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Zeen v. County of Sonoma

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Francisco Division

May 31, 2018

DANE ZEEN, Plaintiff,
v.
COUNTY OF SONOMA, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT RE: ECF NO. 51

          LAUREL BEELER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         INTRODUCTION

         In the early hours of December 15, 2015, Sonoma County Sheriff Deputies Michael Yoder and Charles Blount arrived at the home of Dane Zeen. Earlier that night, Mr. Zeen - an eighteen-year-old who had suffered for many years from depressive disorder - had texted a friend that he was thinking of hanging himself. The friend called 911, and the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office dispatched Deputies Yoder and Blount to Mr. Zeen's home to conduct a welfare check. Deputy Yoder arrived first and spoke with Mr. Zeen's stepfather, Tim LaRose, who told him that Mr. Zeen was out in his truck. Deputy Yoder went out to speak with Mr. Zeen, asked him to step out of the truck and handcuffed him for officer safety, spoke more with Mr. LaRose (after Deputy Blount arrived and stayed with Mr. Zeen), and determined that Mr. Zeen should be put on a 72hour mental-health hold pursuant to California Welfare & Institutions Code § 5150.

         Those facts are not in dispute. What is in dispute is what happened next. After Deputy Yoder told Mr. Zeen that he was placing him on a Section 5150 hold, Mr. Zeen dug in his heels (literally) and refused to move and go with the deputies. Deputy Yoder held onto Mr. Zeen's arm and tried to get him to walk. The defendants say that Mr. Zeen tried to pull away from Deputy Yoder, causing Deputy Yoder to lose his balance and start falling down, which in turn caused Mr. Zeen to fall down to the ground as well. Mr. Zeen and Mr. LaRose say that Deputy Yoder pulled or threw Mr. Zeen to the ground face-first while he was handcuffed. It is undisputed that as a result of the fall, Mr. Zeen bled heavily and broke three teeth, which were jammed into their sockets under his nose.

         Mr. Zeen brought claims against (1) Deputies Yoder and Blount under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for excessive force, (2) Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for supervisory liability, and (3) the County of Sonoma and Sheriff Freitas for municipality liability under the doctrine of Monell v. New York City Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978). The defendants moved for summary judgment. Mr. Zeen does not oppose the defendants' motion with respect to Deputy Blount, [1] so the court will grant Deputy Blount summary judgment. Mr. Zeen opposes the defendants' motion with respect to Deputy Yoder, Sheriff Freitas, and the County. For the following reasons, the court denies summary judgment as to Deputy Yoder and grants summary judgment as to Sheriff Freitas and the County.

         STATEMENT

         1. The Events Before Deputy Yoder Placed Mr. Zeen on a Section 5150 Hold

         Mr. Zeen states that “[f]or the purposes of [the defendants' summary-judgment] motion, [he] does not dispute the defendants' recitation of the facts preceding the point at which he was placed on a 72-hour hold.”[2] Those facts are as follows:

         In the early morning hours of December 15, Michael Yoder, then a deputy sheriff with the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office (now retired), received a call from dispatch asking him to respond to a welfare check on a suicidal subject.[3] The subject - Dane Zeen - had reported to a friend that he wanted to hang himself.[4] The friend called 911.[5]

         Deputy Yoder responded to a rural home on McFarland Drive in Sebastopol, Sonoma County, California.[6] There was a long dirt driveway approaching the gated property, which was pitch dark when Deputy Yoder arrived.[7] Deputy Yoder approached the home and knocked on a door, and Tim LaRose - Mr. Zeen's stepfather - eventually answered.[8] Mr. LaRose confirmed that Mr. Zeen had fought with his mother, was suicidal and had mentioned wanting to hang himself, and was told to go sleep in his truck.[9] Deputy Yoder went out to the truck and knocked on the rolled-up window, through which he could see Mr. Zeen.[10]

