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Labadie v. Mitchell

United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Northern Division

January 23, 2017

KIRK LABADIE, Plaintiff,
DOUGLAS MITCHELL, et al., Defendants.



         This is a civil rights action brought by state prisoner, Plaintiff Kirk Labadie, against Defendants Douglas Mitchell, Justin Fruchey, Frank Pingatore, and Matthew Touri, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The matter came before the Court for a bench trial on January 17, 2017. The Court makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law in accordance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Labadie brought an action under § 1983 alleging excessive force against Defendant Mitchell and failure-to-intervene claims against Defendants Fruchey, Pingatore, and Touri, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. On August 8, 2014, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint. (ECF No. 12.) On February 29, 2015, Defendants moved for summary judgment. (ECF No. 26.) The Court dismissed Defendant Wagner and denied summary judgment for the remaining Defendants. (ECF No. 37.) Plaintiff also moved for summary judgment (ECF No. 49) on July 7, 2016, which the Court denied (ECF No. 61).

         On January 6, 2017, the parties held a settlement conference and final pre-trial conference before Magistrate Judge Ray Kent. In preparation for trial, Defendants filed their proposed findings of fact (ECF No. 83), a trial brief (ECF No. 93), a joint statement of the case (ECF No. 94), proposed jury instructions (ECF No. 95), a proposed verdict form (ECF No. 96), and a joint exhibit book (ECF Nos. 98, 99). Plaintiff filed his proposed findings of fact (ECF No. 88) and requested that the clerk file his proposed findings of fact as his trial brief (ECF No. 92).

         The bench trial took place on January 17, 2017. The Court heard testimony from Plaintiff Labadie, Defendant Mitchell, Defendant Fruchey, Defendant Pingatore, and Defendant Touri. The Court also received as exhibits a surveillance video from the jail (Def.'s Ex. C), as well as photos taken of Defendant Mitchell (Def.'s Ex. H) and Plaintiff (Def.'s Ex. I) after the incident. Before trial began, the Court denied Plaintiff's motion to appoint counsel (ECF No. 97).


         On August 19, 2012, Defendant Mitchell arrived at the Chippewa County Jail to assist with an out-of-control inmate. Defendant Mitchell responded to the Behavioral Management Unit (“BMU”) of the jail, which houses assaultive inmates with behavioral issues. By the time Defendant Mitchell arrived, inmate Kammers had flooded his cell with toilet water. The water had already exited Kammers' cell and made its way toward other cells in the BMU. During this time, inmate Kammers was agitated and irate; he was yelling and throwing things in and out of his cell. Defendant Mitchell approached inmate Kammers in an attempt to calm him down while Defendants Fruchey, Pingatore, and Touri cleaned up the excess water. At the same time, Plaintiff yelled to Kammers, also in an attempt to calm him down. As Defendant Mitchell spoke with Kammers, Plaintiff yelled so loudly that Defendant Mitchell could not hear himself talk. Defendant Mitchell walked to Plaintiff's cell, A7. In response, Plaintiff stood up and approached Defendant Mitchell. Defendant Mitchell testified that he felt threatened and thought that Plaintiff was a threat to the safety and security of the facility. Defendant Mitchell gave Plaintiff direct, verbal orders to sit down and stop yelling. Plaintiff refused and began to swear at Defendant Mitchell. Plaintiff also threatened Defendant Mitchell twice. During the exchange, Plaintiff's face was red, and he clenched his fists and raised his arm towards Defendant Mitchell. This lasted for approximately 30 seconds.

         During trial, Plaintiff admitted that he refused to comply with Defendant Mitchell's orders. He testified that, in response, Defendant Mitchell placed his chin on the bars of the cell door and spat at him. It is unclear from the video whether this in fact happened. Defendant Mitchell continued to give Plaintiff loud, verbal commands to retreat to the back of his cell and to put his hands on the wall. He informed Plaintiff that he would be maced if he did not cooperate. Again, Plaintiff refused to comply, so Defendant Mitchell sprayed Plaintiff with Freeze spray, a form of mace. It did not appear to have any effect on Plaintiff. Then, Plaintiff threw approximately 5 gallons of liquid at Defendant Mitchell, which soaked Defendant Mitchell. Defendant again told Plaintiff to go to the back of his cell and to put his hands on the wall, but Plaintiff refused. Instead, Plaintiff threw a mug of lukewarm coffee at Defendant Mitchell. Defendant Mitchell continued to order Plaintiff to the back of his cell and to put his hands on the wall or he would be maced again. Plaintiff still did not comply, so Defendant Mitchell sprayed the mace once more. Plaintiff then retreated to the back of his cell to wash his face with water.

