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Crowe v. County of San Diego

January 27, 2010

MICHAEL CROWE; STEPHEN CROWE; CHERYL A. CROWE; JUDITH ANN KENNEDY; SHANNON CROWE, A MINOR, THROUGH GUARDIAN AD LITEM STEPHAN CROWE; ZACHARY TREADWAY; JOSHUA DAVID TREADWAY; MICHAEL LEE TREADWAY; TAMMY TREADWAY; JANET HASKELL; MARGARET SUSAN HOUSER; CHRISTINE HUFF; GREGG HOUSER; AARON HOUSER, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,
v.
COUNTY OF SAN DIEGO; THE CITY OF OCEANSIDE; CHRIS MCDONOUGH; GARY HOOVER; SUMMER STEPHAN; LAWRENCE BLUM; CITY OF ESCONDIDO; NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR TRUTH VERIFICATION; RICK BASS, DEFENDANTS, AND MARK WRISLEY; BARRY SWEENEY; RALPH CLAYTOR; PHIL ANDERSON, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.
MICHAEL CROWE; STEPHEN CROWE; CHERYL A. CROWE, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS, SHANNON CROWE, A MINOR, THROUGH GUARDIAN AD LITEM, STEPHAN CROWE, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT, AND JUDITH ANN KENNEDY, PLAINTIFF, ZACHARY TREADWAY; JOSHUA DAVID TREADWAY; MICHAEL LEE TREADWAY; TAMMY TREADWAY; JANET HASKELL; MARGARET SUSAN HOUSER; CHRISTINE HUFF; GREGG HOUSER; AARON HOUSER, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
COUNTY OF SAN DIEGO; THE CITY OF OCEANSIDE; CHRIS MCDONOUGH; GARY HOOVER; SUMMER STEPHAN; LAWRENCE BLUM; CITY OF ESCONDIDO; NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR TRUTH VERIFICATION; RICK BASS, DEFENDANTS, AND MARK WRISLEY; BARRY SWEENEY; RALPH CLAYTOR; PHIL ANDERSON, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.
STEPHEN CROWE; CHERYL CROWE; JUDITH ANN KENNEDY; SHANNON CROWE, A MINOR THROUGH THEIR GUARDIAN AD LITEM, STEPHEN CROWE; ZACHARY TREADWAY; JOSHUA DAVID TREADWAY; MICHAEL LEE TREADWAY; TAMMY TREADWAY; JANET HASKELL, PLAINTIFFS, CHRISTINE HUFF, PLAINTIFF, MARGARET SUSAN HOUSER; GREGG HOUSER; AARON HOUSER, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
COUNTY OF SAN DIEGO; MARK WRISLEY; BARRY SWEENEY; RALPH CLAYTOR; CITY OF ESCONDIDO; PHILLIP ANDERSON; SUMMER STEPHAN; RICK BASS, LIEUTENANT, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.
MICHAEL CROWE; STEPHEN CROWE; CHERYL A. CROWE; JUDITH ANN KENNEDY; SHANNON CROWE, A MINOR, THROUGH GUARDIAN AD LITEM STEPHEN CROWE, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS, AND ZACHARY TREADWAY; JOSHUA DAVID TREADWAY; MICHAEL LEE TREADWAY; TAMMY TREADWAY; JANET HASKELL; MARGARET SUSAN HOUSER; CHRISTINE HUFF; GREGG HOUSER; AARON HOUSER, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
COUNTY OF SAN DIEGO; THE CITY OF OCEANSIDE; CHRIS MCDONOUGH; GARY HOOVER; SUMMER STEPHAN; LAWRENCE BLUM; CITY OF ESCONDIDO; NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR TRUTH VERIFICATION; RICK BASS; MARK WRISLEY; BARRY SWEENEY; RALPH CLAYTOR; PHIL ANDERSON, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of California John S. Rhoades, District Judge, Presiding D.C. No. CV-99-00241-JSR

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thomas, Circuit Judge

FOR PUBLICATION

Argued and Submitted June 1, 2008-Pasadena, California

Filed January 14, 2010; Amended January 27, 2010

Before: Stephen S. Trott, Sidney R. Thomas, and Raymond C. Fisher, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

This civil rights case arose from the investigation and prosecution of innocent teenagers for a crime they did not commit. Michael Crowe, Aaron Houser, and Joshua Treadway were wrongfully accused of the murder of Michael's 12-year-old sister Stephanie Crowe. After hours of grueling, psychologically abusive interrogation-during which the boys were isolated from their families and had no access to lawyers-the boys were indicted on murder charges and pre-trial proceedings commenced.