         Mr. Zeen told Deputy Yoder that he was “fucked up inside.”[11] Mr. Zeen told Deputy Yoder that he “did not know anymore” what kind of help he needed and said that his parents would not help him.[12] Deputy Yoder asked Mr. Zeen to exit the vehicle so he could search him for weapons, and Mr. Zeen complied.[13] Once Mr. Zeen was out of his vehicle, Deputy Yoder handcuffed Mr. Zeen behind his back.[14] Deputy Yoder continued his interview of Mr. Zeen and Mr. LaRose to determine if Mr. Zeen posed a danger to himself.[15] Mr. Zeen was quiet and cooperative.[16] As Deputy Yoder took Mr. LaRose aside to interview him, Deputy Charles Blount arrived at the location as the backup deputy and stood next to Mr. Zeen while Deputy Yoder interviewed Mr. LaRose.[17] Mr. Zeen was placid and quiet during the entire period he was standing outside his truck.[18]

         Mr. LaRose told Deputy Yoder that he was planning on taking Mr. Zeen to Psychiatric Emergency Services and that he had taken Mr. Zeen there in the past.[19] After speaking with Mr. LaRose, Deputy Yoder determined that Mr. Zeen should be placed on a Welfare & Institutions Code Section 5150 involuntary hold.[20] Deputy Yoder returned to where Mr. Zeen was standing and told him that he placing him on a 72-hour hold.[21]

         2. The Events After Deputy Yoder Placed Mr. Zeen on a Section 5150 Hold

         Deputy Yoder (and possibly Deputy Blount) placed his hand in the crook of Mr. Zeen's elbow.[22] Mr. Zeen began shouting and (literally) dug in his heels, refusing to go with the deputies.[23] The deputies and Mr. Zeen had the following exchange:

Deputy Yoder: I'm putting you on a 72-hour hold.
Mr. Zeen: No.
Deputy Yoder: ... It's not your choice.
Mr. Zeen: This is bullshit.
Deputy Yoder: Mmkay. Watch out.
Mr. Zeen: No.
Deputy Yoder: Yeah.
Mr. Zeen: What the fuck? No!
Deputy Yoder: It's not an option.
Mr. Zeen: No! What the fuck?
Deputy Yoder: Look. Just, just -
Mr. Zeen: No. I don't want to fucking go anywhere.
Deputy Yoder: You don't need to get hurt too, okay?
Mr. Zeen: [Dude, I have, I have so much more] shit I need to do, I can't, I don't have time for this! I have to do shit tomorrow, man! Fuck! Dad! No! No! Hey! No! I won't fucking go![24]

         According to the defendants, Mr. Zeen dropped his weight, and Deputy Yoder had to pull him up to regain his footing.[25] Mr. Zeen then shifted his weight and used his heels to push back to try to get out of Deputy Yoder's arm hold, and Deputy Yoder lost his balance and fell to the ground.[26]Deputy Yoder's falling while holding onto Mr. Zeen's arm, coupled with Mr. Zeen's active resistance, caused Mr. Zeen to fall as well.[27]

         According to Mr. Zeen, Deputy Yoder pulled or threw him to the ground face-first while he was handcuffed. Mr. Zeen testified, “They started taking me away at the same time, and then he pulls me to the ground face first, and that's all I remember.”[28] Mr. LaRose testified, “I see the officer on the inside, farthest away from me, and it basically looked like he still had his arm wrapped around Dane's, twisted and - what appeared to be - throw Dane on the ground. While that's all happening, he pulled Dane out of the arm of the other officer.”[29]

         After Mr. Zeen hit the ground, the parties had the following exchange:

Deputy Yoder: Do not fight me!
Mr. Zeen: [Moaning.]
Mr. LaRose: Dane, look at what you just did to yourself.
Mr. Zeen: [Moaning.]
Mr. LaRose: You didn't have to slam him that hard.
Mr. Zeen: [Moaning.]
Deputy Yoder: He took me down if you didn't notice.
Mr. LaRose: You split his teeth open, for Christ's sake!
Deputy Yoder: Get back.
Mr. Zeen: [Moaning.]
Mr. LaRose: I am back.
Deputy Blount: Back further.
Mr. LaRose: I'm back far enough. I'm out ...

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