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Braswell v. McCamman

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

June 21, 2017

Sean McCamman and Nathan Mead, Defendants.


          Paul L. Maloney United States District Judge.

         On a late summer night in 2014, the City of Grand Rapids received a 911 call from a very concerned resident who identified herself to dispatch. She provided ample detail: A group of young men, with one black, teenage male wearing white and possessing a gun, was congregating in her neighborhood on bikes. The caller reported that it appeared, from her view, the suspect had a gun in his waistband and others agreed; according to the caller, a group of neighbor kids dared not to "walk up the hill" because they "saw a gun." A call for help to respond to a gun in this distressed neighborhood-the worst of the worst in terms of violent crime in a city of 200, 000-was unfortunately both routine and dangerous for officers.

         When officers located a group matching the caller's description, one immediately recognized Jaylen Braswell-a person known for his involvement in prior shootings. His brother, Donovann, wearing white and digging in his waistband, matched the description of the suspect with the gun.

         When officers ordered the group to stop, everyone complied except Donovann Braswell-who took off in headlong flight. An extensive chase ensued through many yards and over many fences. Officer Sean McCamman-who arrived on the scene late but had listened to radio and dispatch accounts of the 911 call and chase-observed another officer draw his gun, but Braswell continued to sprint away. Officer McCamman finally caught up to Braswell in a narrow corridor between a fence and house. Braswell started to climb the fence, and Officer McCamman threw him to the ground. Braswell landed face down and his hands were near his waist area. Officer McCamman, fearing for his safety, ordered Braswell to show his hands not once, but twice ....

         To this point in the continuum of incident, despite Plaintiffs attempt to contort the record, the Officers were fully justified in their actions-and no constitutional violation occurred. Officers clearly had sufficient reasonable suspicion to justify a show of force and attempt a Teny stop and seizure. However, mindful that the Court must view the facts in the light most favorable to Braswell, a less clear record of subsequent law enforcement action must be scrutinized.

         After Braswell refused to comply with McCamman's second order to remove his hands from his waistband area, McCamman acted to protect himself. McCamman, who cupped his flashlight in his hand, forcefully struck Braswell in the back of the head with the flashlight-an application not disputed on this record as deadly force. Braswell immediately felt pain and placed his hands on the back of his head to shield himself. Common sense and instinct support-and photographs corroborate-Braswell's account. McCamman continued to hit Braswell in the back of his head and the back of his (empty) hands not once, not twice, but three more times.

         Officers who put themselves in danger to keep our communities safe "are often forced to make split-second judgments-in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving-about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation." Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 396-97 (1989).

         Nevertheless, "[e]ven a split-second decision, if sufficiently wrong, may not be protected by qualified immunity"; and "even when a suspect has a weapon, but the officer has no reasonable belief that the suspect poses a danger of serious physical harm to him or others, deadly force is not justified." Bouggess v. Mattingly, 482 F.3d 886, 896 (6th Cir. 2007); see Id. at 889 (" [W]hefher the use of deadly force at a particular moment is reasonable depends primarily on objective assessment of the danger a suspect poses at that moment.").

         The Court must reach this resolution because while the record reflects Braswell's recklessness, a jury could accept Braswell's version of the facts and conclude McCamman's repeated, forceful strikes to Braswell's head and hands, even after Braswell no longer posed a serious threat, violated Braswell's Fourth Amendment right to remain free from excessive force. Reckless conduct does not justify an unjustified application of force.

         Accordingly, while Defendants' motion must be granted as to Plaintiffs Fourth Amendment claims for unlawful search, arrest, and property seizure, factual disputes preclude summary judgment on Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment excessive force claim and state-law battery claim against Officer McCamman.

         I. Background[1]

         On June 13, 2014, Plaintiff Donovann Braswell, a fifteen-year-old black male, was walking along Dolbee Avenue in Grand Rapids, Michigan. (ECF No. 77 at PageID.437.) At approximately 9:00 p.m., he ran into four friends. (Id. at PageID.507; ECF No. 77-3 at PageeID.507.)

