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Jones v. City of Oak Park

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

August 30, 2017

Glynn Jones, Jr., Plaintiff,
City of Oak Park, ET AL., Defendants.

          Anthony P. Patti United States Magistrate Judge


          Hon. Gershwin A. Drain United States District Court Judge

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff commenced suit against the Defendants alleging mistreatment throughout his arrest and prosecution in 2014. In 2014 Plaintiff was mistakenly regarded as a suspect in a series of bank robberies within the cities of Center Line and Oak Park. Pending before the Court is Oak Park's Motion for Summary Judgment. For the reasons that follow, the Court will GRANT Oak Park's Motion [34].

         II. Background

         On May 6, 2016, a Comerica Bank located at 25192 Greenfield Road in Oak Park, Michigan was robbed. Dkt. No. 1, p. 6 (Pg. ID 6). Oak Park Officer Rachel Ginopolis investigated the robbery and conducted preliminary interviews. Dkt. No.34-2, p. 2 (Pg. ID 385). Statements were taken from both Krystal Jackson, the teller who was held up, and another bank employee named Courtnie Pierce. Id., pp. 5-6 (Pg. ID 388-89). According to Ginopolis' report, Ms. Jackson described the suspect as a thin, black male, who stood around 6'1” and had a dark complexion. Id. Ms. Jackson further indicated that the robber stated, “I need you to do this for me. I have a gun and will shoot that lady, ” while nodding his head toward a female customer. Id. In addition, the perpetrator passed Ms. Jackson a folded note which suggested that he was armed. Id. The other bank employee, Ms. Pierce, described the suspect as a 6'3” black male with a slender build and a scruffy beard. Id. Officer Ginopolis then viewed surveillance footage of the suspect and attached photographs from that footage to her report. Id., pp. 8-17 (Pg. ID 391-400).

         The same Comerica Bank was robbed again on May 12, 2014. Dkt. No. 1, p. 6 (Pg. ID 6). Oak Park Officer Erik Sanders responded to the call and conducted his own interviews. Dkt. No. 34-4, pp. 6-7 (Pg. ID 422-23). The bank teller, Shantell Woods, described a similar scenario in which the suspect passed a note under the window and then threatened to shoot a bystander if she did not hurry. Id. Ms. Woods and other witnesses informed Officer Sanders that they believed the suspect to be the same individual who had robbed the branch on May 6, 2014. Id. Again, witnesses described the suspect as a thin, black male in his late 30's to early 40's, between 6'0” to 6'3” tall, with a dark complexion and a thin mustache. Id.

         Defendant Detective Brian Barker took over as the investigative officer in charge of the case. Id. at p. 7-10 (Pg. ID 423-26). During his investigation, Detective Barker became aware of a similar robbery that took place on May 19, 2014 at a PNC Bank in Center Line, Michigan. Id. at p. 8 (Pg. ID 424). The Center Line Police Department obtained pictures of the suspect from the surveillance footage and released these photos to the media, seeking information from the public in identifying the suspect. Id.

         On May 20, 2014, Detective Barker spoke with Center Line Detective Curt Winn. Id. Winn informed Detective Barker that the Center Line Police Department received two anonymous tips identifying Plaintiff as the bank robbery suspect. Id. The informants both stated that they worked with Plaintiff at Ford Motor Company. Id. One informant mentioned that Plaintiff had recently been absent from work due to medical issues. Id. Detective Barker then obtained pictures of Plaintiff from various databases and compared those pictures to the surveillance photographs obtained from the Center Line robbery and the May 12, 2014 Oak Park robbery. Id. To Detective Barker, the photographs appeared to depict the same person. Id.

         Detective Barker met with Detective Winn and representatives from the FBI and Lathrup Village on May 21, 2014. Id. The Detectives decided to prepare a photo line-up including Plaintiff's picture and ask the respective bank tellers if they could identify the suspect. Id. That same day, both Comerica Bank tellers (Krystal Jackson and Shantelle Woods) positively identified Plaintiff as the suspect. Id. Detective Barker learned from Detective Winn that a Center Line PNC Bank teller also identified the Plaintiff as the suspect. Id. In addition, Plaintiff acknowledges in his deposition that at a glance there is a resemblance between the pictures of him and the pictures of the suspect. Dkt. No. 34-7, p. 20 (Pg. ID 510).

