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Guerra v. Holt

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

December 18, 2019

JOSE MATEO GUERRA, Plaintiff,
v.
CORBIN HOLT, individually and in his official capacity GIDEON PAETZ, individually and in his official capacity Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, DECLINING SUPPLEMENTAL JURISDICTION, DENYING AS MOOT MOTION TO EXCLUDE EXPERT WITNESS, AND DENYING AS MOOT MOTIONS IN LIMINE

          THOMAS L. LUDINGTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         On October 9, 2018, Plaintiff Jose Mateo Guerra filed a complaint against Defendants Corbin Holt and Gideon Paetz. Compl., ECF No. 1.[1] Holt and Paetz are troopers with the Michigan State Police and Plaintiff claims that they used excessive force against him during a traffic stop on February 5, 2017. ECF No. 1 at 4. His complaint presents a single count brought under 42 U.S.C. §1983 claiming that Defendants violated the Fourth Amendment through use of excessive force and one state law claim of assault and battery during Plaintiff's arrest.

         Defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment and a motion to exclude the testimony of Plaintiff's expert witness, Andrew J. Scott III. ECF Nos. 21, 23. The motion for summary judgment will be granted and the motion to exclude expert testimony will be denied as moot.

         I.

         At the time of the arrest, Paetz had been an officer with the Michigan State Police for approximately six years. ECF No. 23-4 at PageID.282. He is five foot eleven inches tall and weighed approximately 175 pounds at the time of the incident. ECF No. 23-4 at PageID.290. Holt had been an officer with Michigan State Police for almost four years at the time. ECF No. 23-3 at PageID.255. The parties do not provide a physical description of Holt, but a review of the dashcam footage indicates that he is similar in height and weight to Paetz. Plaintiff is five foot nine inches and weighed approximately 175 pounds at the time of the incident. ECF No. 23-17 at PageID.405.

         On February 5, 2017 Plaintiff was at his mother's house at 2401 North Center Road, Saginaw, Michigan. ECF No. 23-2 at PageID.192. Plaintiff claims that he was organizing the garage. Id. at PageID.208. No. one was living in the house at the time because his mother was in the process of selling the house. Plaintiff was drinking beer and Bacardi rum. He left the house to go to the liquor store which is approximately a two-minute drive away. He purchased tobacco, a 24 ounce can of beer, and a half pint of Bacardi rum. Id. Plaintiff testified that he was “somewhere between sober and buzzed” at the time. Id. at PageID.211.

         At approximately 2:00 a.m., Plaintiff left the liquor store. Id. at PageID.209. He came to a four-way stop and noticed Defendants in their patrol car directly across the intersection from him. He believed that Defendants would pull him over. Plaintiff testified during his deposition as follows:

Q: [Y]our thought was they perceived you to be a white guy in a Mexican neighborhood?
A: Yeah.
Q: And so you could only be up to no good; is that what you're saying?
A: I won't say only up to no good, but it, you know, probably got their curiosity going, you know.

Id.

         To avoid Defendants, Plaintiff turned right at the four-way stop and then turned left at the next street. He then pulled into the driveway of a house he did not know, hoping that Defendants “were just going to pass by.” Id.

         Defendants did not pass by, but instead pulled up behind Plaintiff with their patrol lights on. Id. Plaintiff assumed that the officers were going to arrest him because he had an outstanding warrant for his arrest. Id. at PageID.212. Plaintiff remained in his car as Holt approached Plaintiff's window. Holt explained they had pulled Plaintiff over because Plaintiff did not use his turn signal when he turned into the driveway.[2] ECF No. 23-3 at PageID.235. Holt asked Plaintiff whether there were drugs or guns in the car to which Plaintiff responded that there were none. ECF No. 23-2 at PageID.211; ECF No. 23-3 at PageID.235. Plaintiff gave Holt his identification and Holt invited Plaintiff to step out of the car. Plaintiff stepped out of the car and Holt patted him down. ECF No. 23-2 at PageID.212. Holt then asked Plaintiff to stand in front of the patrol car. Id. Plaintiff gave Holt permission to search his vehicle and Holt searched the vehicle while Plaintiff stood in front of the patrol car. Id.

