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Murray v. Harriman City Police Chief Jack Stockton

January 18, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thomas W. Phillips United States District Judge


The plaintiffs initiated the instant lawsuit against the City of Harriman and its officers for various civil rights claims related to arrests that occurred on November 2, 2003. The individual defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment [Doc. 47] claiming that the plaintiffs have failed to sustain any allegations against them in the complaint to which the plaintiffs would be entitled to relief. The plaintiffs have responded, and the defendants have replied. Additionally, the Court has considered a subsequent sur-reply instanter filed by plaintiffs. For the reasons that follow, defendants' motion for summary judgment [Doc. 47] is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.*fn1

I. Summary of the Facts

As the law requires, all disputed facts and inferences are resolved most favorably for the plaintiffs. The Court merely provides an abridged summary of facts for the purposes of this opinion.

The plaintiffs' alleged claims arise from a dangerous and reckless incident initiated by plaintiff Billy Murray. On November 2, 2003, Officer Amanda Godin stopped Billy Murray within the city limits of Harriman for a registration violation. Apparently, at that time, Billy Murray had been charged with domestic assault, three counts of child abuse, and vandalism. Additionally, a warrant for his arrest was issued for violating a restraining order. After discovering the outstanding warrant for Billy Murray's arrest, Officer Godin advised Mr. Murray of the warrant and asked Mr. Murray to hand over his keys. Officer Godin also ordered Mr. Murray to exit his vehicle; however, Mr. Murray refused. Officer Godin then attempted to open the driver's door, but the door was locked. Next, Officer Godin reached into Mr. Murray's vehicle in an attempt to remove the keys from the ignition. While Officer Godin was reaching into the vehicle, Mr. Murray placed his vehicle in drive and "sped off," pulling Officer Godin forward with Mr. Murray's vehicle. Officer Godin then returned to her squad car to pursue Mr. Murray.

As captured in the video camera footage from Officer Godin's patrol car, Mr. Murray began a dangerous high-speed car chase through the streets of Harriman. During the chase, Mr. Murray forced a number of vehicles off the road. On a number of occasions, Mr. Murray crossed the double yellow lines while passing cars in the lane for oncoming traffic. Mr. Murray also drove through a stop sign, and passed several cars while driving on the left shoulder. Mr. Murray clearly subjected Officer Godin and others to danger and physical harm. During the chase, Officer Godin requested reinforcements, activated her squad car's siren, and continued to report the activity of the chase. After a relatively lengthy and extensive pursuit, Mr. Murray pulled over into a gravel lot at Cumberland Utility, ending the pursuit. Officer Godin quickly exited her vehicle ordering Mr. Murray to lie on the ground, face down. Almost immediately thereafter, reinforcements, including Officer Kenneth Mynatt and Jason Mynatt,*fn2 arrived at the scene. While the angle of the video camera does not allow full view, Jason Mynatt quickly cuffed Mr. Murray on the ground, pulled Mr. Murray up against Mr. Murray's vehicle, searched Mr. Murray for weapons, and then quickly walked Mr. Murray to Officer Godin's squad car to open the door and place him inside the vehicle.

Plaintiffs submit that directly before Mr. Murray was placed in the squad car, which would have been outside the purview of the squad car's video camera, Mr. Murray was subjected to blows amounting to excessive force.*fn3 However, no sounds of distress from Mr. Murray were audible. Furthermore, no sounds of irregular breathing or distress were audible and/or recorded by the squad vehicle's in-car video system. Nevertheless, plaintiffs asserts that Mr. Murray was emotionally injured*fn4 by the incident, that he received blows to his head and back, and that his shoulder was dislocated.

Within moments of Mr. Murray's surrender, relatives of Mr. Murray appeared at the scene. As seen by the video camera footage from another squad car, a pick-up truck arrived and parked within close proximity of the officers, Mr. Murray's vehicle, and the squad cars. Two individuals can be seen to quickly exit the vehicle to purportedly address the officers.*fn5 Plaintiffs Loretta and Bobby Murray, the parents of Billy Murray, then asked Officer Kenneth Mynatt if they could drive the vehicle of Billy Murray to their home. Officer Kenneth Mynatt denied this request, stating that Billy Murray's vehicle was to be impounded.*fn6

After a verbal refusal to allow the plaintiffs to drive the vehicle away from the scene, Lorretta and Bobby Murray requested that an acquaintance of theirs, Bill Golston, be allowed to tow the vehicle. Officer Mynatt again denied their request, stating that a tow truck service had already been called. At that point, plaintiffs became insistent with respect to the towing. Accordingly, the Murrays were ordered to leave. Loretta Murray claims that she was shoved toward her vehicle. In the video footage, Loretta Murray can be seen walking toward her vehicle with an officer walking several feet behind her without touching her.*fn7 Further, the video footage depicts Mrs. Murray reluctantly getting into the pick-up truck, waiting a few moments,*fn8 being ordered to leave again, and then driving away from the scene.

