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Moore v. City of Oakland

United States District Court, N.D. California

March 16, 2017

SAINT DEJUAN MOORE, Plaintiff,
v.
THE CITY OF OAKLAND, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT RE: DKT NOS. 64, 69

          JACQUELINE SCOTT CORLEY, United States Magistrate Judge

         This case arises out of the arrest and prosecution of Plaintiff Saint Dejuan Moore following a fatal traffic accident during a police chase. In the Third Amended Complaint (“TAC”), Plaintiff alleges that Defendants California Highway Patrol (“CHP”) Officer Sean Deise and City of Oakland Police Department (“OPD”) Officer Daniel Tirapelli falsely identified Plaintiff as the driver of the car. He alleges that Officer Deise is liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for subjecting him to false arrest and that both officers are liable for malicious prosecution for murder and other charges resulting from the collision. Plaintiff further alleges that the City of Oakland is liable for its failure to train its officers to conduct criminal investigations to prevent malicious prosecution. (See Dkt. No. 44.) Defendants now move for summary judgment on all of Plaintiffs' claims. (Dkt. No. 64, 69.) Upon careful consideration of the parties' submissions, the entire record of this case, and the arguments of counsel at a hearing held on February 23, 2017, the Court GRANTS Defendants' motions as set forth below.

         SUMMARY JUDGMENT EVIDENCE

         I. The Initial Car Chase, Collision & Arrest

         On December 27, 2012 at around 11:20 p.m., CHP Officer Sean Deise and his partner were on patrol in Oakland. (Dkt. No. 66 ¶ 2.) The officers were performing a traffic stop on the northbound side of 90th Avenue when they saw a silver BMW with no license plates speed past them in the southbound lane-both violations of the California Vehicle Code. (Id. ¶ 2.) The officers finished their traffic stop then got back in their car to stop the BMW. (Id. ¶ 3.) Officer Deise made a U-turn so the officers were directly behind the BMW and activated the police car's lights to signal the BMW to stop. (Id.) The BMW pulled over. (Id.) As Officer Deise and his partner got out of their car, the BMW accelerated and made a U-turn. (Id. ¶ 4.) When the rear wheels began to spin out during the U-turn, the BMW slowed down to regain control. (Id.; see also Dkt. No. 65-2 at 49.)

         There is no dispute that Plaintiff-who had been smoking marijuana and drinking that evening-was in the BMW wearing a black jacket. (See Dkt. No. 65-2 at 4-5; Dkt. No. 65-10.) But the parties dispute what Officer Deise saw when the car drove past him. Officer Deise avers that he had a “clear and unobstructed view into” the driver's side window, which was about 10-15 feet away from him, and that he saw a black male adult with short black hair wearing black rimmed glasses and a black jacket or sweatshirt driving the car. (Id.) He did not notice if anyone was in the passenger seat. (Id.) But Plaintiff testified that he was asleep in the passenger seat when the BMW made the U-turn. (Dkt. No. 65-2 at 20-21.) He further testified it would have been impossible for Officer Deise to notice anything about the driver at that time because it was too fast, too dark, and the angle did not permit observation. (Id. at 52-53.) Plaintiff has also submitted the declaration of private investigator Timothy J. O'Brien in support of his contention that Officer Deise could not have seen enough about the driver to identify him. (Dkt. No. 71-2.)

         In any event, it is undisputed that the BMW then drove off in the northbound lane of 90th Avenue. (Id. ¶ 4.) The officers made a U-turn to follow the BMW and called into dispatch to report the car. (Id. ¶ 5.) As the BMW sped away, it failed to stop at a number of stop signs. (Id.) Going even faster-Officer Deise estimated that it was going 60 mph in a 30-mph zone-the BMW turned right onto MacArthur Boulevard then left onto 98th Avenue, when an Oakland Police Department vehicle joined the chase. (Id. ¶ 6.) Officer Deise lost sight of the BMW after watching it fail to stop at a red light on 98th Avenue. (Id. ¶¶ 6-7.)

