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Estate of Adomako v. City of Fremont

United States District Court, N.D. California

June 21, 2019

ESTATE OF NANA BARFI ADOMAKO, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF FREMONT, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, Re: Dkt. No. 66

          Donna M. Ryu United States Magistrate Judge

         This case arises out of the shooting death of Nana Barfi Adomako by City of Fremont police officer James Taylor on February 5, 2017. Plaintiffs are the Estate of Nana Barfi Adomako (“the Estate”); Augustina Yeboah, who is Adomako's mother and successor in interest to the Estate; and Nana N. Dwomoh, Adomako's brother and administrator of the Estate. Plaintiffs filed a civil rights action asserting constitutional violations pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as well as related state law claims against the City of Fremont (“Fremont”) and Taylor. Both Defendants now move for summary judgment. [Docket No. 66.] The court held a hearing on April 25, 2019. Following the hearing, the court ordered the parties to submit supplemental briefing regarding the Estate's negligence claim, which the parties timely filed. [Docket Nos. 74, 79, 80.] For the following reasons, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         The following facts are undisputed, unless otherwise noted. Taylor, a Fremont police officer, is a member of the K-9 unit. On February 5, 2017, Taylor was driving on patrol with Cairo, who had been his K-9 partner since August 2014. At some point after 4:00 p.m., dispatch sent two units to a Verizon store to respond to a report of a battery. At his deposition, Taylor recounted his memory of the dispatch report as follows:

I remember that the suspect had come in [to the Verizon store] and had bothered a customer and that an employee had asked him to leave. It progressed from there to that the employee told him he was going to call 911 and that at some point the suspect had approached and battered him and then had taken the phone from him, and that they gave a brief description and that he was last seen going westbound on Mowry passing the fire station.

Taylor Dep. 137-38.[1] The dispatcher described the suspect as “a black male carrying a paper bag and wearing both a dark colored, black or blue jacket, and a green and brown sweatshirt and dark blue pants.” Taylor Decl., Mar. 10, 2019, ¶ 2. Taylor was already in the area of the suspect's reported location and instructed the dispatcher to attach him to the service call. Id. at ¶ 3.

         As he drove westbound on Mowry, Taylor saw a man matching the suspect's description, later identified as Adomako, walking on the south side of the street. Id. at ¶ 4; Taylor Dep. 133-34. Taylor recognized Adomako from past interactions. He testified that he believed that Adomako may have had problems with his mental health based on his overall demeanor, clothing, and incoherence during their conversations. However, Taylor had never had a violent encounter with Adomako. Taylor Dep. 149-51.

         Taylor made a U-turn at the next intersection and traveled back eastbound on Mowry. He then made a right turn onto the Mowry frontage road, intending to contact and detain Adomako to investigate the battery report. After making the U-turn, Taylor activated the forward-facing red lights on top of his patrol car. Taylor Dep. 134, 144; Taylor Decl. ¶ 5.

         Taylor's car was equipped with a video recording system mounted near the rearview mirror and facing toward the front of the car. It passively recorded video footage without audio, capturing events within its vantage point. Taylor Decl. ¶ 6. The record contains a copy of the video footage from Taylor's car, along with a slow-motion version that the Alameda County District Attorney's Office provided to Defendants. Gaches Decl. ¶¶ 7-9, 10-12, Exs. B (Video), C (Slow Motion Video). The video depicts Taylor making the U-turn on Mowry before turning right onto the frontage road and coming to a stop. Video:56-1:15.

         The parties dispute Adomako and Taylor's initial movements after Taylor turned onto the frontage road. According to Taylor, as he turned onto the road, Adomako was approximately 50 to 60 feet away and was walking towards the car. Taylor Decl. ¶ 7. As he parked, Adomako was 15 to 20 feet away from the front of the car and was walking towards the driver's side. Taylor testified that he quickly got out of the car because he was concerned about being inside the car while Adomako approached it. Taylor Dep. 157-60; Taylor Decl. ¶ 8. As Taylor closed the car door, Adomako was standing in front of him. Taylor Decl. ¶ 8. However, according to Plaintiffs, Adomako was not walking towards Taylor. Witness Alan Arnold testified that Adomako was walking away from Taylor, and that Taylor motioned Adomako to come over to where Taylor was standing, apparently having already gotten out of the car. Arnold Dep. 23-24, 45. According to Arnold, Adomako did not initially comply; “he just was trying to walk away” in the opposite direction. Id. at 24. The record does not contain any details regarding Arnold's location or how far away he was from Adomako, Taylor, and the car. The video does not support Arnold's account. It does not depict Taylor, but it shows that Adomako walked in Taylor's direction facing the front of the car, as the car came to a stop with Taylor still inside. Adomako then appeared to veer to his right, in the direction of the driver's side door, before moving out of the video frame. Video 1:15-1:22.

