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Mitchell v. County of Monroe

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

June 2, 2017

David Mitchell Plaintiff,
v.
County of Monroe, et. al. Defendants.

          OPINION & ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Sean F. Cox United States District Judge.

         In this action, Plaintiff David Alan Mitchell (“Plaintiff”) brings § 1983 claims against the County of Monroe and several of its officers. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated his constitutional right to be free from excessive force. The excessive force claims stem from an altercation between Plaintiff and the individual Defendants while Plaintiff was in custody at the Monroe County Jail. During this altercation, Plaintiff was tasered and physically restrained. Plaintiff allegedly suffered physical and mental injuries as a result. Plaintiff also brings a municipal liability claim against Monroe County.

         Currently before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. # 37). Defendants' motion has been fully briefed. The Court finds that oral argument would not significantly aid in the decisional process and therefore orders that the instant motion will be decided upon the briefs. See E.D. Mich. LR 7.1(f). For the reasons that follow, the Court shall GRANT Defendants' motion.

         BACKGROUND

         I. Factual Background[1]

         A. Plaintiff's arrest

         On December 19, 2014, Plaintiff was stopped by a police officer for speeding. (Def.s' Stmt. ¶ 1). During this encounter, the officer (who is not a party to this case) discovered that there was an outstanding warrant for Plaintiff's arrest for failing to pay child support. (Id.). Plaintiff was subsequently transported to the Monroe County Jail. (Id.).

         B. Arrival and Booking at Monroe County Jail

         Upon arriving to the jail, Plaintiff testified that he was searched, stripped down, given clothes, and one blanket. (Ex. A to Pl.'s Resp., Pl.'s Dep. at 46). Plaintiff was subsequently placed in a holding cell until he was booked later that morning. Plaintiff estimates that the cell was approximately 51 degrees and that he was unable to sleep as a result. (Id.).

         In the morning, Plaintiff was taken to the jail's booking room. The ensuing activity was largely captured on video recording. (Ex. 5 & 6 to Def.s' Br.). Although there is no audio, Plaintiff can be seen standing at the booking counter speaking to Corrections Officer Sean Almes (“Defendant Almes”). Defendant Almes can be seen standing inside the guard booth. Defendant Almes and Plaintiff were separated by a chain link fence. (Ex. D to Pl.'s Resp. at 53). Plaintiff was not handcuffed at this time and had a blanket wrapped over his shoulders. Plaintiff appears calm and non-combative.

         Defendant Almes was responsible for asking Plaintiff intake questions, which included questions as to whether Plaintiff suffered from depression and/or whether Plaintiff was on medication for depression. The parties dispute whether Plaintiff responded to these questions by stating that he was feeling suicidal.

         According to Defendant Almes, Plaintiff stated that “he was feeling suicidal” during booking. (Ex. 3 to Def.s' Br. at ¶ 1). However, Plaintiff testified as to the following:

I admitted to him that, yes, I'm under anti-depressants for suicidal thoughts, and [Almes] jumped right to that, are you suicidal now. I never gave an answer to that question was I suicidal now. I gave a, what would I do if I was, grind my nose back and forth on this chicken wire until I was dead?

(Pl.'s Dep. at 49). According to Plaintiff, Plaintiff then sarcastically pressed his nose up in the chain link fence and “kind of emulated what [he] would do...” if he were feeling suicidal. (Id. at 52).

         After this exchange, Defendant Almes notified Field Training Officer Ryan Miekos (“Defendant Miekos”) that Plaintiff stated he was feeling suicidal. Defendant Miekos, who was also in the guard booth, instructed Defendant Almes to place Plaintiff in a suicide prevention suit. (Ex. 2 to Def.s' Br., Almes Incident Report). According to Defendant Almes, Plaintiff became agitated when he realized that he was going to be placed in a suicide prevention suit. (Id.). Despite being asked to give up his blanket and dress into the suit, Plaintiff refused. (Ex. D to Pl.'s Resp. at 22-23).

