United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
For Ronald Sweat, Plaintiff: Daniel G. Romano, Pleasant Ridge, MI; David G. Blake, Gordana Misovski, Romano Law PLLC, Southfield, MI.
For Blackman Township Officer Brent Doxtader, Defendant: D. Randall Gilmer, McGraw Morris, P.C., Troy, MI; G. Gus Morris, McGraw Morris PC, Troy, MI.
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Dkt. No. 12)
PAUL D. BORMAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
This civil rights case arises from circumstances surrounding Plaintiff Ronald Sweatt's (" Plaintiff') arrest following a domestic assault on May 24, 2010. The complaint was filed on May 23, 2012. (Dkt. No. 1).
Now before the Court is Defendant Officer Brent Doxtader's (" Officer Doxtader" ) Motion for Summary Judgment filed on March 1, 2013. (Dkt. No. 12). Plaintiff responded on April 1, 2013. (Dkt. No. 17). Officer Doxtader then filed a reply. (Dkt. No. 18). A hearing on this matter was held on November 22, 2013.
For the reasons stated below, the Court DENIES Officer Doxtader's Motion for Summary Judgment.
The Court views the record in the light most favorable to Plaintiff and sets forth
the facts of the case drawing all reasonable inferences in his favor. See Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd., et al. v. Zenith Radio Corp., et al., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). The Court notes that this case involves an audio recording that accompanies a dashboard camera video. The dash-camera was continuously pointed at Plaintiff's residence; it captures only limited activity. Only where Plaintiff's version of the facts is silent or " blatantly contradicted" by the audio recording captured from Officer Doxtader's on-person microphone and at times the in-car microphone, will the Court rely upon the recordings. See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 167 L.Ed.2d 686 (2007); Coble v. City of Whitehouse, Tenn., 634 F.3d 865, 868 (6th Cir. 2011); Def.'s Br. Ex. 4, DVD.
A. Doxtader Arrives at the Scene
On May 24, 2010, Officer Doxtader was dispatched to Plaintiff's Blackman Township residence for an alleged domestic assault. (Def.'s Br. Ex. 2, Police Report at 1, 4 & 5).
Officer Doxtader was met at Plaintiff's residence by Plaintiff's step-daughter, Daniella Treciak, who had called 911 to report the incident. (Police Report at 5; Def.'s Br. Ex. 3, Doxtader Dep. 18). Daniella informed Officer Doxtader that Plaintiff, his wife, and their other daughter, Sierra Sweatt, were involved in an argument regarding Sierra's newborn daughter and whether Sierra's ex-boyfriend should have been allowed to take the baby for a visit. (Def. Br. Ex. 1, Daniella Treciak's Witness Statement). At some point during the argument, Plaintiff threw a Bic lighter which hit the wall and ricocheted into Sierra's eye. (Def.'s Br. Ex. 6, Plf.'s Dep. 58; Daniella Treciak's Witness Statement, " he  then threw a lighter that hit Sierra in the face." ; Police Report at 5). After Sierra was injured, Daniella entered the argument " yelling at Ron saying 'what did you do that for and why.'" (Daniella Witness Statement). Plaintiff then allegedly hit Daniella in the face. ( Id.; Def.'s Br. Ex. 5, Daniella Treciak's Dep. 21; Def.'s Br. Ex. 4, DVD, 00:00:52-00:02:00). Plaintiff testified that he does not remember if he hit Daniella in the face. (Plf.'s Dep. 63).
Prior to Officer Doxtader arriving at the scene, Plaintiff left the residence after learning Daniella was going to call the police. (Plf.'s Dep. 68, 79). Plaintiff testified that he left the residence because he wanted no more of the " ruckus" and also because he did not want to be arrested or go to jail. ( Id. 66-68). Plaintiff has three prior convictions. (Plf.'s Dep. 44). Plaintiff further testified that after leaving his house he went around the fence to the back parking lot of a Red Lobster which abutted his yard. ( Id. 73-76; see also Plf.'s Dep. Ex. 4, Plaintiff's Diagram). He then positioned himself between two storage sheds that were off-set from the fence by a few feet so he would be hidden from police when they arrived. (Plf.'s Dep. 73-74, 79-80).
While Plaintiff hid in the nearby Red Lobster parking lot, Officer Doxtader noted the injuries to Sierra and Daniella, and requested an ambulance be sent to the residence. (Police Report at 5, DVD, 00:02:00-00:02:33). The injury to Sierra's eye was noted to be swollen, red and bloodshot, and Daniella's left temple and left side of her face was red. (Police Report at 5; Def.'s Br. Ex. 7, Picture of Sierra's Injury; Def's Br. Ex. 8, Picture of Daniella's Injury). Officer Doxtader also radioed Plaintiff's description to dispatch and notified them that he had fled the scene on foot. (DVD, 00:01:20-00:03:12). Daniella explained to Officer Doxtader that her " step-dad has a bad temper" and
that he had been really " moody" lately. (DVD, 00:04:17-00:04:20 and 00:07:37:00-7:48:10).