         After Holt returned to the patrol car, Paetz informed him that Plaintiff had two outstanding warrants. ECF No. 23-3 at PageID.239. One was for a probation violation in Saginaw County. Plaintiff had violated his probation when he left the supportive assistance program “Teen Challenge” in December 2016. ECF No. 23-2 at PageID.197-198; ECF No. 23-19 at PageID.434. The other was for retail fraud in Ottawa County. Id. However, it was later determined that the Ottawa County warrant misidentified Plaintiff.

         According to the dashcam video and Holt's testimony, Holt instructed Plaintiff to face the patrol car and place his hands behind his back. ECF No. 23-3 at PageID.240-241. Plaintiff complied with Holt's request. Id. at PageID.241. However, Holt was unable to handcuff Plaintiff because Plaintiff had balled his hands into fists. Id. at PageID.242. Holt told Plaintiff, “Interlace your fingers. Nope.” Id. at PageID.244. Holt testified that “I said interlace your fingers. Nope. Because he wasn't following my directions, he wasn't interlacing his fingers.” Id.

         Plaintiff claims that one or two days prior to the incident, he had cut his right index finger and right thumb while cutting frozen steaks. ECF No. 23-2 at PageID.210-211. The cut was between the second and third knuckle of his right index finger and near the tip of his right thumb. Plaintiff did not seek professional medical attention for the injury. Instead, he cleaned and bandaged the injury himself. Holt later stated in a police incident report that he noticed that Plaintiff's “right thumb and index finger had lacerations on them that were wrapped up in white athletic tape.” ECF No. 23-5 at PageID.313.

         Plaintiff told Holt that he had a cut on his finger. Holt said that he understood and, “I'm just going to do like that for a few seconds.” ECF No. 23-3 at PageID.244. Holt testified:

Q: And what were you doing at that point?
A: So at that point I had finally got Mr. Guerra to unball his fists because they were balled up into fists, which is why my handcuffs have not even gotten out because his fists are like this, like side to side, so it's very difficult to handcuff him, so I finally got his fingers to open up and interlace. When I finally got him that's -- right when I did that it was going into the compliant finger locking technique. That is when he pulled away.
Q: Okay, so he did interlace his fingers at some point and then he pulled away?
A: They weren't even completely interlaced. I didn't even have an opportunity to get the handcuffs out or anything. It was probably a fraction of a half a second.
Q: After he had interlaced his fingers, that's when he pulled his hands from -- out from front?
A: Yeah, he had pulled his hands away from my -- I don't even know if his hands were even touching at that point. I had just -- at that point had just got them unballed.
Q: And you said and I'm going to do that for a few seconds, what you were referencing to was interlocking the fingers?
A: Yes.

Id.

         Plaintiff claims that the injury to his hand caused him to jerk his hand away from Holt when he pulled his hands back. Id. at PageID.213. Plaintiff's deposition testimony provides:

Q: Do you remember a trooper asking you to interlace your fingers?
A: Yes.
Q: Did you interlace your fingers?
A: I couldn't.
Q: Why couldn't you?
A: Because of the bandages on my fingers.
Q: Did you try to interlace your fingers?
A: I can't recall if I did.

Id. at PageID.216. Plaintiff claims that Holt squeezed his right hand. Id. at PageID.213

I remember when he just grabbed my hand, the one with the cuts on it, and when he squeezed that was -- and then like, you know, it's natural reaction when someone squeezes your hand and it hurts you're going to jerk, and that's what I did and that's how all this got going.

         Plaintiff then pulled his hand from behind his back.

Q: Do you remember pulling your right hand from behind your body to the ...

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