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Willis v. Wesley Parks

February 26, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: James H. Jarvis United States District Judge


This is a civil rights action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Currently pending are the motion for summary judgment of defendants Dennis Young and the City of Winchester [Court File #25] and the motion to dismiss or in the alternative for summary judgment of defendant Wesley Parks [Court File #29]. Because matters outside the pleadings have been submitted and considered by the court, Parks' motion will be considered as one for summary judgment. See Rule 12(c), Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

For the reasons that follow, summary judgment will be granted with respect to defendants Dennis Young and the City of Winchester, Tennessee, but denied with respect to defendant Wesley Parks.

I. Factual Background

The following factual allegations are considered in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.

Plaintiff Brandon Willis claims that on December 12, 2003, he was operating a motor vehicle in which defendant Wesley Parks was a passenger. At the time, Parks was acting as an undercover officer for the Police Department of the City of Winchester. Defendant Dennis Young was the Chief of Police for the City. Officer Parks was investigating the plaintiff as a possible suspect for the sale of illegal narcotics.

Plaintiff contends that he became suspicious of Parks, stopped his vehicle, and asked Parks to exit the vehicle. He claims that suddenly and without warning Parks drew a handgun and shot the plaintiff, and at that time the plaintiff was unarmed and posed no threat to Officer Parks.

Plaintiff contends that Officer Parks was unqualified and inadequately trained to perform the duties of an officer for the Winchester Police Department. He claims that prior to being hired by the City of Winchester, Parks had a history of failing to conform his actions to the requirements of the law, including incidents of illegally selling guns. Plaintiff claims that the Police Department had a policy promulgated by Police Chief Young to hire and retain officers who were unqualified and inadequately trained to carry out the duties of a police officer.

With respect to the hiring and training of Officer Parks, defendants have submitted an undisputed affidavit of Police Chief Young. Chief Young describes the City policy regarding the use of force and training as follows. The City's written policy is that the City's officers are only to use the force reasonably necessary to effect lawful objectives and requires that officers receive training on the use of deadly force in situations of self-defense and to effect an arrest. All full-time officers are required to possess and maintain a valid state officer's certification from the Tennessee Police Officer Standards and Training Commission (POST) and complete 40 hours of in-service training annually as required by state law to maintain officer certification. This training includes 40 hours of instruction in firearms training. POST certification also requires training on the use of force continuum and a "shoot, don't shoot" class is included in the curriculum. Officer Parks was employed by the City of Winchester as an undercover officer in January 2003. Upon hiring, Officer Parks was enrolled in the Tennessee Law Enforcement Training Academy in Donelson. He completed the Academy training in April 2003, and was certified by POST in April 2003. After receiving the POST certification, Officer Parks met all eligibility requirements and maintained his certification. Before becoming POST-certified, Officer Parks worked with Herb Glassmeyer, a police officer for 40 years, including 30 years experience in undercover work. At the time of the shooting of the plaintiff, Officer Parks wore a recording device for each drug purchase. After each purchase made before Parks became POST-certified, he met with the Chief and Glassmeyer so that they could provide instruction to him. During those meetings, Parks was instructed on responding to suspects with appropriate levels of force. The City of Winchester also provided Parks with eight hours of firearms training before he was POST-certified, and that training included instruction on the appropriate use of deadly force.

Before Parks was hired, a criminal background check was performed on him which showed that he had not been convicted of any crime. When he made the decision to hire Officer Parks, Chief Young was not aware of any incident in which Parks had participated in the illegal sale of weapons, although he knew that Parks had sold or traded guns in the past, apparently legally.

It is undisputed that Officer Parks was not accused of using unreasonable force with any citizen other than Brandon Willis during the time that he was employed by the City of Winchester. Chief Young was not present when Brandon Willis was shot by Officer Parks, nor did he communicate with Officer Parks about the use of a weapon against Brandon Willis before Willis was shot.

II. Summary Judgment Standards

Pursuant to Rule 56, summary judgment shall be rendered when requested if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. It is the burden of the party seeking summary judgment to show the court that, under uncontradicted facts, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Summary judgment is intended to provide a quick, inexpensive means of resolving issues as to which there is no dispute regarding the material facts. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986). In assessing the validity of a summary judgment motion, the court views the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions, and competent affidavits in a light most favorable to the opponent of the motion. However, an opponent to a motion for summary judgment may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleadings, but must set forth through competent and material evidence specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242 (1986). "[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for ...

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