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Hall v. McGhee

United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division

January 30, 2017

DONOVAN HALL and ROGER REUBEN, JR., Plaintiffs,
v.
SERGEANT DAN MCGHEE, in his individual capacity, CHARLES DIX, in his individual capacity, AARON JACKSON, in his individual capacity, RAY HUNT, in his individual capacity, and JOHN DOES 1-4, in their individual capacities as deputies of the DeKalb County Sheriffs Office, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          WILLIAM S. DUFFEY, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants Charles Dix, Ray Hunt, Aaron Jackson, and Dan McGhee's (collectively, "Defendants") Motion for Summary Judgment [46].

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Facts

         On June 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]).

         On the 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).

         When 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. [66] 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. [64] at 32:25-33:3; 35:23-36:3).[1] 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 [72]). 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).

         Plaintiff 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 Video).[2]

         Shortly 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).

         Once the additional officers were on the scene, Sgt. McGhee tried to convince Plaintiffs and Ms. Griffin to open the door. (DSMF ¶ 31; McGhee Dep. [61] 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 [3] them. (R-DSMF ¶ 31; Hall Dep. [68] 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 deputies.[4]

         One of 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).

         Having 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).

         At some 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).[5] Ms. Griffin was arrested and placed in the sheriff's car. (See DSMF ¶ 45; R-DSMF ¶ 45).

         When 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).[6] 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 Video).

         While 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. [60] ¶ 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).

         On the 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).[8] 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)

         After 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. [69] at 45:19-46:20).

         B. Procedural History

         On February 12, 2015, Plaintiffs filed their Complaint [1], 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 damages.

         On 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 ...


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