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Bunkley v. City of Detroit

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

September 12, 2017

CITY OF DETROIT, et al., Defendants.



         This matter is before the Court on defendants' motion for summary judgment [docket entry 70]. Plaintiff has responded and defendants have replied. Pursuant to E.D. Mich. LR 7.1(f)(2), the Court shall decide this motion without a hearing.


         On May 3, 2014, at approximately 11:30 p.m., two men accosted and shot Paris Ainsworth as she exited her vehicle outside her Detroit home. Pulling her own gun, she returned fire. Her attackers fled. Unsure if she had hit them, she ran across the street to her neighbor's house, where she called 911. An ambulance arrived shortly thereafter and transported her to Sinai Grace Hospital.

         That same night at approximately 11:15 p.m., plaintiff arrived at his mother's house, 4.5 miles away from Ainsworth's house. For the next few hours, he ate, chatted on his phone, played video games, and dressed for bed. He also took pictures with his phone and posted them on Facebook. At 1:30 a.m. on May 4, plaintiff received a call that his father, Charles Knox, had been shot by three armed men near Knox's apartment, which is seven miles away from Ainsworth's house. Plaintiff immediately went to Sinai Grace Hospital, where Knox was taken. He saw Knox around 2:00 a.m.

         The Detroit Police Department's (DPD's) response team for both crimes consisited of detectives Calvin Washington, Jade Tanguay, and Marshall Dennis. They inspected the scenes immediately after dispatch received the 911 calls, and by 1:45 a.m. they were at the hospital to talk to Ainsworth and Knox. Ainsworth described her attackers as two black males in their twenties wearing dark clothing. She described one as dark-skinned, 5'7'', and 200 lbs.; the other was light-skinned, 5'4'', and had a medium build. Ainsworth told the officers she may have shot one of them.

         The officers then visited Knox. Knox, who was forty-seven years old at the time, told them where he was when he was shot, but the officers thought he was lying. In fact, they began to suspect that Knox and plaintiff were actually Ainsworth's assailants and that Knox had been shot while he and plaintiff-two black men in dark clothes-were holding her up.

         Consequently, shortly after 2:00 a.m., the detectives trooped into the waiting room and began to question plaintiff. They left, but returned a few minutes later and-with the permission of their supervisor, Sergeant Lucas, whom they called in the interim-arrested plaintiff, citing a fictional[1] probation violation as the reason for the arrest. By 3:00 a.m., they had arrested plaintiff, and Officers Wesley and Moreau took him to the Detroit Detention Center (“DDC”).

         Later that morning, around 11:00 a.m., Investigator Latonya Moses was assigned plaintiff's case. This was Moses's first investigation as lead investigator. At 2:30 p.m., she and Investigator Glenda Fisher conducted with Ainsworth a photo lineup of both plaintiff and Knox. A show-up attorney attended the photo lineup and found nothing suggestive. Ainsworth chose plaintiff in thirty seconds, confidently exclaiming, “That's him, that's him. Yes, I'll never forget.” Pl.'s Br. p. 7. But when Moses showed her Knox's lineup, she said, “[N]o, he was younger.”[2] Id. at 12.

         Around 5:00 p.m., Moses went to the DDC and took plaintiff's statement. Plaintiff told Moses that he was at his mom's house during the shooting. His alibi was proved, he told her, by his posted Facebook pictures. He gave Moses his login information so she could corroborate his story.

         The following day, Moses presented a warrant packet to assistant prosecutor Matthew Penney. The packet wrongly stated that (1) plaintiff and Knox came into the hospital together; (2) Knox had refused to turn over the bullets that injured him; and (3) hospital security detained plaintiff.[3] Moses failed to mention plaintiff's exculpatory Facebook posts or that Knox was picked up by the ambulance seven miles from Ainsworth's house.

         During trial, Moses sat at counsel table and assisted Penney. The jury found plaintiff guilty of assault with intent to commit murder, and he was sentenced to fifteen to thirty years imprisonment. Plaintiff filed a petition for post-conviction relief. Forensic testing of his phone in October 2015 verified his alibi: an investigator found that the Facebook photos were “taken between 11:40 and 11:44 p.m. on May 3, 2014.” Id. at Ex. 36.

         In February 2016, the prosecutor dismissed all charges. Three months later, plaintiff filed the instant case. Now, defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment.


