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Estate of Matthews v. City of Dearborn

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

April 29, 2019

ESTATE OF KEVIN MATTHEWS, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF DEARBORN and CITY OF DEARBORN POLICE OFFICER CHRIS HAMPTON, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DOC. 76)

          GEORGE CARAM STEEH UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the court is Defendant Chris Hampton's motion for summary judgment, which has been fully briefed. The court heard oral argument on April 22, 2019, and took the matter under advisement. For the reasons explained below, Defendant's motion is denied.

         BACKGROUND FACTS

         This case arises from a fatal police shooting. On December 23, 2015, Dearborn Police Officer Chris Hampton was in the midst of a traffic stop when he noticed Kevin Matthews walking by. Hampton knew that Matthews was wanted for trespass and larceny as a result of an incident that occurred hours earlier at a gas station, when he was accused of trying to steal a can of Red Bull. At the time, Matthews fled from officers. Hampton had dealt with Matthews on prior occasions because of similar trouble at the gas station. Matthews suffered from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, with a history of threatening behavior, although it is not clear that Hampton was aware of this background. See Doc. 76-5, 76-6, 76-7.

         As Matthews walked by Hampton, the officer decided to take Matthews into custody. See Doc. 76-13 (Hampton's report). He concluded the unrelated traffic stop and drove his police vehicle in the direction that Matthews had travelled. He caught up with Matthews and ordered him to stop. As Matthews fled, Hampton exited his police car and ran after him.

         After running about 130 yards, Matthews entered a backyard and climbed over a chain-link fence. Hampton followed, jumping over the fence and landing on top of Matthews. Hampton was the larger man at 6 foot 2 inches tall and 215 pounds; Matthews was about 5 foot 9 inches and 140 pounds. Matthews had fractured his left (dominant) arm four weeks before, on November 26, 2015, and had his soft cast removed on December 15, 2015.

         Once on top of Matthews, Hampton informed police dispatch that he was “code green, ” meaning he believed he was safe. Doc. 76-11; Doc. 76-12 at 89-91, 99-100. According to Hampton, Matthews struggled free and was able to grab Hampton's pepper spray from his duty belt and stand over him. Doc. 76-12 at 94-96. At this point, Hampton punched Matthews twice in the jaw, took the pepper spray, and threw it over the fence. Id. While they continued to struggle, Matthews stated the he was not going with Hampton and that he “didn't do anything.” Doc. 76-13.

         Matthews broke free and attempted to run; Hampton grabbed Matthews' sweater and pushed him into the garage door. According to Hampton, both men hit the garage door and fell to the pavement. While Hampton remained on his back, Matthews stood over him and grabbed his ammunition magazine. Doc. 76-12 at 129-31. Matthews then dropped the magazine and reached for Hampton's gun. Id. As Hampton described in his report, “I had my hand on my firearm for retention purposes, though Matthews' hand was also at the top of the gun/holster. I realized that my weapon was unholstered and Matthews was still grabbing the firearm. As we both struggled for control of my firearm, I was in fear that he would use it to harm and kill me to elude capture. As I was gaining control of my service weapon I fired at Matthews' body and shot him multiple times, stopping the threat.” Doc. 76-13.

         Although there were no eyewitnesses to the shooting, Angela Gray[1]saw the two men fighting from her window. Docs. 91-23, 91-24. After they moved out of her view, she heard a high-pitched voice scream “Get off me. Get off me.” Doc. 91-24. She then heard gunshots. Id.

         Hampton testified that his gun was in a double-lock holster, which requires two safety mechanisms to be released before the gun can be accessed. Doc. 76-12 at 138. Hampton stated that when Matthews “was going after” his gun, Hampton “grabbed it and realized it was free, it was loose” in his holster. Id. at 140. Hampton could not explain how his gun became loose, but stated that he did not release the safety mechanism. Id. at 138-47, 151-52. See also Doc. 91-20 (Plaintiff's expert, Roger Clark, discussing the safety mechanisms).

         Hampton testified that he was “supine” on the ground and Matthews was leaning over him, about 12 to 13 inches away, when Hampton shot him in the chest. Doc. 76-12 at 153. Matthews was struck nine times. Hampton notified dispatch that shots were fired at 12:29 p.m., two minutes after he first approached Matthews on foot and one minute after he told dispatch he was “code green.” Doc. 76-11. Matthews died from his injuries.

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         Brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Plaintiff's complaint alleges claims under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments against Officer Hampton and the City of Dearborn. The parties stipulated to the dismissal of the Fourteenth Amendment equal protection claim and the claims against the City of Dearborn, leaving Plaintiff's excessive force claim under the Fourth Amendment. Plaintiff also “relies upon the substantive and procedural benefits of the Michigan Wrongful Death Act” in support of the estate's claim for damages. Doc. 19 at ¶ 85.

         I. Stand ...


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