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Pennington v. Terry

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

March 6, 2015



KEVIN H. SHARP, District Judge.

Before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket No. 20) on Plaintiff Scottie Dale Pennington's Complaint, which alleges that officers of the Cookeville Police Department used excessive force in effecting his arrest on March 2, 2012 (Docket No. 1 at 3). Defendants are Bob Terry, Police Chief at the time of Plaintiff's arrest, Major David Dukes and Lieutenant Ken Sircy, who conducted an investigation of Plaintiff's initial complaint to the Department, and the three officers at the scene of the arrest, Major James Harris and Officers Brian Long and Chris Lynn. For the following reasons, Defendants' Motion will be granted.


On the evening of March 2, 2012, Sergeant Harris pulled over Robert Caudill in a routine traffic stop for driving with a revoked license. Plaintiff was a passenger in Mr. Caudill's pickup truck. Officers Lynn and Long arrived as backup soon after. The subsequent events were recorded on the dashboard cameras mounted on each officer's vehicle. Initially, Officer Long stood at the passenger's side window while Officer Lynn stood at the driver's side. Sergeant Harris was out of the range of the dashboard cameras, presumably next to his vehicle. The officers were willing to release Mr. Caudill and Plaintiff on the condition that someone with a valid driver's license retrieve the car. Mr. Caudill agreed to call his brother for this purpose. Over the course of the conversation, however, Plaintiff's demeanor raised suspicion and Officer Long asked him to exit the vehicle. Officer Lynn remained with Mr. Caudill.

The following incident was captured primarily by the dashboard camera mounted on Officer Long's vehicle, which was parked to the rear right of the truck. The view from Sergeant Harris' vehicle, parked almost directly behind Mr. Caudill, was largely obscured by the truck. Officer Lynn parked to the rear left of the truck. The video footage from his dashboard camera shows that he remained with Mr. Caudill during the majority of the stop.

As Plaintiff exited the truck, he coughed and appeared to transfer something from his hand to his mouth in an attempt to ingest it. Sergeant Harris rushed to Plaintiff, seizing his arm and neck to prevent him from swallowing what the officer believed to be pills. Officer Long and Sergeant Harris pushed Plaintiff to bend at the waist and tried to retrieve the objects from his mouth. As Plaintiff struggled, the officers pushed him to the ground and held him on his stomach while ordering him to spit the pills out. Officer Long handcuffed him while Sergeant Harris held his neck to secure him on the ground. Plaintiff exclaimed that he did not have anything in his mouth.

Sergeant Harris rolled Plaintiff onto his back and asked if he had already swallowed the pills. Officer Long passed Sergeant Harris a flashlight to examine Plaintiff's mouth. The officers remarked that they could see orange residue on Plaintiff's tongue and teeth, indicating that Plaintiff had ingested the pills.

Sergeant Harris returned Officer Long's flashlight. The dashboard camera recorded Sergeant Harris then drawing a tool from a holster at his waist, which he dismantled into two pieces - one, a flashlight held in his left hand, and the other, what appeared to be a taser or stun gun, in his right (Def. Exh. 7 at 4:11). Sergeant Harris appeared to touch the taser to Plaintiff's torso briefly (id. at 4:15). Plaintiff gave two short yells and then continued to protest that he did not have anything on him. The video indicates Plaintiff did not convulse and remained lucid throughout the struggle. Subsequently, Sergeant Harris appeared to reconnect the flashlight to the taser and returned it to his holster (id. at 4:18). Sergeant Harris then instructed Plaintiff to roll onto his stomach and appeared to unpluck two objects, perhaps taser prongs, from Plaintiff's body (id. at 4:45).

Using his flashlight, Officer Long searched the ground around the truck's passenger-side door and then searched the cab. He called out that he had found two syringes on the seat (id. at 5:28). Sergeant Harris continued to search the ground around Plaintiff with his flashlight, then rolled Plaintiff onto his sides to search his pockets (id. at 6:29). It is unclear from the video footage, but the officers' comments indicate they discovered one pill in Plaintiff's pocket and that he spit another pill onto the ground.

The officers repeatedly asked Plaintiff if he required medical attention. Sergeant Harris asked, "Do we need to call an ambulance? Are you going to pass out out here?" (Id. at 6:45). Plaintiff responded, "No, I'm fine." (Id. at 6:49). Sergeant Harris continued "After your little orange pill kicks in, are you going to be alright?" (Id. at 6:57). Plaintiff insisted he did not have any pills. Sergeant Harris shone a flashlight in his mouth again and noted his tongue was orange. Sergeant Harris commented, "This is for your health. Now, I don't care because you're going to jail." (Def. Exh. 7 at 7:52). Officer Long added, "It ain't worth dying over." (Id. at 8:06). Plaintiff continued to refuse medical attention.

The officers drew Plaintiff to his feet. Officer Long guided him farther from the truck, and out of the view of the dashboard camera. He asked once again, "Do you need an ambulance to check you out?" to which Plaintiff replied, "No, I'm fine." (Id. at 8:45). The two officers continued to question Plaintiff out of view of the camera. Sergeant Harris returned to search the ground around the truck and the interior of the cab once more.

Ten minutes later, Plaintiff was placed in Officer Long's vehicle and taken to Putnam County Jail. There, he responded "No" to all inquiries on the inmate medical form, including "do you have any injuries that need treatment at this time, " "is inmate alert, oriented to time, place, person, " and "is inmate free of injuries, jaundice, rashes, or lice?" (Docket No. 20-11). Plaintiff pled guilty to unlawful possession of a Schedule III narcotic. He was fined $750.00 and placed on probation for 11 months and 29 days (Docket 20-9).

Despite his statements to the contrary at the time of his arrest, Plaintiff's Complaint asserts he did require medical attention for injuries sustained to his face, neck, and spine sustained during his arrest. He claims the episode left him with severe and permanent emotional and psychological injuries, requiring continuous care since the incident, as set forth below. The following assertions come solely from Plaintiff's Complaint. He has provided no medical records, affidavits from care providers, or other evidence to this effect.[1] Plaintiff visited the Emergency Room at Riverview Regional Medical Center on March 3, 2012, "for acute pain associated with trauma" and "was advised to follow up" with his primary care physician, which he did a few days later (Docket No. 1 at 3). Plaintiff was referred to Livingston Regional Hospital for an x-ray and diagnosed with a "Right, Knee Contusion" and "Acute Myofasical Strain (Neck)." (Id. at 4). His discharge report also noted an "Old Nasal Bone Fracture." (Id.).

On June 6, 2012, Plaintiff visited the Cookeville Regional Medical Center for additional x-rays, which revealed injury to his neck and possible spondylosis (degenerative arthritis in the spine). He was prescribed medication and a cervical collar. He later received MRI and CT scans and "was advised ...

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