         Defendant Miekos then notified Sergeant Julie Massengill (“Defendant Massengill”) of the situation. Defendant Massengill testified that she was informed of “a suicidal subject at the counter that was uncooperative.” (Ex. D to Pl.'s Resp. at 22). Defendant Massengill subsequently made her way to the booking room to explain the jail's suicide policy to Plaintiff. (Id. at 32). Defendant Massengill testified that she advised Plaintiff that the officers have a duty to protect anyone who makes a suicidal statement by placing them in a suicide garment. (Id.). She further advised that there were no exceptions to the policy and that when the policy is enacted, the inmate is to be placed in a special holding cell - to be checked on every 15 minutes. (Id.). Plaintiff denies being advised of the jail's suicide policy.

         Plaintiff was asked numerous times to step into the intake shower room so that the male officers could dress him in the suicide prevention suit. (Id. at 34). Massengill stated that she advised Plaintiff that “if he didn't cooperate with us and go into the suicide garment, that he would force us to have to do it for him because we weren't going to allow him to remain unwatched.” (Id.).

         Plaintiff admits that he refused to comply with Defendants' orders. At his deposition, he explained that: “I told them that I was not suicidal, and they weren't going to humiliate me by ... stripping me down butt naked and putting the suit on me when they know I was just being a smart aleck.” (Pl.'s Dep. at 54). Plaintiff further claims that he explained to Defendant Massengill that he was not suicidal, but that she insisted he could not “retract” his statements. (Id. at 103). According to Plaintiff, Defendant Massengill threatened to “shoot [him] in the chest with this stun gun” if he refused to wear the suit. (Id. at 49). Plaintiff told Defendants that he would sue them if they touched him and forced him to dress into the suit. (Pl.'s Dep. at 104).

         Because Plaintiff failed to comply, Defendant Massengill eventually ordered Officer Jamie Francisco (“Defendant Francisco”) to escort Plaintiff to the intake shower room so that he can be dressed into the suit. (Ex. D to Pl.'s Resp. at 36). At this point in time, Defendants claim that Plaintiff's refusal to cooperate escalated to active resistance.

         C. Video Footage of Altercation

         As previously mentioned, the altercation that forms the basis of this suit was fully captured by two cameras affixed to the ceiling in the booking room. (Ex. 5 & 6 to Def.s' Br.). Defendants have submitted a copy of two video recordings, which provide the Court with different vantage points of the incident. Exhibit 5 contains footage of the guard booth, the booking counter, and the hallway directly in front of the counter. Exhibit 6 contains footage of the hallway abutting the guard booth and booking counter. To the extent possible, the Court will defer to the video footage-as opposed to the parties' versions of the facts-when describing the altercation.

         The Court will refer to the video recordings by the second to the time-stamped information that appears on the tapes. The recording begins with video footage of Plaintiff standing at the booking counter. (Ex. 5 to Def.s' Br.). Plaintiff can be seen conversing with Defendant Almes, presumably answering intake questions. At approximately 9:19:49, while Plaintiff is at the booking counter, a jail trustee can be seen placing a suicide prevention suit on the counter to Plaintiff's right. (Id. at 9:19:49). Defendant Almes then walks over to the booking counter and retrieves the suit. (Id. at 9:20:03). Defendant Almes then stands next to Plaintiff and gestures toward the shower room several times. (Id. at 9:20:10). Almes eventually walks over to the shower room door and faces Plaintiff, who is still standing at the booking counter. (Id. at 9:20:23). Plaintiff can be seen conversing with Defendants Almes and Miekos, both of whom are standing at the shower room entrance. (Id. at 9:20:25-9:20:50).

         At 9:20:55, Defendant Francisco enters the picture. He walks over to Plaintiff's side and can be seen gesturing toward the shower room. (Id. at 9:21:01). Plaintiff does not move. Defendant Francisco eventually begins to put on rubber gloves. (Id. at 9:21:29).

         Defendant Francisco then steps toward Plaintiff, reaches for the blanket over Plaintiff's shoulders, and attempts to secure a grip over Plaintiff. (Id. at 9:21:55). Plaintiff can be seen resisting Defendant Francisco's hold by pulling away. (Id. at 9:21:57). Defendant Francisco testified that it is considered “active aggression” when an inmate pulls away from an officer. (Ex. E to Pl.'s Br. at 37). Defendant Francisco immediately attempts to put Plaintiff in an “escort hold, ” which has been described as putting one hand over an inmate's shoulder and one hand on an inmate's wrist. (Ex. 5 to Def.s' Br. at 9:21:59). Plaintiff continues to resist Defendant Francisco's hold.