         After cresting a hill at 98th Avenue and reaching the on-ramp to the 580 freeway at Las Vegas Street (see Dkt. No. 69-2 ¶ 4; Dkt. No. 69-2 at 15), Officer Deise saw that the BMW had been involved in a traffic collision: there was heavy damage to the front of the car, which came to rest on the concrete median. (Id. ¶ 7.) A passenger in the car that the BMW struck died as a result of the collision. (Dkt. No. 69-2 ¶ 3.) Officer Deise watched two black men run from the driver's side of the BMW to the northwest towards Las Vegas Avenue; the man closest to the driver's side wore jeans, a black jacket or sweatshirt, and sneakers, and the other wore jeans and a white t-shirt. (Dkt. No. 66 ¶ 7.) Plaintiff admits that he exited the BMW on the driver's side wearing a black jacket. (Dkt. No. 65-2 at 25, 29, 54-55.)

         Officer Deise stopped the car on Las Vegas Avenue, and he and his partner searched the area on foot. (Dkt. No. 69-2 ¶ 8.) Officer Deise found Plaintiff hiding behind a house; “[b]ased on his facial features and black jacket, ” Officer Deise identified Plaintiff as the man he had observed driving the BMW as it passed him during the U-turn, so he brought Plaintiff into custody. (Id.) Plaintiff contends that Officer Deise lied when he identified him as the driver at that time and at all points going forward. (Dkt. No. 65-2 at 41-42.) As the Court must draw all factual conflicts in Plaintiff's favor, it must assume that Plaintiff was not the driver and thus that Officer Deise was either mistaken when he stated he observed Plaintiff in the driver seat or lied when he identified him as such.

         Plaintiff told Officer Deise that his glasses were still in the BMW and he needed them. (Id.; Dkt. No. 65-2 at 36, 38.) After Officer Deise read Plaintiff his rights and placed Plaintiff in the backseat of the CHP patrol car, Plaintiff repeatedly stated that he was not driving the BMW and was asleep in the passenger seat. (Dkt. No. 69-2 ¶ 9; Dkt. No. 65-2 at 36-39.) He told Officer Deise that he ran from the car because he was on probation. (Dkt. No. 65-2 at 38-40; Dkt. No. 65-2 at 55; Dkt. No. 65-3 (Plea and Probation Documents for 2011 Felony Conviction).[1]) Plaintiff also volunteered to the officer that he had been drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana that day; Officer Deise smelled marijuana and alcohol on Plaintiff and noticed signs of intoxication, and an alcohol screening indicated that his blood alcohol content was .025%. (Id. ¶ 10.)

         Plaintiff was taken into custody, and the police never found the second man in the car. (Dkt. No. 74-2 at 5.)

         II. The Investigation & Prosecution

         Although CHP Officer Deise was the arresting officer, OPD took over the investigation. OPD Officer Daniel Tirapelli, now retired, was on duty as Acting Sergeant in the Traffic Investigation Unit in December 2012. (Dkt. No. 65-1 at 2; Dkt. No. 69-2 ¶ 2; id. at 15.) Officer Tirapelli responded to the accident scene at around 3:00 a.m. and became the on-scene supervisor. (Id. ¶ 4.) Officer Tirapelli-who has experience investigating over 100 fatal collisions- conducted the investigation the way he normally did: he looked at the evidence, directed the technician to take photographs and process the car for evidence, searched the car for proof of identification, and fingerprinted and swabbed the car for DNA. (Id. ¶ 5.) Officer Tirapelli also had the technician remove the airbags. (Id.)

