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Sanders v. Detroit Police Department

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan

February 10, 2017

JEFFREY SANDERS, Plaintiff,
v.
DETROIT POLICE DEPARTMENT and CHRISTOPHER GRIFFIN, Defendants.

          FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW I. INTRODUCTION

          HONORABLE DENISE PAGE HOOD UNITED STATES DISTRICT, CHIEF JUDGE.

         On October 3, 2007, Plaintiff Jeffrey Sanders ("Sanders") filed this action against the Detroit Police Department ("DPD"), DPD Officer Christopher Griffin ("Griffin"), and two state judges. (Doc #1) The Court dismissed the judges as parties and granted Sanders' motion to add the City of Detroit as a party in place of DPD. The Complaint alleges an unreasonable search and seizure claim, a claim that Sanders was not provided with a timely judicial determination of probable cause, and a Monell claim. Summary judgment was granted in favor of Defendants. (Doc # 74) The Sixth Circuit reversed and remanded for further proceedings on the Fourth Amendment claim only, instructing the Court to examine whether Officer Griffin's warrantless entry into Sanders' apartment was constitutional pursuant to the domestic violence exception identified in Georgia v. Randolph, 547 U.S. 103, 118 (2006). (Doc # 100) The Sixth Circuit specifically asked whether "Tiyani [Sanders] validly consented to the entry, Griffin asked for such consent, or Sanders ever objected." Id. at 504. This Court held a bench trial on April 25 and 26, 2016. The Court heard testimony from Sanders and DPD Officers Griffin and Jason Treece ("Treece").

         II. FINDINGS OF FACT

         On April 15, 2006 at approximately 8:30 a.m., Officers Griffin and Treece responded to a 911 dispatch at 7260 Southfield Road in Detroit after a report of an assault and battery. The Officers were met outside by Jeffrey Sanders' wife, Tiyani Sanders. Officer Treece testified that Tiyani Sanders appeared frightened and distressed; she had a laceration on her lip. Tiyani Sanders stated to the officers that, following a verbal altercation, Jeffery Sanders hit her in the face with a closed fist and busted her lip. He also threatened her with a knife and stated that he would kill her. Tiyani Sanders told Officer Treece that Jeffrey Sanders was acting strange, as if he were on drugs. Officer Griffin testified that he told Tiyani Sanders that the officers were going to effectuate an arrest and asked where Jeffrey Sanders was located. Tiyani Sanders told the officers that Jeffrey Sanders was in the apartment. The officers asked if they could go into the apartment, and Tiyani Sanders stated yes. Officers Griffin requested backup, and the officers proceeded up to the apartment.

         After arriving at the apartment, the officers knocked on the door. Jeffrey Sanders testified that he heard the knock and opened the door. He saw police officers. The officers told him that he was the subject of a domestic violence investigation and asked if he would discuss it. Sanders testified that he stated, "yes, let me get something on my ass, " referring to the fact that he was in his underwear. Sanders took a step back into the apartment, and the officers stepped into the apartment through the open door and arrested Sanders. Defense Counsel specifically asked Sanders whether Sanders stated, "No, you cannot come in" to the officers. Sanders stated he did not. Sanders stated that after stating, "yes, let me get something on my ass, " the officers entered his home and arrested him.

         In his Section 1983 claim, Sanders contends that the officers violated his Fourth Amendment rights by entering his home without a warrant.

         III. APPLICABLE LAW

         42 U.S.C. § 1983 states that "[e]very person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State ... subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States ... to the deprivation of any rights ... secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law." 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         The Fourth Amendment protects individuals against "unreasonable searches and seizures." U.S. Const. Amend. IV. Warrantless searches are per se unreasonable absent a valid exception, such as the exigent circumstance exception. Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 357 (1967); Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 590 (1980). Exigent circumstances exist when there is a "need to protect or preserve life or avoid serious injury." Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385, 392 (1978). Exigent circumstances also exist if immediate and serious consequences will certainly occur if police officers postpone their actions in order to obtain a warrant. Ewolski v. City of Brunswick, 287 F.3d 492, 501 (6th Cir. 2002). The Sixth Circuit has identified situations presenting a "risk of danger to the police or others" as one category of exigent circumstances justifying warrantless entries. United States v. Rohrig, 98 F.3d 1506, 1515 (6th Cir. 1996). The relevant inquiry is whether an objectively reasonable officer confronted with the same circumstances could reasonably believe that exigent circumstances existed. Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385, 392 (1978) (citing Dickerson v. McClellan, 101 F.3d 1151, 1158 (6th Cir. 1996)). When engaging in this inquiry, courts should examine the totality of the circumstances to determine whether the warrantless entry was justified. Thacker v. City of Columbus, 328 F.3d 244, 254 (6th Cir. 2003).

         The Sixth Circuit has evaluated warrantless entries in response to domestic violence incidents under the exigent circumstances exception. Id. And, the Supreme Court has examined warrantless entries into dwellings regarding domestic violence incidents. As it relates to co-tenants, the general rule is that one tenant's consent to law enforcement's warrantless entry does not override a physically present co-tenant's express refusal of entry to law enforcement unless law enforcement is entering a dwelling to protect a resident from domestic violence. Randolph, 547 U.S. at 118 (2006). Police may enter a dwelling to protect a resident from violence if police have "good reason to believe such a threat exists." Id. at 118. Officers may also enter a dwelling to "determine whether violence (or threat of violence) has just occurred or is about to (or soon will) occur." Id.

         IV. DISCUSSION

         A. Did Officer Griffin Ask for Consent to Enter?

         Officer Griffin received permission from Tiyani Sanders to enter the apartment. Officer Griffin testified that he received permission from Tiyani Sanders to enter the apartment. He explicitly asked for permission to enter the apartment that Tiyani Sanders shared with Jeffrey Sanders. Officer Griffin stated that he told Tiyani Sanders that he was going to effectuate an arrest and asked her whether the officers could go inside her apartment. Officer Griffin's question was an explicit request for permission to enter the apartment.

         B. Did Tiyani Sanders ...


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