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Banks-Reed v. Bay Area Rapid Transit

United States District Court, N.D. California

November 15, 2019

Yolanda Banks-Reed, et al., Plaintiffs,
Bay Area Rapid Transit, et al., Defendants.


          Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers United States District Court Judge

         On January 3, 2018, decedent Sahleem Tindle (“Tindle”) was shot and killed by a Bay Area Rapid Transit (“BART”) police officer. Plaintiffs herein are Yolanda Banks-Reed, the decedent's mother; S.A.T. and S.I.T., the decedent's minor children, who are represented in this action by their guardian ad litem, Ciara Turner; and the decedent's estate. Plaintiffs' complaint alleges four causes of action against defendants BART, BART Chief of Police Carlos Rojas, and BART police officer Joseph Mateu III for: (i) violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. section 1983; (ii) violation of California Civil Code section 52.1 (the Bane Act); and (iii) wrongful death.

         Now before the Court is defendants' motion for summary judgment, which came on for hearing on October 22, 2019. Having carefully considered the papers submitted, the arguments of the parties at the hearing, the admissible evidence, and the pleadings in this action, and for the reasons set forth below, defendants' motion is hereby Denied as to the Fourth Amendment claim, including qualified immunity, and as to the state law claim for wrongful death, and Granted as to all other claims.

         I. Background

         The initial facts of this incident are not materially in dispute: On January 3, 2018, at approximately 4:39 p.m., Sgt. Mateu was on duty at the West Oakland BART Station when two loud “pops” were heard. Bystanders ran into the BART station and sought cover. Sgt. Mateu asked what had happened, and a bystander shouted, “They're shooting.” Sgt. Mateu ran out of the station and towards the gunfire. As he ran, Sgt. Mateu spoke into his radio, “Shots fired at West Oakland.” Seconds later, Sgt. Mateu reached the sidewalk where Tindle and another man, Rayvell Newton, were engaged in a physical struggle. As he approached, Sgt. Mateu shouted, “Let me see your hands! Let me see your hands, now! Both of you! Both of you! Let me see your hands!” The parties take different positions as to what transpired next.

         Defendants' version: When Sgt. Mateu arrived on the scene, he saw Tindle on the ground, lying on his left side, with a gun in his left hand. Despite Sgt. Mateu's repeated commands, Tindle did not surrender. Less than two seconds later, Tindle rolled over onto his knees, with his back to Sgt. Mateu, and lifted up his left elbow. Sgt. Mateu concluded that Tindle had transferred the gun to his right hand. Tindle then turned towards Newton, still with his back to Sgt. Mateu and both of his hands concealed. One second later, Tindle moved his empty left hand into view of Sgt. Mateu. A fraction of a second later, Sgt. Mateu fired the first shot. Within a half second, he had fired two more shots. He then stopped to reassess the threat, and after seeing the gun fall from Tindle's right hand and land on the ground, he ceased firing.

         Plaintiffs' version: When Sgt. Mateu arrived on the scene, Newton was on his knees, leaning over Tindle, who was lying on the ground. Newton had his hand on Tindle's hand, in a mutual struggle for the gun. Tindle then rolled onto his knees, with his back to Sgt. Mateu. The two men continued to struggle, with Tindle hunched over on his knees and Newton reaching over Tindle's neck for his hands. Sgt. Mateu ordered, “Let me see your hands!” two more times. Newton did not comply. Tindle, by comparison, raised his left arm, which was his only free arm, in an attempt to surrender. Sgt. Mateu immediately fired three shots at Tindle in a single contiguous motion.

         The body camera footage from Sgt. Mateu is consistent with each party's version of the facts in some respects but is unclear in others. The footage confirms that Sgt. Mateu repeatedly shouted, “Let me see your hands, ” namely, five times during the course of the incident.[1] Further, the footage shows that when Sgt. Mateu reached the sidewalk, Newton was on his knees, struggling with Tindle, who was lying on his left side. However, the exact position of Tindle's hands, Newton's hands, and the gun, at the moment Sgt. Mateu arrived on the scene, are not clear based on the angle and quality of the video. Moreover, the footage confirms that Tindle rolled from his left side onto his knees, with his back to Sgt. Mateu and his hands out of view of Sgt. Mateu and the body camera, while he continued to struggle with Newton. In addition, the footage shows that Tindle raised his empty left hand a split-second before Sgt. Mateu shot him.