A year later, DNA testing revealed Stephanie's blood on the shirt of a transient, Richard Tuite, who had been seen in the Crowes' neighborhood on the night of the murder and reported by several neighbors for strange and harassing behavior. The shirt had been collected as part of the initial investigation, but never fully tested. Charges against the boys were eventually dropped, and Tuite was convicted of Stephanie's murder.

Michael, Aaron, Joshua, and their families filed a complaint against multiple individuals and government entities who had been involved in the investigation and prosecution of the boys. The complaint alleged, amongst other claims, constitutional violations under the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments, and defamation claims. In two separate orders, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants as to the majority of the plaintiffs' claims. The Crowes and the Housers now appeal the bulk of those orders and several defendants cross-appeal the district court's denial of summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds as to several claims. We affirm in part and reverse in part.

I. Facts and Procedural History

A. The Crime and Initial Investigation

On the night of January 20, 1998, police received several 911 phone calls reporting that a man-later identified as Richard Tuite-was bothering people in the neighborhood in which the Crowe family resided. Witnesses testified that Tuite appeared drunk or high. One witness heard him yell "I'm going to kill you you fucking bitch." Another witness saw him spinning around in circles. Between 7:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., Tuite entered one house in the neighborhood after the occupant, Dannette Mogelinski, mistook his knock for that of a neighbor. Tuite repeatedly asked for Tracy. Mogelinski said she did not know Tracy. Tuite left, but then opened the door and again asked for Tracy. Mogelinski again said she did not know Tracy, and Tuite left. Around 7:50 p.m. Shannon Homa called 911 to report a man behaving strangely in an area near the Crowes' home. At approximately 9:28 p.m., Gary West, a neighbor of the Crowes, called 911 to report a transient who had knocked on his door and said he was looking for a girl.

Escondido police officer Scott Walters was dispatched to the area. As Officer Walters drove toward the Crowe house, he noticed a door next to the garage close. He could not see who closed the door. Officer Walters then noted in his log that the transient was "gone on arrival" and left the scene at 9:56 p.m.

Sometime between 10:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m., 12-year-old Stephanie Crowe was stabbed to death in her bedroom. An autopsy determined that Stephanie was stabbed numerous times with a knife with a 5-6 inch blade.

Stephanie was found dead by her grandmother the next morning around 6:30 a.m. Paramedics were the first to respond to the 911 call. Defendant Escondido Police Department Detective Barry Sweeney arrived on the scene shortly thereafter. Police checked all of the doors and windows in the house and found no signs of forced entry. However, they did discover that a door leading to the master bedroom, a door located near the garage,*fn1 and at least one window had not been locked during the night.

Police questioned all of the members of the Crowe household at the Escondido police station in the afternoon of January 21, including Stephanie's parents, Stephen and Cheryl Crowe; Stephanie's grandmother, Judith Kennedy; Stephanie's 10-year-old sister, Shannon Crowe; and Stephanie's 14-year-old brother, Michael Crowe. The police also strip searched Michael, Stephen, Cheryl, and Shannon and photographed them nude or partially nude.*fn2

Before questioning Michael, the police advised him of his Miranda rights. The police did not Mirandize other members of the Crowe family. Michael was interviewed by Detective Mark Wrisley, a defendant in this case. Michael told Detective Wrisley that he had gotten up at 4:30 a.m. that morning with a headache, and that he had been running a fever the day before. He described having turned on his television for light and walked to the kitchen, where he took some Tylenol. He also told Detective Wrisley that all other bedroom doors had been shut when he was in the hallway. The defendant officers testified that they considered Michael's statement that the bedroom doors were closed suspicious because by 4:30 a.m. Stephanie was dead in the doorway of her bedroom with the door open.