Approximately fifteen minutes after Officer Doxtader arrived at Plaintiff's residence the ambulance crew arrived. (DVD, 00:15:19). Plaintiff's cousin, Eric Treciak, then arrived at Plaintiff's residence on his motorcycle and walked in the side door. (DVD, 00:19:45:00).
After treating Sierra, the ambulance left Plaintiff's residence. (DVD, 00:22:13). Plaintiff testified that upon seeing the ambulance leave he became concerned about his daughter and he came out from between the sheds and looked over the fence into his yard. ( Id. 73, 80). While peeking over the privacy fence, Plaintiff made eye contact with Officer Doxtader. (Plf.'s Dep. 80). Plaintiff testified that " [Officer Doxtader] was looking right at me, and when he did, I thought, God, I've had it. Then I started walking in a westerly direction." ( Id. 80:17-18). When Officer Doxtader saw Plaintiff over the fence he radioed dispatch to inform them it appeared Plaintiff was in the area and requested backup. (DVD, 00:25:21-26:16). Officer Doxtader then ran after Plaintiff. (DVD, 00:25:49-00:26:09:00; Police Report at 5; Doxtader Dep. 14).
B. Plaintiff's version of the Apprehension
Plaintiff testified that after he locked eyes with Officer Doxtader over the fence he walked away because he didn't want to be arrested. (Plf.'s Dep. 81). Plaintiff states that he had his back to Officer Doxtader when Officer Doxtader first called out, " stop, stop" and " [g]et on the ground." (Plf.'s Dep. 84). Plaintiff testified that in response to Officer Doxtader's commands he stopped, laid face down on the ground, and put his hands behind his back. (Plf.'s Dep. 84-86). Plaintiff testified that while laying on the ground and not moving, Officer Doxtader first pepper sprayed him in the side of the face, then forcibly kneed him in the back, and then handcuffed him. (Plf.'s Dep. 87-89, 92).
Plaintiff's nephew, Eric Treciak, testified that he was standing on the front porch and witnessed the incident. (Plf.'s Br. Ex. 5, Eric Treciak Dep. 39-40). Eric testified that he saw Plaintiff walking away from Officer Doxtader. (E. Treciak Dep. 39-40). Eric testified that he saw Officer Doxtader go around the fence and yell freeze or stop and witnessed Plaintiff get " on his stomach and put his hands behind his back" . (E. Treciak Dep. 41-42). Then Eric ran off the front porch to the end of the fence and watched as Officer Doxtader approached Plaintiff and said " don't move" and pepper sprayed him in the face while he was lying on the ground. ( Id. 41-45). Eric also testified that " the officer reached for his handcuffs and like he picked, I want to say it was his left knee ... whatever one it was, he picked up his foot and like he fell onto Ron's back with his knee." ( Id. 47:14-18-48).
C. Officer Doxtader's version of the Apprehension
Officer Doxtader disputes Plaintiff and Eric's version of events. Officer Doxtader testified that he chased after Plaintiff by running to the end of the fence. (Doxtader Dep. 16-17). By the time he reached the end of the fence, he could see Plaintiff running westbound towards the sheds in the Red Lobster parking lot. (Doxtader Dep. 16-17; Doxtader Dep. Ex. 1, Doxtader Diagram). Officer Doxtader further testified that he instructed Plaintiff to stop and get on the ground approximately four times but Plaintiff failed to stop and ran between two sheds. (Doxtader Dep. 18-20; DVD, 00:26:10-00:26:20, Audio of Officer Doxtader issuing the commands " get
on the ground" and " get over here" .). Officer Doxtader then states that as Plaintiff ran from him, he pepper sprayed the side of Plaintiff's face as Plaintiff turned back towards Office Doxtader. (Doxtader Dep. 20). At that point, Plaintiff screamed and walked back out from between the sheds and Officer Doxtader grabbed on to his right arm and then took him to the ground. ( Id. 21, 24-26). Officer Doxtader claims he then placed a knee in Plaintiff's back to hold him to the ground and administered the handcuffs one hand at a time. ( Id. 27-28). Officer Doxtader explained the procedure for placing a knee in a suspect's back: " One of our techniques is you actually will place a knee in their back to hold them to the ground and at which time then you bring an arm behind the back, place and administer a handcuff, and then bring the second arm up and administer the second handcuff." ( Id. 27:18-22).
D. After the Arrest
After handcuffing Plaintiff, Officer Doxtader escorted him to the police car and asked Plaintiff " why did you run?", and Plaintiff did not answer. (DVD, 00:27:12; Doxtader Dep. 31). Plaintiff was placed in the back of the police car; Officer Doxtader requested an ambulance for Plaintiff. (Doxtader Dep. 31-32). At this point, Officer Doxtader also read Plaintiff his Miranda rights. (DVD, 00:32:50). Officer Doxtader then left the scene with Plaintiff to meet the ambulance in a nearby parking lot to ensure that the domestic incident did not escalate. (Doxtader Dep. 33; DVD, ...