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Stone v. Watkins

March 30, 2007

KENNETH W. STONE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JONATHAN "JON" WATKINS, CHATTANOOGA POLICE OFFICER; STEVE PARKS, CHIEF OF POLICE OF CHATTANOOGA; AND CITY OF CHATTANOOGA, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Harry S. Mattice, Jr. United States District Judge

Judge Mattice

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This is a civil rights matter brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, in which Plaintiff Kenneth W. Stone alleges that Defendant Jonathan Watkins ("Officer Watkins"), a Chattanooga Police Officer, used excessive force against him during his arrest and that Defendants Steve Parks ("Chief Parks") and the City of Chattanooga (the "City") maintained policies that were deliberately indifferent to the rights of persons who would come into contact with Officer Watkins.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Because this action is brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, this court has subject matter jurisdiction over this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and 28 U.S.C. § 1343. Venue is proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b) because Defendants reside in this district and all of the events or omissions giving rise to Plaintiff's claims occurred in this district.

Plaintiff resided in Trenton, Georgia, at the time of his arrest in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on July 9, 2004. Plaintiff is presently serving a state prison sentence in the Southeastern Tennessee State Regional Correctional Facility in Pikeville, Tennessee.

The City of Chattanooga is a municipality of the State of Tennessee. The Chattanooga Police Department is a subordinate department of the City. Defendants Officer Watkins and Chief Parks were employees of the Chattanooga Police Department and, with respect to Plaintiff's allegations, were acting under color of state law.

The facts which led to the instant case arose on July 9, 2004, when Officer Watkins attempted to conduct a traffic stop on a vehicle being driven by Plaintiff. Plaintiff initially refused to pull his vehicle over in response to Officer Watkins' emergency equipment. After leading Officer Watkins on a chase, Plaintiff eventually stopped his vehicle when it collided with the curb and hit a pole. Upon stopping, Plaintiff exited the vehicle and ran from the scene on foot. Officer Watkins chased Plaintiff on foot; gave a K-9 warning; and, when Plaintiff did not stop, released K-9 Blade, who bit Plaintiff several times. Officer Watkins then arrested Plaintiff, and the arrest was based on probable cause. In connection with the incident at issue, Plaintiff pleaded guilty to state charges of resisting arrest, evading arrest, theft of property, reckless driving, and driving on a revoked driver's license.

On August 27, 2004, Plaintiff filed the instant action. The case proceeded to a three-day bench trial on August 7-9, 2006. In his case-in-chief, Plaintiff offered the testimony of nine witnesses-Sgt. Corless Cooper; James A. Nichols; Lt. Charles Russell; K-9 Supervisor Nathan Vaughn (by deposition); Capt. Mike Williams (by deposition); Chief Steve Parks; Dr. David Wharton, Plaintiff's treating physician at Erlanger's Emergency Room; Special Investigator Jeff Lancaster; and Plaintiff Stone himself. Defendants presented five witnesses-Communication Supervisor Patricia Matthews; Detective Joseph Shaw; Sgt. Derrick Stewart; Sgt. Kim Reavley; and Defendant Officer Watkins.

II. FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

Having reviewed the testimony of the witnesses and considered the exhibits introduced at trial, the arguments and pleadings of counsel for the parties, the post-trial briefs, and the applicable law, the Court, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a), now enters the following findings of fact and conclusions of law.

A. Excessive Force Claim Against Officer Watkins

1. Standard for Determining Use of Excessive Force

Plaintiff's excessive force claim is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which provides, in pertinent part, as follows:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress

In order to prevail on this claim, Plaintiff must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence,*fn1 that Officer Watkins, acting under color of state law, violated his constitutional right to be free from excessive use of force in connection with his arrest. Officer Watkins does not dispute that he was acting under color of state law. What is disputed is whether excessive force was used against Plaintiff during his arrest in the early morning of July 9, 2004.

In Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989), the United States Supreme Court held that a free citizen's claim that law enforcement officials used excessive force in the course of making an arrest, investigatory stop, or other "seizure" of his person . . . [is] properly analyzed ...


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