." (DSMF ¶ 24; R-DSMF
¶ 24; Hall Dep. at 22). Plaintiffs told Defendants that
they had the wrong address, and Plaintiffs claimed they were
afraid of Defendants because Defendants were acting
aggressively. (See Video).
Hall claims this aggressive, loud behavior prohibited him
from asking the officers why they were at the house.
Plaintiff Hall used his phone to videotape the confrontation.
The video shows extended periods during which Plaintiffs,
including Plaintiff Hall, could have spoken to the officers
either from the stairs or at the door. (See
thereafter, Investigator Jackson radioed Investigator
Williams and Deputy Smith to tell them that he saw movement
through uncovered windows at the back of the house. (DSMF
¶ 25; R-DSMF ¶ 25). Investigator Jackson indicated
that someone was crawling on the floor, and that he could see
people passing something back and forth. (DSMF ¶ 26;
R-DSMF ¶ 26; Jackson Dep. [42.7] at 35). Other officers
were able to hear these radio communications. (DSMF ¶
27; R-DSMF ¶ 27). Deputy Dix and Deputy Hunt, who were
executing warrants nearby, came to the scene in response to
Investigator Jackson's radio communications. (DSMF ¶
29; R-DSMF ¶ 29). Sgt. McGhee, the supervisor on duty
that night, also overheard the radio traffic and came to the
scene to assist. (DSMF ¶ 30; R-DSMF ¶ 30).
the additional officers were on the scene, Sgt. McGhee tried
to convince Plaintiffs and Ms. Griffin to open the door.
(DSMF ¶ 31; McGhee Dep.  at 81:14-82:5). Plaintiffs
claim Sgt. McGhee and the other officers were "extremely
aggressive, " and that they were yelling, cursing at,
and threatening  them. (R-DSMF ¶ 31; Hall Dep.  at
31:16-20). Deputy Dix recalls Ms. Griffin coming to the door
and indicating that she knew why the officers were there, and
that Ms. Griffin stated that she did not have the $1, 000 to
pay for child support. (DSMF ¶ 32). Plaintiffs dispute
that Ms. Griffin ever came to the door. (R-DSMF ¶ 32).
The video shows her at the door when it was opened for the
the officers told the occupants of the house to call 911 to
verify that the officers were in fact law enforcement
officials. (DSMF ¶ 33; R-DSMF ¶ 33). Plaintiff Hall
called 911, and was instructed several times by the 911
operator to open the door because the individuals outside
were law enforcement officers. (DSMF ¶ 34; R-DSMF ¶
34). Plaintiff Hall requested that a "captain" come
to the house, and, at some point, one of the officers on the
scene activated the blue lights on a marked police car to
show the occupants that they were law enforcement officers.
(DSMF ¶¶ 35-36; R-DSMF ¶¶ 35-36).
been at the scene for 20-35 minutes, Defendants and other
on-scene officers began to grow concerned about their safety
because of Plaintiffs' and Ms. Griffin's noncompliant
and odd behavior. (DSMF ¶ 38). Defendants feared that
the occupants could possibly have a weapon or were committing
a crime, and believed that the occupants were committing the
offense of obstruction by refusing to open the door. (DSMF
¶¶ 40, 41).
point, a neighbor came and asked if he could assist. (DSMF
¶ 42; R-DSMF ¶ 42). The officers allowed the
neighbor to talk to Plaintiffs and Ms. Griffin through the
door. (DSMF ¶ 43; R-DSMF ¶ 43). Soon after the
neighbor spoke to Plaintiffs and Ms. Griffin, the door opened
and Defendants and the other on-scene officers quickly
entered the house. (DSMF ¶ 44; R-DSMF ¶
44). Ms. Griffin was arrested and placed in
the sheriff's car. (See DSMF ¶ 45; R-DSMF
the door was opened, there was a heated exchange between
Plaintiffs and the officers. The officers told the Plaintiffs
to get on the ground. (See Video). Defendants claim
that Plaintiffs refused to comply with their orders. (DSMF
¶ 46). Plaintiffs contend the officers rushed in through
the door and forced them to the ground. (R-DSMF ¶ 46).
Defendants claim that Plaintiffs were noncompliant and
passively resisted, which resulted in them being handcuffed.
(DSMF ¶ 50). Plaintiffs contend they did not resist any
attempts by Defendants to detain or arrest them. (Pl's
Statement of Additional Facts [56.1] ("PSAF")
¶¶ 1-2). At some point, Investigator Jackson
brandished his Taser, and threatened to tase Plaintiffs if
they said anything else or did not remain quiet. (DSMF ¶
52; R-DSMF ¶ 52; Smith Dep. at 61-64 ("I remember
him saying ... to be quiet, you know, or calm down, I'm
going to tase you, keep talking, you know.")).