         Less than an hour later, Officers Mead and Thompson were summoned to the area of Dolbee Avenue SE and Dunham Street SE. The dispatch was in response to a 911 call; a woman who identified herself as Crystal Bobo had the following exchange with dispatch:

Caller: I need a police officer on the corner of . . . Dolb[ee] and Dunham. It looks like a little boy got a gun in his waistband. I don't know, but some people's walking up the street saying he has a gun.
Dispatch: Did you see it or you just heard people talking about it?
Caller: I heard people talking about it and then he keep holding his waist line.
I don't know.
Dispatch: Okay. What does he look like, is he white, black, Hispanic?
Caller: He's black with a white shirt on and some blue jeans, and there's a group of them right at the corner.
Dispatch: Okay. And about how old is he, do you know?
Caller: He look like he's about 17, 18 years old. They don't see me, but I can see them.
Dispatch: And it was some neighbors that you heard saying this?
Caller: Yeah, some people walking down the street. They're all on a corner house, on a porch-sitting on a porch.
Dispatch: And do you-do you see a weapon or do you just see him like messing around with his waistband?
Caller: Well, some people's was up there, and they was scared to walk up the hill. They were like he look like he has a gun. I can't see anyfhing. But a group of kids was saying he has a gun.
Dispatch: Okay. And you see like a big group of people there? Caller: Uh-huh, about like seven, eight little boys on bikes. Dispatch: Does he have a bike with him? Caller: Uh-uh, not that I know of.
Dispatch: So the neighbor-do you know if-I already have the call put out, so we're going to have help out there, I just want to ask a couple more questions before they get there. The neighbors that said that-they actually said they saw it then?
Caller: Well, one of them did, they was walking up the street. It wasn't a neighbor. It was some guys walking up the street saying oh, he has a gun. They getting ready to ride off on the bikes.
Dispatch: Okay. Let me know which direction they go if they do ride off on the bikes.
Caller: They-if they go down any direction, they coming down Dolb[ee] Hill, Sherman (inaudible) to Baxter. Dispatch: Towards Sherman Street?
Caller: Yeah, if they going to riding down-if they going to ride down hill, that's where they most likely going to go.
Dispatch: Do you know, does he have a bike, did you say yes or no? Caller: Yeah, he's on a bike now. Dispatch: What color bike, can you tell?
Caller: I can't really tell. Like I said, I can see them but they can't see me because I'm standing on my porch. Dispatch: Just let me know if you see anything, okay? Caller: Uh-uh.
Dispatch: Or if they do leave. We do have officers on the way. Caller: Okay. Coming in my house, my daughter (inaudible). Dispatch: Do you know who any of these people are at all, or are they just-Caller: Huh?
Dispatch: Do you know any-who these people are at all, like any of their names or- Caller: No.
Dispatch: -anything like that?
Caller: No, never seen these little boys in my life, never. And I'm sick of this chaos that's going on at the top of this hill. Okay, I'm going back on my porch. They riding off. It's one, two, three, four riding off down Dolb[ee] Hill all the way to Baxter. Dispatch: Going towards Baxter northbound?
Caller: Yeah.
Dispatch: Okay. They are heading that way?
Caller: Okay. There's one-he has a little boy on the front-front handlebars of the bike with a red hoodie.
Dispatch: That's the one with the possible weapon?
Caller: Yeah.
Dispatch: Is he the one that's on the handlebars?
Caller: Yeah-no.
Dispatch: Or he has somebody on his handlebars.
Caller: He has-yeah, yeah.
Dispatch: Okay. Do you still see them out there or they-they went- Caller: No, they-yeah, they gone.
Dispatch: Okay. All right. We have officers on the way out there to check the area out. Just call us back if you see anything else, okay?
Caller: Okay. Thank you so much.
Dispatch: You're welcome. Bye.
Caller: Yep, bye-bye.

(ECF No. 76-3 at PageID.351-56.)

         Dispatch relayed the report to officers, reporting a "suspicious situation at Dolb[ee] and Dunham." (ECF No. 76-4 at PageID.359.) Dispatch relayed the "report of a black male with a white shirt and blue jeans at the corner who possible has a gun on him": "[h]e is with a group of seven to eight other males and now he may be getting on a bike getting ready to leave." (Id.) Dispatch also noted an individual wearing a "red shirt" who the caller said was riding on the suspect's handlebars.

         The responding officers approached with a heightened sense of alert-and understandably so. This 911 call required responding to a report of "individuals [who] possibly ha[d] guns" in a "very high crime area"-indeed, "typically the highest in violent crimes" in the City of Grand Rapids, rife with "gun violence, gang violence, and drug violence." (ECF No. 76-5 atPageID.384.)

         While canvassing the area for the suspect, Officers Thompson and Mead observed a group of individuals walking, including "an individual wearing a white shirt or sweatshirt with blue jeans, and also, an individual wearing a red shirt. . . walking next to a bike at that time, which matched the description given by die caller" (ECF No. 76-5 at PagelD.374-75 (emphasis added).) The dispatch record confirms this contemporaneous identification: ...

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