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Ashford v. Raby

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

May 23, 2019

KEYONTE ASHFORD, SR., Plaintiff,
v.
MICHAEL RABY, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DOC. 14)

          GEORGE CARAM STEEH UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the court is Defendant's motion for summary judgment, which has been fully briefed. The court heard oral argument on May 21, 2019, and took the matter under advisement. For the reasons explained below, Defendant's motion is granted.

         BACKGROUND FACTS

         Plaintiff Keyonte Ashford, Sr., contends that Southfield Police Officer Michael Raby used excessive force by ordering his police dog to apprehend him. On January 24, 2016, at about 1 a.m., Southfield Officer Jordan Woodside was driving north on Northwestern Highway when a white sport utility vehicle sped past him. Plaintiff was the driver of the SUV. Woodside was traveling at about 70 miles per hour in a marked police car. He observed that the SUV's speed was in excess of 100 miles per hour, and that the driver changed lanes without signaling, straddled between lanes, and swerved. After Woodside activated his overhead lights, the vehicle slowed, but did not stop. Woodside then activated his siren. The SUV continued northbound on Northwestern Highway, traveling at about 60 miles per hour. The SUV traveled in the right lane, then moved into the Telegraph Road exit lane before abruptly continuing on Northwestern. After a few minutes, three Southfield police vehicles were eventually able to box in the SUV and it came to a stop at a traffic light in the left center lane.

         Officer Raby arrived on the scene after the SUV was boxed in. Raby is a trained K9 handler who was riding with his police dog, Ruger. Also on the scene was Officer Maurer, who positioned his vehicle behind the driver's side door and whose dash camera recorded video of the incident. See Doc. 14-5.

         After being ordered to put his hands up, Plaintiff showed his hands slightly outside the open window of the SUV. With his gun drawn, Maurer again told Plaintiff to put his hands up, and Plaintiff raised his hands further outside of the window. Maurer told Plaintiff to turn off the car; but Plaintiff kept his hands visible outside of the window.

         As Raby approached the driver's side of the SUV with Ruger, he had the dog lie down. Raby also drew his weapon and pointed it at Plaintiff. Maurer told Plaintiff not to move or he would be bitten by the dog, and then told him to keep his hands outside of the window. Raby approached the door and attempted to open it, but it was locked. Raby and Maurer ordered Plaintiff to open the door, but he shook his head, keeping his hands up. Raby reached into the vehicle, unlocked the door, and opened it. He noticed that the SUV was running and was still in drive. Raby backed away from the door and he and Maurer ordered Plaintiff out of the vehicle. Maurer yelled at Plaintiff several times to come out with his hands on his head. Plaintiff kept his hands in the air, and shook his head. See Doc. 14-7 (“[H]e shook his head no.”). He did not exit the vehicle. He appeared to be speaking to the officers, but his words are not audible on the video above the yelling of the officers and the barking of Ruger.

         Plaintiff contends that he was explaining to the officers that he could not get out of the car because his foot was on the brake and the car was in drive. Plaintiff testified that he was afraid that if he moved his hands to put the vehicle in park, the officers would shoot him. He was also afraid that if he removed his foot from the brake, the car would move and he would be accused of using his car as a weapon and shot.

         Raby warned Plaintiff that if he did not exit the vehicle, he would be bitten by the dog. When Plaintiff did not comply, Raby commanded Ruger to apprehend Plaintiff. Ruger jumped up and attempted to bite Plaintiff, but missed because Plaintiff moved his arm into the SUV. Raby commanded Ruger again, but the dog missed a second time. Raby then grabbed Plaintiff's left arm and pushed it down; Ruger latched on and pulled as Raby also pulled Plaintiff out of the SUV and onto the ground. As Plaintiff was pulled out of the car, the vehicle lurched forward slightly and hit the police car directly in front of it.

         Three officers then attempted to gain control of Plaintiff, who did not comply with multiple commands to roll over. According to the officers, Plaintiff pulled his arms away to the center of his body, resisting their efforts to handcuff him. Once officers had control of Plaintiff's arms, Raby commanded Ruger to release Plaintiff, and the dog obeyed. Plaintiff contends that Ruger was allowed to bite him unnecessarily for ten additional seconds after he was removed from his vehicle.

         Plaintiff was arrested and transported to the hospital. He was treated for puncture wounds on his arm and consented to a blood draw. Plaintiff's blood alcohol level at the time of his arrest was .184, well over the legal limit in Michigan of .08. Plaintiff was charged with fleeing/eluding police, resisting and obstructing, and operating a vehicle while intoxicated. Plaintiff pleaded no contest to fleeing/eluding and operating while intoxicated; the resisting/obstructing charge was dismissed. Plaintiff filed this action on March 12, 2018, alleging that Raby violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Fourth Amendment by subjecting Plaintiff to excessive force in the course of his arrest. He alleges that he continues to have residual pain and numbness in his arm and that he receives psychiatric treatment as a result of the emotional trauma of the incident.

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         Raby has moved for summary judgment, arguing that he is entitled to qualified immunity, which “protects government officials from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009) (citation omitted). “Qualified immunity balances two important interests - the need to hold public officials accountable when they exercise power irresponsibly and the need to shield officials from harassment, distraction, and liability when they perform their duties reasonably.” Id.

         In determining whether a government official is entitled to qualified immunity, the court inquires as follows: “Taken in the light most favorable to the party asserting the injury, do the facts alleged show the officer's conduct violated a constitutional right?” Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001). “[I]f a violation could be made out on a favorable view of the parties' submissions, the next . . . step is to ask whether the right was clearly established. . . . The relevant, dispositive inquiry in determining whether a right is clearly established is whether it would be clear to a reasonable officer that his conduct was unlawful in the situation he ...


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