         The next 45 seconds of the encounter occurred outside the range of the video camera. Video 1:22-2:07. Taylor states that during this time, he got out of his car and attempted to engage Adomako in conversation. Taylor Dep. 160. According to Taylor, he said something like “Hey, I just need you to stop. I'd like you to have a seat” on the curb, to which Adomako responded, “Why are you stopping me? I am the king of Fremont. I am the chief of police.” Id. at 161; Taylor Decl. ¶ 9. Taylor continued to ask him to sit down and Adomako continued to say, “Why are you stopping me?” and “I'm the chief of police.” Id. at 165.

         Taylor testified that Adomako “wasn't responding as a normal person would, ” but he did not know if Adomako was experiencing a mental illness issue, a drug or alcohol issue, or a combination thereof. Id. at 166-67. He testified that he had received training on how to interact with individuals with mental illness during a crisis and how to deescalate such situations. Id. at 152-54. According to Taylor, he was “trying to be as moderated and calm with [Adomako] as [he] could.” Id. at 164. At some point, Taylor put his hand on Adomako and asked him to back up because he was too close to Taylor. Id. at 168-69.

         At the time of the incident, Taylor was 5'11” and weighed 230 pounds. He estimates that Adomako was approximately 6'4” and 200 pounds. Taylor Dep. 130-31. Taylor was dressed in his police uniform and body armor and carried a handgun and a taser. Id. at 125-26, 129. According to Taylor, Adomako spoke in a progressively louder and more aggressive tone and “started to tower or lean over [Taylor], ” which made Taylor begin to “start fearing for [his] own safety.” Taylor Decl. ¶ 9; Taylor Dep. 164-65, 167. Based on his training and experience, Taylor became concerned that Adomako might try to fight with him. Taylor Decl. ¶ 9.

         Taylor attempted to place Adomako into a control hold by grabbing his hand. He states that Adomako immediately pulled his hand back. Taylor Decl. ¶ 9. Taylor and Adomako then moved in front of the patrol car into a position where the video camera was able to record their movements. As they enter the frame, the video shows that Taylor grabbed the clothing on Adomako's chest and tried to push him onto the hood of the car, with Adomako's back facing the camera. Video 2:07-2:10.

         Taylor testified that he then released Adomako with his right hand as he was trying to “grab another control hold on his left hand, which [Adomako] pull[ed] away from, ” and then Adomako “immediately flinch[ed] towards [Taylor].” Taylor Dep. 207-08. The video shows that Taylor grabbed Adomako's left wrist. Adomako, with his back still facing the camera, then pulled his arm away from Taylor and moved his entire body to a more upright position in Taylor's direction. Slow Motion Video:49-:56. The two men appear to grapple with each other, although some of their movements are not visible because Adomako had his back towards the camera. Adomako moved forward by pushing on Taylor's chest, forcing Taylor to move back. Holding Taylor near the shoulder area with his left hand, Adomako wound his right arm back and used his open hand to hit Taylor on the shoulder, then immediately aimed a blow at the side of Taylor's head. Taylor ducked, while still holding on to Adomako, and it is not clear whether Adomako's second strike made contact. Slow Motion Video:56-1:14.

         At some point during the encounter, Taylor released Cairo from the patrol car. Id. at 179-80, 212. Taylor's testimony is unclear as to whether he decided to release Cairo before or after Adomako first struck him. Compare Taylor Dep. 180-81 (testifying that Adomako's open-handed blows caused him to release the dog) with 209 (answering “yeah” in response to the question “So prior to being struck, you activated your door to release the dog” and stating, “[i]t was when he grabbed me, is what caused me to decide to release the door.”). Taylor opened the car door by pressing a button on the remote on his belt. Taylor then gave the command to call his K-9 partner to him. He did not give Cairo the “apprehend” command. Id. at 156-57, 181, 209-10.

         The video shows that Cairo entered the frame after Adomako attempted to strike Taylor the second time. The dog ran up to Taylor and jumped up on him on his hindlegs. Video 2:10-2:16; Slow Motion Video 1:15-1:21. Taylor testified that Cairo unexpectedly bit Taylor once in the left trapezius area of his arm, breaking his skin. See id.; Taylor Dep. 9-10, 22. According to Taylor, he yelled at Cairo, who then let go. Id. at 34-35; Video 2:15-:16. Taylor testified that “the dog caused [him] to lose focus on Adomako when he bit [Taylor] initially.” Taylor Dep. 196.

         The video shows that Adomako and Taylor continued to struggle with each other while Cairo jumped up on his hind legs between the two men and toward Taylor at least three times. Video 2:16-:19; Slow Motion Video 1:22-:35. During this time, Adomako continued to advance on Taylor, and swung five times at Taylor's head with his fist. The first blow made contact with the left side of Taylor's face. Although unclear, it appears that at least one other blow, and possibly two more, made contact with Taylor's head. Video 2:16-:19; Slow Motion Video 1:31-:38. Taylor moved backwards, away from Adomako. Immediately after Adomako's fifth swing, and no more than 13 seconds after the two men first entered the video frame together, Taylor shot Adomako with his firearm. The video does not clearly depict Taylor's operation of the firearm. It shows that as Taylor began to fire, Adomako turned away from Taylor and moved quickly out of the video frame. Video 2:19-:23.