         After the second spray, Defendant Mitchell left Plaintiff's cell to check on inmate Kammers while Defendant Touri retrieved a restraint chair. Plaintiff continued to yell after Defendant Mitchell left his cell. Two minutes later, Defendant Mitchell returned to Plaintiff's cell and once again, ordered him to go to the back of his cell. Defendant Mitchell's goal was to get Plaintiff in a safe and secure position for entry into the cell. Defendant Mitchell did not want to go hands-on with Plaintiff because Plaintiff had already made several threats to Defendant Mitchell during their exchange. Defendant Mitchell gave several loud, verbal commands, and warned Plaintiff that if he did not comply, he would be tased. Defendant Mitchell did not yell TASER, TASER, TASER, but he warned Plaintiff several times before using his taser.

         At one point, Plaintiff reached through the cell bars and attempted to slap Defendant Mitchell. He missed, but grabbed Defendant Mitchell's right shoulder lapel and tore it. In response to Plaintiff's assaultive behavior, Defendant Mitchell used the probe application of his taser on Plaintiff. When Defendant Mitchell pulled the trigger, two probes fired and landed on Plaintiff's left abdomen and left leg. This activated the taser for 5 seconds, and Plaintiff regained control over his body after that time. During this time, Defendants Touri and Fruchey arrived with the restraint chair. Then, the three officers entered Plaintiff's cell. Defendant Mitchell continued to give loud, verbal commands but Plaintiff did not comply. Rather, he attempted to rip out his taser probes. Defendant Mitchell warned Plaintiff that he would be tased again if he did not roll over onto his stomach and place his hands behind his head. Plaintiff continued to actively resist, and Defendant Mitchell used his taser again. Defendant Mitchell asked Plaintiff if he was done resisting commands, and Plaintiff said that he was finished. Then, Plaintiff stood up, with the taser probes still attached to his body, and walked to the restraint chair. Plaintiff did not limp or ask for medical attention as he walked to the restraint chair. Defendant Fruchey and Defendant Touri strapped Plaintiff into the restraint chair. Once restrained, Plaintiff began to threaten Defendant Mitchell again. During the entire exchange, Defendant Pingatore was at the control box, about 50-100 feet away from the incident. He did not observe Defendant Mitchell's use of the mace or taser, but did see fluids come out of the cell. He could hear yelling, but could not understand what was being said because it was so loud in jail.

         In addition, Defendant Mitchell knew of Plaintiff, but had never met him before August 19, 2012. Defendant Pingatore also testified that Plaintiff was known to be a dangerous, unpredictable inmate. Because of Plaintiff's disruptive behavior, Defendant Mitchell believed that the BMU was on the verge of a riot. Yet he admitted that the inmate in the adjacent cell appeared calm during the exchange. He also explained that the jail preserved the surveillance video in preparation for a criminal trial. The jail saves video surveillance on a hard drive for 15-30 days before it is taped over. Therefore, Defendants could not produce additional videos to show what happened in other parts of the BMU that day.

         Further, Defendant Mitchell explained that he could not just walk away or let Plaintiff remain in his cell. Once Plaintiff became disruptive and assaultive, jail policy required Plaintiff to be placed in a restraint chair and removed from his cell. Defendants Fruchey, Touri, and Pingatore testified that Defendant Mitchell acted appropriately, in accordance with the Chippewa County Sheriff's Office taser policy and procedure, as well as its inmate rules, discipline, grievance, and rights policy.

         Plaintiff testified that his ankle was injured when Defendant Mitchell tased him. He also complained of skin irritation and mental duress. Plaintiff testified that he was fearful of electricity and electrical appliances, switches, and sockets. He admitted that he had anxiety prior to August 19, 2012, but it has gotten worse. Plaintiff further testified that he is presently serving a sentence for assault with intent to do great bodily harm less ...

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