         Back at the police station, Officer Tirapelli and his partner interviewed Plaintiff-who arrived at the police station following a hospital visit to address his injuries from the collision- after reading him his Miranda rights. (Dkt. No. 69-2 ¶¶ 6-7.) Officer Tirapelli wrote a Narrative Report describing the incident. (Dkt. No. 65-1 at 2-12.) According to the report, Plaintiff told the officers that he understood he had been identified as the driver, but he was not the driver, did not know who the driver was, and had never seen him before. (Dkt. No. 65-1 at 4-5; Dkt. No. 69-2 ¶ 7.) The report reflects that Plaintiff told the officers that an older man at the bar whose name he did not know had arranged the ride for him because Plaintiff realized he was in danger of violating his parole curfew. (Dkt. No. 65-1 at 4-5; Dkt. No. 65-2 at 6, 8-9; Dkt. No. 69-2 ¶ 7.) He repeated as much at his deposition in this case. (Dkt. No. 65-2 at 7.) Plaintiff testified that he told the man who called the ride for him where he was going, and that man must have told the driver his address. (Dkt. No. 65-2 at 12, 15.) According to Officer Tirapelli's narrative report and Plaintiff's deposition testimony, Plaintiff said that had never seen the BMW or its driver before, did not have a conversation with the driver, looked at the driver for less than ten seconds when he got in the car before falling asleep, did not know what the driver was wearing, and described the driver as a “light-skinned male black, 24 - 34 years old, clean cut.” (Dkt. No. 65-1 at 5; see also Dkt. No. 65-2 at 15-16, 19, 22, 62.)

         Plaintiff told the officers and testified at his deposition that he fell asleep in the car on the way home and only woke up when the car did a “donut[, ]” at which point Plaintiff turned around and saw the police car with sirens on following them. (Dkt. No. 65-1 at 4-5; Dkt. No. 65-2 at 8, 19 (testifying that he woke up when “the car jerks and I hear skidding” and the police are behind him); id. at 20 (“I didn't wake up until the car did the U-turn and passed by [the officers].”); id. at 49 (testifying that a “fishtail burning rubber” that woke him up).) According to Plaintiff, he asked the driver to let him out of the car, but the driver did not let him.[2] (Dkt. No. 65-1 at 5; Dkt. No. 65-2 at 22.)

         Plaintiff testified at his deposition that he exited on the driver's side because he had taken his seatbelt off when he saw the police behind him so he could get out and run, so when the collision happened he slid in front of the seat beneath the dashboard and wiggled free when he saw the open door, not knowing if the door on his side was still able to open after the collision. (Dkt. No. 65-2 at 25, 29, 54-55.) His glasses flew off his face at the time of the collision and he did not stop to put them on because he needed to run from the police. (Id. at 29-30.)

         Officer Tirapelli, then a 25-year veteran of OPD with significant interviewing experience, did not believe Plaintiff's story. (Id. ¶ 8.) Based on Officer Deise's identification, Plaintiff's admission that he had been in the car, and Plaintiff's glasses found in the car, Officer Tirapelli recommended charging Plaintiff with a probation violation, driving under the influence, evading a police officer, duty to stop at a scene of an accident, and gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. (Dkt. No. 65-1 at 10-12;Dkt. No. 69-2 ¶ 9.) OPD arrested Plaintiff for vehicular manslaughter under California Penal Code § 192(c)(1), causing serious bodily injury during flight from a peace officer under California Vehicle Code § 2800.3, failing to stop at the scene of an accident resulting in injury under California Vehicle Code § 20001, and driving under the influence of alcohol under Vehicle Code § 23153. (Dkt. No. 65-4 at 2.) Plaintiff was taken to Santa Rita jail where he spent the next 17 months. (Dkt. No. 69-2 ¶ 10; Dkt. No. 44 ¶ 16.)

         In April 2013 the Alameda County District Attorney charged Plaintiff with murder and four other felonies related to causing injury while evading officers and leaving the scene of the collision. (Dkt. No. 65-6 at 2-6.) The District Attorney amended the complaint to add another felony evasion count in October 2013. (Id. at 7-11.)