         On May 22, 2014, Detective Barker learned from Detective Winn that the Macomb County Prosecutor had issued an arrest warrant for Plaintiff. Dkt. No. 34-4, pp. 8 (Pg. ID 424). Detective Barker, along with Oak Park Public Safety Detective Robert Koch and Officer Devin Benson subsequently traveled to Plaintiff's apartment in Sterling Heights, MI. Id. Upon arrival, the officers learned that the Warren Special Response Team entered the residence and took Plaintiff into custody. Id. The Oak Park officers then assisted the Center Line officers in searching the apartment. Id.

         Plaintiff was then transported to the Center Line Police Department, where he agreed to be interviewed without an attorney present. Id. at p. 9 (Pg. ID 425). According to the report, Plaintiff stated that he has been an employee at Ford Motor Company for 19 years but recently took around a month off due to a recurrence of a back injury. Id. Plaintiff also mentioned that he had filed for bankruptcy in 2009 and pays a significant amount of money each month in child support. Id.

         In regard to the bank robberies, Plaintiff denied any involvement but had trouble remembering where he had been during the incidents at issue. Id. Also, Plaintiff agreed to take a polygraph. Id. On May 23, 2014, Plaintiff was arraigned in Macomb County and released on bond from the Macomb County Jail. Id.

         In a deposition, Detective Barker testified that the variance in height between Plaintiff (5'10”) and the witnesses' descriptions (6'0” to 6'4”) did not negate his probable cause determination considering the positive identification by three bank tellers. Dkt. No. 40-22, p. 6 (Pg. ID 996). Detective Barker explained that it is not uncommon for witnesses or victims of violent crimes to be “off” in their physical description of perpetrators. Id. Plaintiff's proposed expert, William J. Cousins, likewise testified that a crime witness's or victim's physical description of a suspect can be influenced by the stress of a high-pressure situation, such as an armed robbery. Dkt. No. 33-6, p. 25 (Pg. ID 288).

         On May 28, 2014, the PNC Bank branch in Center Line was robbed for a second time. Dkt. No. 34-4, p. 9 (Pg. ID 425). At the request of Center Line Detective Winn, officers from Sterling Heights drove past Plaintiff's apartment and observed both of Plaintiff's vehicles to be present. Id. Detective Winn informed Detective Barker of the robbery and the observation of Plaintiff's cars at his house. Id.

         On May 30, 2014, Detective Barker presented his investigative file to the Oakland County Prosecutor, who authorized an arrest warrant for Plaintiff on four counts of bank robbery. Id. On June 2, 2014, Plaintiff was arrested and subsequently incarcerated until June 6, 2014 because he was unable to afford the bondman's fees. Id.

         On June 4, 2014, T-Mobile sent Plaintiff's phone records to the authorities. The records revealed that Plaintiff's cell phone was in the area of his residence at the time of both Oak Park robberies. Id. at p. 10 (Pg. ID 426). Further, on July 31, 2014, Plaintiff underwent a polygraph examination at the Oakland County Sheriff's office. Id. The polygraph examiner concluded that Plaintiff was being truthful when he denied connection to the Comerica Bank robberies. Id.

         On August 5, 2014, all counts were dismissed without prejudice. Id. On August 20, 2015, Plaintiff filed his Complaint against the City of Oak Park; the City of Center Line; Oak Park Department Of Public Safety Director Steve Cooper; Oak Park Department Of Public Safety Officers Brian Barker, Robert Koch and Devin Benson; Center Line Department Of Public Safety Director Paul Myszenski; and Center Line Department Of Public Safety Officer Curt Winn. Dkt. No. 1. Plaintiff's seven-count Complaint alleges that Defendants violated Plaintiff's Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, as well as violations of the Michigan Constitution and state law claims of defamation, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, and false arrest. Id. at 16-25 (Pg. ID No. 16-25).