         According to Taylor, he fired three shots at Adomako “all right on top of each other, ” as fast as he could. Taylor Dep. 190. Taylor testified that he fired his weapon because he “became so incapacitated by the strength of one of [Adomako's] blows” that he thought that he was going to lose consciousness and that Adomako would grab his firearm and kill him. Taylor Dep. 222-24. According to Taylor, he feared that one of Adomako's blows had broken his orbital bone. Id. at 223-24.

         Around the time that Taylor fired at Adomako, Officer Grant Goepp arrived on the scene. Cairo bit Adomako's leg after he was shot, although Cairo's contact with Adomako is not visible on the video. Taylor Decl. ¶ 10. Taylor instructed the dog to release Adomako, and Goepp handcuffed Adomako. Id.; Taylor Dep. 225. Taylor states that within seconds of Goepp's arrival, Taylor reported the use of force and requested immediate medical assistance. He then attempted to help Goepp provide trauma care to Adomako. Paramedics and the Fire Department arrived on scene within minutes of his request. Taylor Decl. ¶ 10; Taylor Dep. 204. Adomako later died from his injuries.

         Taylor was treated at a hospital following the incident with complaints of blurry vision, nausea, headache, lightheadedness, and left distal finger pain. Taylor Decl. ¶ 12; Gaches Decl. ¶ 13, Ex. D at ECF pp. 14, 18 (hospital records). The medical records contain two areas which list “final diagnoses.” One area indicates “contusion of other part of head, initial encounter” and “displaced fracture of distal phalanx of left little finger, initial encounter for closed fracture.” Ex. D at ECF p. 11. The other area indicates “[b]lunt head trauma, facial contusion, finger fracture, left, closed, initial encounter.” Id. at ECF p. 18. Taylor testified that he suffered a black eye and a broken finger as a result of the incident. Taylor Dep. 21, 197; Douglas Decl., Mar. 25, 2019, ¶ 3, Ex. B13 (photo of black eye).

         B. Procedural History

         Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit on November 1, 2017. The court partially granted Defendants' motion to dismiss, after which Plaintiffs filed the operative complaint on March 26, 2018. [Docket Nos. 25, 32 (Am. Compl.).] On May 16, 2018, the court dismissed Plaintiffs' claim for municipal liability under Monell v. Department of Social Services of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (1978). [Docket No. 42.] The remaining claims are: 1) section 1983 claim for unreasonable search and seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment, by the Estate and Yeboah against Taylor; 2) section 1983 claim for excessive force and denial of medical care in violation of the Fourth Amendment, by the Estate and Yeboah against Taylor; 3) section 1983 claim for interference with Yeboah's right to a familial relationship and freedom of association, based upon the Fourteenth Amendment, by Yeboah against Taylor; 4) false detention, by the Estate against Taylor and Fremont; 6) battery by the Estate against Taylor and Fremont; and 7) negligence by the Estate against Taylor and Fremont.

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS

         A court shall grant summary judgment “if . . . there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The burden of establishing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact lies with the moving party, see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986), and the court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant. See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007) (citation omitted). A genuine factual issue exists if, taking into account the burdens of production and proof that would be required at trial, sufficient evidence favors the non-movant such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in that party's favor. Anderson v. Libby Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248. The court may not weigh the evidence, assess the credibility of witnesses, or resolve issues of fact. See Id. at 249.

         To defeat summary judgment once the moving party has met its burden, the nonmoving party may not simply rely on the pleadings, but must produce significant probative evidence, by affidavit or as otherwise provided by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, supporting the claim that a genuine issue of material fact exists. TW Elec. Serv., Inc. v. Pac. Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987) (citations omitted). In other words, there must exist more than “a scintilla of evidence” to support the non-moving party's claims, Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252; conclusory assertions will not suffice. See Thornhill Publ'g Co. v. GTE Corp., 594 F.2d 730, 738 (9th Cir. 1979). Similarly, “[w]hen opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts” when ruling on the motion. Scott, 550 U.S. at 380.

         III. CLAIMS NO LONGER AT ISSUE

         Plaintiffs' opposition brief did not address the Estate's section 1983 claims for unlawful detention, unlawful arrest, and denial of medical care; the Estate's state law battery and false detention claims; and Yeboah's section 1983 claim for interference with familial relationship and freedom of association. Plaintiffs are deemed to have conceded those claims, which are now dismissed with prejudice. The two remaining claims are the Estate and Yeboah's section 1983 claim for use of excessive force, and the Estate's claim for negligence resulting in wrongful death.

         IV. ...


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