         Defendants Almes and Miekos then approach to assist Francisco in securing Plaintiff. (Id. at 9:22:00). At this point in time, all three officers are surrounding Plaintiff and there appears to be a struggle as Defendants attempt to pull Plaintiff down toward the hallway abutting the booking counter. (Ex. 6 to Def.s' Br. at 9:09:50).

         Defendant Miekos testified that he attempted to secure Plaintiff by using a straight arm-bar takedown. (Ex. C to Pl.'s Resp. at 44). Miekos explained that he stepped in to grab Plaintiff's arm, but Plaintiff turned away. (Id.). This caused Miekos to lose his grip over Plaintiff, and when he attempted to “re-grab” Plaintiff's arm, they both went down towards the ground. (Id.). Miekos believes that when they initially hit the ground, Plaintiff was on his stomach and that as soon as he hit the ground, he rolled over to his back. (Id. at 45).

         As Plaintiff is pulled down to the ground, he can be seen thrashing about and kicking his feet in the air. (Ex. 6 to Def.s' Br. at 9:09:55). Defendants Francisco, Miekos, and Almes attempt to secure him, but Plaintiff continues to twist and turn. (Id. at 9:09:55-9:10:07). Defendant Almes was attempting to secure Plaintiff's legs and Defendant Miekos attempted to secure Plaintiff's upper body.

         Defendant Massengill was following behind as the struggle ensued. While Plaintiff was on the ground, actively resisting, Defendant Massengill applied the taser. (Ex. 6 to Def.s' Br. at 9:10:02). A taser keeps a digital record of the times it is discharged and the data may be downloaded into a log format. Plaintiff claims he was tased three times. However, here, the log indicates that the taser was deployed by trigger one time, with the readout being 9:04:44, [2] for a total of six seconds. (Ex. 12 to Def.s' Br., Taser Report; Ex. 11 to Def.s' Br.). One prong went into the blanket Plaintiff was wrapped in and one prong penetrated Plaintiff's skin in his chest area. (Ex. 7 to Def.s' Br.; Ex. 11 to Def.s' Br.).

         Plaintiff stopped resisting after he was tased. Deputy Matthew Frazer (“Defendant Frazer”) can be seen approaching the hallway at this time. (Ex. 6 to Def.s' Br. at 9:10:29; Ex. 13 to Def.s' Br.). Plaintiff remained still on the floor, as several officers surrounded him. Nurse Denise Saks enters the picture several minutes later and appears to examine Plaintiff while he lay on the ground.

         Plaintiff was then lifted to his feet. (Id. at 9:12:27-9:13:41). Nurse Saks can be seen removing one prong from Plaintiff's chest area (Id. at 9:13:47) and checking the rest of Plaintiff's body for prongs. (Id. at 9:14:10). Saks provides the prong she retrieved from Plaintiff's chest to an officer and proceeds to check Plaintiff's mouth and chest. The video footage ends as the officers walk Plaintiff to the shower room. (Id. at 9:15:00).

         There is no dispute that Plaintiff was subsequently dressed in the suicide prevention suit and placed in a cell. (Def.s' Stmt. at ¶ 30; Pl.'s Stmt. at ¶ 30). Nor do the parties dispute that within approximately 20 minutes, an Oakland County sheriff's deputy appeared at the jail in response to the Oakland County warrant.

         D. Plaintiff's Testimony Re: Altercation

         Although the video footage clearly depicts the altercation, the Court will briefly recite Plaintiff's version of events to highlight any disputes. Plaintiff denies that he was resisting and describes the incident as follows:

There wasn't much talking going on. There was - they brought me out and up to the desk to book me, and as she was trying to convince me by telling me either I'm going to strip and put this suit on or she's going to shoot me in the chest, when I said no, they surprised me by jumping over my back and grabbing ...

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