Plaintiffs claim that Sgt. McGhee and other Defendants
grabbed Plaintiff Hall's arms and, when both of his arms
were restrained, Sgt. McGhee hit Hall in the face with his
gun. (PSAF ¶ 3; Hall Dep. at 67:1-10). Hall contends
Sgt. McGhee stood on Hall's head with both feet. (PSAF
¶ 3; Hall Dep. 72:18-37:10). Defendants dispute that
Sgt. McGhee pistol-whipped Plaintiff Hall or stood on
Hall's head during the incident. (DSMF ¶ 57).
Plaintiff Reuben claims that one of the Defendants picked him
up and body slammed him on the floor. Once he was on the
floor, Investigator Jackson allegedly pressed his Taser
against the back of Reuben's neck, and said that if he
moved his hands, he would tase him. (PSAF ¶ 5; Reuben
Dep. at 36:14-37:18). Plaintiff Hall saw multiple officers on
top of Reuben punching and kicking him, and he states that
one of the officers was spitting and cursing, "saying
I'm going to . . . tase the shit out of your big
ass." (Hall Dep. at 68:7-14). The video of the
officers' entry into the house does not show spitting and
there were no sounds consistent with spitting. (See
Plaintiffs were detained, the officers conducted a security
sweep of the house. (DSMF ¶¶ 47, 49; R-DSMF
¶¶ 47, 49). The parties disagree whether the
detention of Plaintiffs was temporary for purposes of the
sweep or whether the officers indicated Plaintiffs were being
arrested and taken to jail. (See id.). After
Plaintiffs were handcuffed, they were placed on the couch.
The videoed discussion after Plaintiffs were handcuffed was
less heated and ultimately Plaintiffs were un-cuffed. During
this discussion, which lasted approximately fifteen minutes,
there was no mention of any of Plaintiffs being hit, stood
upon or spit upon. (See Video). Plaintiffs claim
that, while they were on the couch, Investigator Jackson
moved back and forth between them, pointing his Taser at them
and pressing it against their heads. (PSAF ¶ 6;
Def.'s Resp.  ¶ 6; Hall Dep. at 69:8-15)7 When
the officers discovered that neither Plaintiff had an
outstanding warrant, the At one point, Plaintiff Hall stated
"you are arresting us because we are black." The
officer to whom this was directed stated "I'm black
. . . ." (See Video). officers decided not to
arrest them for obstruction. Plaintiffs were un-handcuffed
and Defendants left. (DSMF ¶¶ 54, 58; R-DSMF ¶
54, 58). Plaintiffs claim they were in handcuffs for about an
hour. (McKnight Aff. [56.4] ¶ 12). The CAD Report of the
Defendants' radio traffic indicates that the first
officers on the scene arrived at 1:13 a.m., and the last
officer left the scene at 2:48 a.m. (DSMF ¶¶ 68,
69; R-DSMF ¶¶ 68, 69).
afternoon of July 26, 2013, a few hours after the incident,
Plaintiff Hall and Ms. Griffin visited DeKalb Medical Center
("DMC") as a result of Plaintiff Hall's alleged
injuries. (DSMF ¶ 59; R-DSMF ¶ 59). Medical records
indicate that Plaintiff Hall had no visible injuries. (DSMF
¶ 59). Plaintiff Hall claims he suffered pain
in his face, back and legs. (PSAF ¶ 7; Hall Dep. at
99:11-16; 105:10-17). Plaintiff Reuben claims he suffered
physical pain to his back and head, that his asthma was
aggravated by Defendants' actions, and that he has
trouble sleeping at night because of the incident. (PSAF
¶ 8; Reuben Dep. at 61, 67, 71, 77)
Plaintiffs filed a citizen's complaint, the incident was
investigated by the DeKalb County Sheriffs Office, and it was
determined that Defendants had violated the Neglect of Duty
policy for failure to give suitable attention to the
performance of their duties. (DSMF ¶ 70; R-DSMF ¶
70). Investigator Jackson was reprimanded for the
"inappropriate use of force towards persons in [his]
custody, " and for omitting key facts from his report.
(Brown Dep.  at 45:19-46:20).
February 12, 2015, Plaintiffs filed their Complaint ,
asserting the following claims: (1) excessive force in
violation of the Fourth Amendment, brought under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 ("Section 1983") against Defendants in
their individual capacities; (2) false imprisonment under
O.C.G.A. § 51-7-20; (3) assault and battery; (4)
intentional infliction of emotional distress; (5) attorneys
fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988; and (6) punitive
April 29, 2016, Defendants filed their Motion for Summary
Judgment. Defendants argue they are entitled to qualified
immunity on Plaintiffs Section 1983 claim. Defendants claim
they are entitled to official immunity against Plaintiffs
state law claims ...