         Presently before the Court is a motion for summary judgment on behalf of the Oak Park Defendants [34]. Having reviewed the briefs and supporting documents submitted by the parties, the Court finds oral argument unnecessary. Accordingly, pursuant to Eastern District of Michigan Local Rule 7.1(e)(2), this Court will decide the instant motion on the briefs.

         III. Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) “directs that summary judgment shall be granted if ‘there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.' ” Cehrs v. Ne. Ohio Alzheimer's Research Ctr., 155 F.3d 775, 779 (6th Cir. 1998). The court must view the facts, and draw reasonable inferences from those facts, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). No genuine dispute of material fact exists where the record “taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party.” Matsushita Elec. Indus., Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). Ultimately, the court evaluates “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52.

         IV. Discussion

         The Complaint asserts two federal claims and five state-law claims.

         Federal Claims

         Count I: 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment against the City of Oak Park

         Count II: 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment against Individual Defendants in their Individual Capacities

         State Claims

         Count III: Deprivation of Rights Pursuant to the Michigan Constitution

         Count IV: Defamation

         Count V: False Arrest

         Count VI: Malicious Prosecution

         Count VII: False Imprisonment against all defendants

         The Court will discuss the federal claims first.

         A. Section 1983 Claims Against Individual Defendants

         Section 1983 establishes “a cause of action for deprivation under color of state law, of any rights, privileges or immunities secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States.” Horn v. Madison Cty. Fiscal Court, 22 F.3d 653, 656 (6th Cir. 1994). To prevail on this claim, a plaintiff must demonstrate “(1) the deprivation of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States (2) caused by a person acting under the color of state law.” Dominguez v. Corr. Med. Servs., 555 F.3d 543, 549 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Sigley v. City of Parma Heights, 437 F.3d 527, 533 (6th Cir. 2006)). However, “[u]nder the doctrine of qualified immunity, ‘government officials performing discretionary functions generally are shielded from liability from civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights which a reasonable person would have known.' ” Id. (citations omitted). Thus, qualified immunity in any given case is determined by a two-part inquiry: “First, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, has the plaintiff shown that a constitutional violation has occurred? Second, was the right clearly established at the time of the violation?” Id. (citations omitted). Jones v. Muskegon Cty., 625 F.3d 935, 940-41 (6th Cir. 2010).

         Plaintiff alleges Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment violations against four individual Oak Park Defendants: Steve Cooper, Brian Barker, Robert Koch and Devin Benson.

         1. Defendant Steve Cooper is Entitled to Summary Judgment

         The City of Oak Park argues that Steven Cooper is entitled to summary judgment because “there exists no genuine issue of material fact that he was [] personally involved in the arrest, detention or prosecution of the Plaintiff.” Dkt. No. 34, p. 2 (Pg. ID 345). The Court agrees.

         The Complaint only mentions Defendant Cooper three times. The Complaint states:

Defendant Steve Cooper is the Public Safety Director of Defendant City of Oak Park and at all times mentioned in this complaint was acting under the color of law and color of his authority as the Public Safety Director of Oak Park, Michigan…Defendant[] Cooper…[was] responsible for the acts of the public safety officers…and [was] responsible for the proper supervision of [his] officers. Defendant[] Cooper…[was] also responsible for the ongoing training of [his] respective public safety officers to ensure that those officers were competent to carry out their assigned duties.

         Dkt. No. 4 (Pg. ID 4). There is no allegation in the Complaint that Defendant Cooper personally detained, arrested, prosecuted or imprisoned the Plaintiff. Furthermore, Plaintiff's briefs fail to specifically mention Defendant Cooper, except in the case's caption. It seems that the Plaintiff sought to proceed against Defendant Cooper pursuant to a theory of vicarious liability or respondeat superior. However, such a theory fails as a matter of law. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 676, 129 S.Ct.1937, 1948, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (“Because vicarious liability is inapplicable to Bivens and ยง 1983 suits, a plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant, through the official's own individual actions, has ...

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