Bobby Murray refused to leave as ordered and continued to assert that Bill Golston must tow the vehicle. It is apparent from the video footage that the officers are directing the Murrays to leave in their gestures, as well as the responses elicited from the plaintiffs. Eventually, Officer Mynatt advised Bobby Murray that if he did not leave, he would be arrested. Defendants state that Bobby Murray once again refused the officers' direct order and stated, "Which vehicle do you want me in?" Accordingly, Bobby Murray was arrested. In viewing the video footage, Bobby Murray was not pushed or struck when being placed into the police car. Further, no officers entered into the back of the vehicles with either Billy or Bobby Murray.

However, at some point in time, not in the purview of the video footage, it is alleged that the officers delivered blows to Bobby Murray's "kidneys," which purportedly caused his kidneys to bleed. The plaintiffs assert that Bobby Murray has prostate cancer, diabetes, as well as high blood pressure, and that the blows delivered worsened Bobby Murray's cancer condition. Plaintiffs state that, as a result of the beating, Bobby Murray's high blood pressure was not sufficiently low so that he could undergo a surgery, which would have allegedly prolonged his life in his battle with cancer. However, plaintiffs have not provided any medical documentation to support their contention that the alleged blows to Bobby Murray resulted in an exacerbation of Mr. Murray's prostate cancer or in a change of his cancer treatment. In addition, the plaintiffs state that Jason Mynatt placed his full body weight upon Bobby Murray's neck when placing him in the squad car. Plaintiffs have provided some medical documentation with regard to neck and back pain.

Officer Kenneth Mynatt left first with Bobby Murray.*fn9

Officer Godin then followed in her squad car with Billy Murray. During the trip to the police station, Billy Murray can be heard speaking on the audio stream in a normal tone, without distress in his voice, irregular breathing, etc. Billy Murray remarks, "I sued them once ... Jack Stockton." Officer Godin asks the Plaintiff, "what are you gonna sue for?" Billy Murray then responds "it's a long story," without comment that he had been struck or improperly arrested. Moreover, Billy Murray does not mention being struck or improperly arrested during the remainder of the trip to the police station. Billy Murray does voice that his father has cancer and takes/needs medication and/or treatment for the aliment, most likely indicating that his father may be in need of medical attention. However, Billy Murray does not himself state that he is in need of medical attention.

The search of Billy Murray's vehicle at the police station revealed a 9 mm pistol with a full magazine. Billy Murray was charged with numerous criminal charges including aggravated assault on an officer, resisting stop/frisk/halt, evading arrest, unlawful possession of a firearm, reckless endangerment, and several traffic violations. Bobby Murray was charged with disorderly conduct. However, all of these charges were dropped in court.

The plaintiffs filed this action on November 8, 2004 for various civil rights claims arising out of the arrests. Specifically, the plaintiffs assert the following claims against Officer Godin: "police brutality," failure to protect a prisoner, allowing and assisting in "eccesive" force, failure to comply with Tennessee law, illegal search and seizure of Billy Murray's vehicle, violation of Billy Murray's civil rights, conduct unbecoming an officer, and conspiracy. The plaintiffs assert the following claims against Officer Kenneth Mynatt: "police brutality," false arrest, excessive force, violation of civil rights, interfering with free speech, falsifying an arrest warrant, "brutality on the elderly," failure to provide medical help to a prisoner, "verbal abuse," conduct unbecoming an officer, and conspiracy. The plaintiffs make the following claims against defendant Jason Mynatt: "police brutality," false arrest, excessive force, violation of civil rights, interfering with free speech, falsifying an arrest warrant, conduct unbecoming an officer, and conspiracy. The plaintiffs asserted no claims against defendant Jack Stockton, only naming him in the complaint.

II. Law Applicable to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure

Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that summary judgment will be granted by a court only when there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The burden is on the moving party to conclusively show that no genuine issue of material fact exists. A court must view the facts and all inferences to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); ...

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