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Burton v. The City of Detroit

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

June 5, 2019

ERIC BURTON, Plaintiff,
v.
THE CITY OF DETROIT, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [#35]

          HON. GERSHWIN A. DRAIN UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Eric Burton filed the instant 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against Defendant police officers John McKee, Steven Fultz, Michael Manzella and Sam Serra alleging that the Defendants violated his constitutional rights during an encounter occurring on July 30, 2014. Plaintiff has also brought a Monell[1]claim against Defendant City of Detroit.

         Presently before the Court is the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, filed on March 14, 2019. Plaintiff filed a Response in Opposition on April 10, 2019. Defendants filed their Reply in support of their present motion on April 22, 2019. A hearing on this matter was held on June 3, 2019. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant in part and deny in part Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         The instant action stems from Plaintiff's arrest for allegedly carrying a concealed weapon on July 30, 2014. During the evening on that date, Plaintiff was visiting friends on the front porch of a residence located on Westphalia Street in Detroit, Michigan. At that time, Plaintiff was on parole for a prior felony conviction and deemed an “absconder” for violating the terms of his parole.

         At some point during the evening, Plaintiff noticed a bright light shining onto the front porch and when he turned to see the source of the light, he saw that it was coming from a police vehicle. Defendants Fultz, Manzella and McKee were occupants of the police vehicle. As the police vehicle traveled closer to Plaintiff's location, Plaintiff panicked, jumped from the front porch and began to run towards the back of the house. Plaintiff ran through the backyard of the Westphalia location and jumped a fence to enter the neighboring backyard.

         Defendants McKee and Manzella exited the police vehicle and pursued Plaintiff on foot. McKee was in front, about two to three feet ahead of Manzella. Plaintiff maintains that during McKee's and Manzella's foot pursuit, they both falsely stated that they observed Plaintiff toss a gun or guns. In his police report, Manzella stated that he “observed the offender reach under his white t-shirt and remove a large revolver. The offender tossed it into the garage while he was running.” See Plf.'s Resp., Ex. 4. Later, after an internal investigation, Manzella admitted that he never personally observed Plaintiff with a gun, rather this information was relayed to him by McKee. Id., Ex. 7. McKee stated that he found two handguns on the garage floor of the Westphalia location while in pursuit of Plaintiff. Id., Ex. 1. While McKee and Manzella claimed to have seen Plaintiff with firearms, neither officer drew their firearm consistent with police department policy. Additional scout cars were dispatched and Defendant-Officer Sam Serra and Officer Kristin Niemen arrested Plaintiff.

         Plaintiff vehemently denies that he was in possession of any guns or that he tossed any guns on the night of July 30, 2014. Plaintiff voluntarily submitted to a polygraph test and while the results were inconclusive, the results did not show that Plaintiff was lying when he denied possession of any guns.

         Plaintiff was subsequently charged in this Court for being a felon in possession of a firearm. Plaintiff entered a plea of not guilty and proceeded to trial. Defendants McKee, Fultz and Manzella all testified for the prosecution during Plaintiff's criminal trial. The jury returned a verdict of guilty on February 19, 2015. The Court sentenced Plaintiff to a term of 84 months imprisonment.

         After Plaintiff's conviction, Defendants McKee and Fultz resigned from the Detroit Police Department amid allegations that they filed false police reports claiming they saw a suspect toss a bag containing drugs out of a car window in another arrest. Both were charged with misconduct in office and for filing a false police report.

         Defendants' first trial resulted in a mistrial due to a hung jury. Their second trial also ended in a mistrial after the trial court concluded the prosecutor intentionally elicited improper testimony from a witness. In granting the second mistrial, the trial court also dismissed the case against the Defendants with prejudice. The Michigan Court of Appeals upheld the trial court's decision to declare a mistrial but reversed the trial court's dismissal of the case with prejudice. On remand, the trial court again concluded that the prosecutor intended to elicit the improper testimony. It is unclear if this decision is now before the Michigan Court of Appeals.

         Plaintiff appealed his conviction to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. On May 3, 2016, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals remanded Plaintiff's case to this Court following a Joint Motion to Set Aside Conviction and Dismiss the Indictment Without Prejudice submitted by the Assistant United States Attorney and Plaintiff's defense counsel based on the Government's discovery of “evidence that calls into question the validity of Burton's conviction.” On May 5, 2016, this Court entered an Order Granting the Motion to Set Aside Conviction and Dismiss the Indictment Without Prejudice. Plaintiff's judgment of conviction was vacated and the Indictment was dismissed without prejudice. See Dkt. No. 49, No. 14-cr-20506.

         III. LAW & ANALYSIS

         A. ...


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