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) states that any party moving for summary judgment must identify “each claim or defense . . . on which summary judgment is sought. The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” A party must support its assertions by:

(A) citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials; or
(B) showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1). “The court need consider only the cited materials, but it may consider other materials in the record.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3). If the moving party satisfies this burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to show that there is a genuine issue of material fact for trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). “[T]he mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [nonmoving party's] position will be insufficient [to defeat a motion for summary judgment]; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [nonmoving party].” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986).


         I. Plaintiff's Voluntary Dismissals

         Plaintiff has agreed to voluntarily dismiss “Defendants Wesley and Moreau from all claims. Plaintiff also voluntarily dismisses his Fourteenth Amendment Brady violation and suggestive identification claims and his state law claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress.” Pl.'s Resp. p. 50 n.16. Investigator Fisher's only connection with this case was her work on the photo lineup-i.e., plaintiff's suggestive identification claim. Accordingly, the Court dismisses the Brady, suggestive identification, and IIED claims, as well as all claims against defendants Wesley, Moreau, and Fisher.

         II. Moses's Misrepresentations at Trial

         Defendants correctly note that plaintiff cannot use Moses's witness testimony to establish the existence of a tort or constitutional violation, as witnesses are absolutely immune from suit. Briscoe v. LaHue, 460 U.S. 325, 335-36, 342 (1983). Consequently, the Court will disregard Moses's testimony in making its findings.[4]

         III. Federal Law Claims

         A. False Arrest

         Plaintiff asserts a false arrest claim against defendants Washington, Tanguay, and Dennis under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Defendants argue that there was probable cause for the arrest.

         “[T]he existence of probable cause in a § 1983 action presents a jury question, unless there is only one reasonable determination possible.” Wilson v. Morgan, 477 F.3d 326, 334 (6th Cir. 2007) (quoting Gardenhire v. Schubert, 205 F.3d 303, 315 (6th Cir. 2000)). “[P]robable cause exists only when the police officer discovers reasonably reliable information that the suspect has committed a crime.” Courtright v. City of Battle Creek, 839 F.3d 513, 521 (6th Cir. 2016) (quotation marks omitted). The facts and circumstances must “warrant a prudent man in believing that” plaintiff committed a crime. Id. The Court considers the totality of the circumstances and both inculpatory and exculpatory facts known to the arresting officer. Wesley v. Campbell, 779 F.3d 421, 429 (6th Cir. 2015). “Thus, if the officer discovers information or evidence favorable to the accused in the course of an investigation, the officer cannot simply turn a blind eye.” Courtright, 839 F.3d at 521 (quotation marks omitted).

         Here, the Court, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to plaintiff, finds that there is a genuine issue of material fact as to probable cause. A reasonable jury could find that the arresting officers lacked probable cause to arrest plaintiff. The Court considers the facts known to the arresting officers at the moment of arrest. See Crockett v. Cumberland Coll., 316 F.3d 571, 580 (6th Cir. 2003). Notably, plaintiff was arrested between 2:00 a.m. and 3:00 a.m.-i.e., before Moses conducted the photo lineup and learned of plaintiff's Facebook alibi.

         What facts did the officers know at the moment of arrest? On the one hand, Ainsworth told the officers that she may have shot one of her assailants, and Knox had been shot. Also, both Knox and plaintiff were black males wearing dark clothing. On the other hand, Knox was much older and had a lighter complexion than Ainsworth's second assailant. Knox was shot several miles away from Ainsworth's house. Plaintiff and Knox did not enter the hospital together. And the description “black males in twenties in dark clothing” is vague. How many thousands of black men in their twenties live in and around Detroit? And how many of those wear dark clothes? Too many for summary judgment. There is a genuine issue of material fact as to probable cause.

         B. Malicious Prosecution[5]

         Malicious prosecution includes “wrongful investigation, prosecution, conviction, and incarceration.” Barnes v. Wright, 449 F.3d 709, 725-16 (6th Cir. 2006). To state a claim for malicious prosecution, plaintiff must show that: (1) defendant “made, influenced, or participated in the decision to prosecute” the criminal action initiated against plaintiff; (2) the criminal prosecution lacked probable cause; (3) because of the prosecution, plaintiff suffered a deprivation of liberty apart from the initial seizure; and (4) the criminal proceeding was resolved in plaintiff's favor. Trakhtenberg v. Cty. of Oakland, 661 F.App'x 413, 420-21 (6th Cir. 2016) (quoting S ...

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