         Officer Tirapelli did not immediately request DNA testing of the evidence taken from the scene of the accident. (See Dkt. No. 69-2 ¶¶ 12, 19.) According to Officer Tirapelli, that was consistent with his usual practice: he frequently did not immediately request DNA testing from traffic accidents because it would take about three months to get results because homicides are given priority. (Id. ¶ 12.) He averred that this case would have been treated like a traffic accident even though there was a fatality. (Id.) In late summer 2013, the Deputy District Attorney assigned to the case asked Officer Tirapelli to have the DNA evidence processed. (Dkt. No. 69-2 ¶ 13.) Based on the DA's request, Officer Tirapelli submitted the DNA evidence for testing. (Id. ¶¶ 13, 19.)

         At some point, the police learned that the BMW was registered to Joshua Ford, an alias for Elton Flenaugh, who Plaintiff concedes is his uncle. (Dkt. No. 65-2 at 17-18.) Mr. Flenaugh is a black man who was 33 years old at the time of the collision. (Dkt. No. 64 at 10 n.1.) Plaintiff testified that he first learned that Mr. Flenaugh owned the BMW during discovery in his criminal case. (Dkt. No. 65-2 at 26.) When asked whether Mr. Flenaugh might have been driving the BMW, Plaintiff noted that it was possible that the man inside the bar had called Mr. Flenaugh to pick up Plaintiff, but stated that he was not in touch with Mr. Flenaugh at the time of the collision and did not know who the driver was, adding that “[i]f I tell you it was [Mr. Flenaugh], then I would have to tell you I [saw Mr. Flenaugh] driving the car.” (Dkt. No. 65-2 at 27.)

         Plaintiff had a preliminary hearing in Alameda County Superior Court on October 29, 2013. (Dkt. No. 65-6 at 2; Dkt. No. 69-2 ¶ 14.) The Superior Court had previously granted Plaintiff's attorney's request to continue the preliminary hearing to allow time to receive the results of the DNA analysis, but the presiding judge eventually let the preliminary hearing go forward without the DNA results because the Deputy District Attorney was not introducing DNA evidence at the hearing. (See Dkt. No. 69-1 at 7-8; see also Dkt. No. 65-2 at 59.) Officer Deise testified that he was 90 to 95 percent certain that Plaintiff was driving the BMW. (Dkt. No. 74-2 at 4-6.) He noted that he has a heightened sense of awareness during a pursuit, which contributed to his confidence about the identification. (Id. at 6.) Aside from his testimony at the preliminary hearing, Officer Deise was not involved in Plaintiff's prosecution. (Dkt. No. 66 ¶ 12.) Plaintiff insists that Officer Deise was lying at his preliminary hearing, highlighting an inconsistency about whether the officer called dispatch to report one black male or two running from the car, and otherwise stating that the officer must have been lying because it was more than merely a mistaken identification. (Dkt. No. 65-2 at 41-47.)

         Officer Tirapelli also testified at the preliminary hearing. (Dkt. No. 69-2 ¶ 14; id. at 11-44.) He described the evidence he collected at the scene and his search to determine the owner of the car; he was not asked and did not testify about any DNA analysis. (See id.) He avers that, “[t]o the best of [his] knowledge, the results of the DNA analysis had not yet been returned by the lab.” (Id. ¶ 14.) Plaintiff concedes that Officer Tirapelli testified truthfully. (Dkt. No. 69-1 at 20-21.)

         Ultimately, the judge held Plaintiff to answer on all charges, finding probable cause to believe he was the driver despite agreeing that there was “certainly some room to question the accuracy of the officer's identification, given the brevity of the observation and the somewhat equivocal testimony on some other points[.]” (Dkt. No. 65-6 at 10-11; see also Dkt. No. 65-7 at 2 (order holding Plaintiff to answer).) On November 8, 2013, the District Attorney filed a Criminal Information against Plaintiff as to the same ...


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