         II. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate when “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). “A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support that assertion by . . . citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits, or declarations, stipulations . . . admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials, ” or by “showing that materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” Id. 56(c)(1)(A), (B). Thus, summary judgment is mandated “against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

         A moving party defendant bears the burden of specifying the basis for the motion and the elements of the causes of action upon which the plaintiff will be unable to establish a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 323. The burden then shifts to the plaintiff to establish the existence of a material fact that may affect the outcome of the case under the governing substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         In the summary judgment context, the court construes all disputed facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Ellison v. Robertson, 357 F.3d 1072, 1075 (9th Cir. 2004). If the plaintiff “produces direct evidence of a material fact, the court may not assess the credibility of this evidence nor weigh against it any conflicting evidence presented by” defendants. Mayes v. WinCo Holdings, Inc., 846 F.3d 1274, 1277 (9th Cir. 2017). “[C]redibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from facts are jury functions, not those of a judge.” George v. Edholm, 752 F.3d 1206, 1214 (9th Cir. 2014) (alteration in original) (quotation omitted). Thus “where evidence is genuinely disputed on a particular issue- such as by conflicting testimony-that issue is inappropriate for resolution on summary judgment.” Zetwick v. Cty. of Yolo, 850 F.3d 436, 441 (9th Cir. 2017) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         III. Discussion

         A. Excessive Force Claim

         Defendants first move for summary judgment on plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment excessive force claim, on grounds that Sgt. Mateu used objectively reasonable force and is entitled to qualified immunity. Plaintiffs maintain that Sgt. Mateu's use of force was patently unreasonable, that material fact questions preclude summary judgment on whether his actions were objectively reasonable, and that viewing the facts in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, it has been clearly established that his use of force was a constitutional violation. The Court first considers whether a genuine dispute of material fact exists, and if so, proceeds to the qualified immunity analysis.

         1.Objective Reasonableness of Force

         The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees citizens the right “to be secure in their persons” against “unreasonable seizures.” Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 394 (1989); Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1, 7-8 (1985). “[T]here can be no question that apprehension by the use of deadly force is a seizure subject to the reasonableness requirement of the Fourth Amendment.” Garner, 471 U.S. at 7.

         A Fourth Amendment claim of excessive force requires an examination of “whether the officers' actions are ‘objectively reasonable' in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them, ” which “requires a careful balancing of the ‘nature and quality of the intrusion on the individual's Fourth Amendment interests' against the countervailing governmental interests at stake.” Graham, 490 U.S. at 396-97 (citations omitted). “The strength of the government's interest in the force used is evaluated by examining three primary factors: (1) ‘whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others,' (2) ‘the severity of the crime at issue,' and (3) ‘whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.'” Glenn v. Washington Cty., 673 F.3d 864, 872 (9th Cir. 2011) (quoting Graham, 490 U.S. at 396). Of these factors, the Ninth Circuit has held that the most important is “whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others.” Chew v. Gates, 27 F.3d 1432, 1440 (9th Cir. 1994).

         “[T]he test of reasonableness under the Fourth Amendment is not capable of precise definition or mechanical application . . . [and] requires careful attention to the facts and circumstances of each particular case[.]” Graham, 490 U.S. at 396 (citing Garner, 471 U.S. at 8-9 and Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 559 (1979)). “The calculus of reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments-in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving-about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.” Id. at 396-97. “[H]owever, the ‘reasonableness' inquiry in an excessive force case is an objective one: the question is whether the officers' actions are ‘objectively reasonable' in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them, without regard to their underlying intent or motivation.” Id. at 397. “Because [the excessive force inquiry] nearly always requires a jury to sift through disputed factual contentions, and to draw inferences therefrom, [the Ninth Circuit has] held on many occasions that summary judgment or judgment as a matter of law in excessive force cases should be granted sparingly.” Smith v. City of Hemet, 394 F.3d 689, 701 (9th Cir. 2005) (quoting Santos v. Gates, 287 F.3d 846, 853 (9th Cir. 2002)).

         The parties agree that Sgt. Mateu's use of lethal force was “extreme” and “implicates the highest level of Fourth Amendment interests.” A.K.H. ex rel Landeros v. City of Tustin, 837 F.3d 1005, 1011 (9th Cir. 2016). For purposes of summary judgment, the Court determines whether the government's use of force here was objectively reasonable as a matter of law. To do so, the Court considers (a) whether Tindle posed an immediate threat to the safety of Sgt. Mateu or others, (b) the severity of the crime at issue, and (c) whether Tindle was actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight. See Glenn, 673 F.3d at 872.

         a. Immediate Threat To Safety

         The most important factor in the governmental interest analysis is whether Tindle presented an immediate threat to another's safety when he was shot. Chew, 27 F.3d at 1440. Defendants argue that Sgt. Mateu reasonably concluded that Tindle presented such a threat because Tindle initially had possession of the gun in his left hand, failed to comply with Sgt. Mateu's commands to surrender, and immediately before being shot, turned towards Newton with the gun in his right hand.

         Certain undisputed evidence supports defendants' position. Namely, the body camera footage confirms that Tindle failed to comply with Sgt. Mateu's repeated commands and turned towards Newton just before he was shot. However, at least two material issues of fact remain in dispute to evaluate this element. The first is whether Tindle had possession of the gun in his left hand when Sgt. Mateu arrived on the scene. Although Sgt. Mateu testified that Tindle had possession of the gun when he arrived on the scene, later in his deposition, he testified that both men had their hands on the gun and were wrestling for control over it. (Dkt. No. 40-1 (“Mateu Dep.”), 72:1-8, 80:17-25, 82:11-13.) The body camera footage does ...

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