After police had questioned all members of the Crowe family, they decided to place Michael and Shannon in protective custody and transported them to the Polinksy Children's Center.*fn3

The same day, the police located Richard Tuite and brought him to the police station so that they could talk to him, fingerprint him, and take samples of fingernail scrapings, hair, and clothing. At the police station, Detective Sweeney attempted to interview Tuite, but did not obtain much information. Detective Sweeney did not run a background check on Tuite. A background check would have shown that Tuite had an extensive mental health history and had been arrested multiple times on various charges. Tuite was detained for only a short period of time and then released.

B. The Interrogations and Related Searches

1. Michael

Michael was interrogated on four occasions, starting with the initial interview on January 21, 1998, at the Escondio police station. On January 22, 1998, Michael was interviewed a second time, by Detectives Wrisley and Han,*fn4 at the Polinksy Children's Center, where he and Shannon had spent the night after being taken into protective custody. During this interview, Michael again stated that he had woken up around 4:30 a.m., had gone to the kitchen for some Tylenol, and had thought the other doors in the hallway were closed. Michael next described waking the next morning to his parents' screams and then seeing Stephanie soaked in blood. When asked how he felt when he saw her, Michael said he cried. He described his sister as "the best person" and "kind" and expressed anger at whoever had killed her.

That same day the Escondido Police Department contacted the Oceanside Police Department to request the assistance of an officer who knew how to operate a "computer voice stress analyzer." Oceanside responded by sending one of its detectives, Christopher McDonough. When Detective McDonough arrived at Escondido, he was provided with limited information regarding Stephanie's murder.

Michael was then interviewed later that day for a third time, by Detectives McDonough and Claytor. This interview lasted more than three hours and took place at the Escondido Police Station. At the beginning of the interview, Michael indicated that he felt sick. Michael then repeated the same series of events for the evening of January 20 and the morning of January 21 that he had recounted in the first two interviews. Detective Claytor then asked Michael if he would be willing to take "a truth verification exam." Michael responded that he would be willing, but added:

I feel like I just . . . I spent all day away from my family. I couldn't see them. . . . I feel like I'm being treated like I killed my sister, and I didn't. It feels horrible, like I'm being blamed for it. Everything I own is gone . . . Everything I have is gone. Everything. You won't even let me see my parents. It's horrible.

Detective McDonough then entered the room and took over the interview.

After Michael recounted the same series of events and again expressed how stressful the past two days had been, McDonough introduced the computer stress voice analyzer. McDonough told Michael the stress voice analyzer "was controlled by the government for a long time, okay, because it was so accurate."

Detective McDonough asked Michael a long series of "yes or no" questions, including both control questions and questions specific to Stephanie's death. McDonough then reviewed the results with Michael and told him that the test "showed that you had some deception on some of the questions." McDonough asked him, "Is there something, though, that maybe you're blocking out . . . in your subconscious mind that we need to be aware of?" McDonough pressured Michael about whether there was something Michael needed to confess, which Michael repeatedly denied.

At this point Detective Claytor took over the interview. Claytor told Michael they found blood in his room, lifted fingerprints off the blood stains, and that the police now knew who killed Stephanie. Then he told Michael:

We can't bring her back. I'll tell you what we can do. What we can do is the right thing by Stephanie's name and by yourself and by your parents. Okay. Now, there is a couple of things that we need your help with . . . that only you're going to be able to help us with. . . . What I'd like you to do right off the bat, rather than put our team through any more, can you tell me what you did with the knife?

Michael responded: "What-God. I don't-no. I don't know. I didn't do it. I swear to God." Claytor continued to insist Michael killed Stephanie and Michael continued to deny it. Claytor also repeatedly told Michael that he wasn't a bad person and that they wanted to help him.

Claytor next introduced the idea that Michael killed Stephanie but did not remember it. Michael started repeating over and over that he didn't remember doing anything. He also asked Claytor if he was sure Michael had done it, to which Claytor responded, "I'm sure about the evidence. Absolutely." At this point Claytor left and McDonough resumed the interview. As Claytor left Michael sobbed, "God. God. Why? Why? Why? Oh, God. God. Why? Why? I don't deserve life. I don't want to live. I can't believe this. Oh, God. God. Why? Why? How could I have done this? I don't even remember if I did it." When McDonough entered the room, Michael continued to state that he didn't remember and asked "How can I not remember doing something like that? That's not possible." The interview ended shortly thereafter.

Michael was interviewed for a fourth and final time the following day, January 23, 1998, by Detectives Wrisley and Claytor. Prior to the interview, police contacted Dr. Lawrence Blum, a clinical psychologist, and asked him to consult with them during the interview. Dr. Blum was briefed by police, watched portions of the videos of Michael's previous interviews, and then observed the fourth interview from a monitoring room. Dr. Blum commented on Michael's demeanor, personality, and responses to questions. The interview lasted more than six hours.

During the interview Detectives Wrisley and Claytor took turns interrogating Michael. They employed a variety of tactics in an attempt to extract a confession from him. The first approach they took-which they repeated throughout the interview-was to tell Michael that they had evidence to prove he had killed his sister. They told him again that they found blood in his room, that they knew Michael had moved Stephanie, that they had proof that no one had entered the house and so Stephanie had to have been killed by a family member, and that they found blood in the bathroom sink.

Claytor told Michael that they were going to play a game, in which they would talk about the evidence and Michael would explain it. They started with the blood Claytor said was found in Michael's room. When Michael said he didn't know how to explain it because he didn't know how it got there, Claytor told him that under the rules of the game Michael wasn't allowed to say "I don't know." As Claytor continued to push Michael, Michael gave responses such as "How am I supposed to tell you an answer that I don't have? I can't- it's not possible to tell you something I don't know," and "You keep asking me questions I can't answer. What do you want me to do? Make something up? Lie to you?"

Later, Wrisley tried to get Michael to describe stabbing Stephanie:

Q. What did you do?

A. I don't know. All I know that I did is what you told me. That's all I know.

Q. What did we tell you that you did?

A. You told me that I killed her.

Q. How?

A. I don't know. You asked me what I did with the knife, so I assume it was a knife. That's all I know.

Q. So what does the knife do? What's the knife got to do with it?

A. He asked me if I-what I did with the knife, but I can't-I don't know. That's all I know.

Q. Well, if there was a knife there and Stephanie was dead, what role did the knife play?

A. I don't know. They thought I killed her.

Q. How?

A. I don't know.

Q. Oh, come on, Michael.

A. I don't know. God.

Q. You played enough of these games. You know how the knives work.

A. They cut her.

Q. Is that a question?

A. I don't know. I can't really tell you.

Q. You know how knives work, Michael. That's a little insulting to say that in front of Ralph and I who investigate these cases all the time. Right?

A. I guess.

Q. You guess?

A. I don't know for sure. I guess it would be.

Q. So how is a knife used to kill somebody?

A. Maybe stab them.

Q. Where?

A. I don't know.

Q. Well, where would you think? If someone was going to die from being stabbed, where would they be stabbed?

A. In the head.

Q. Okay. Where else? Is that the only place?

A. Stomach. I don't know. The chest.

Q. The chest, in the head?

A. Yeah.

Q. Would they die from being stabbed in the stomach?

A. Eventually.

Q. Eventually?

A. Yes.

Q. Why?

A. They'd bleed to death.

Q. Would they?

A. I guess. I don't know.

Q. Well, are you basing that on some kind of rationale or are you just taking a flier out of it?

A. I told you. I don't remember what I did. I don't care if you think I'm just trying not to tell you. I don't care.

The detectives also followed up on the idea that Claytor had introduced the day before: that Michael had killed his sister but did not remember. Throughout the entire 6-hour interview Michael repeatedly asserted that he did not remember killing his sister, to which the detectives insisted, "I'm helping you remember," and "I think you don't want to remember."

Earlier in the interview, Wrisley had also introduced the idea that there were "two Michaels," a "good Michael" and a "bad Michael":

Q. Once everybody understands what's been going on, I know that people will be able to forgive, Michael.

A. But I didn't do it.

Q. You know, the good part of Michael didn't do it.

A. I didn't.

Q. The Michael that helps her with her math.

A. I didn't. I didn't do this.

Q. And I'm suggesting to you, Michael, that the Michael that has an opponent to defeat who has an incredible assortment of things at his disposal could be responsible for this.

A. No. It's not true. I didn't ...


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