United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville
W. PHILLIPS, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the Court on Defendant Travis Baker's
Motion for Summary Judgment [doc. 23]. After the Court
granted a motion to defer ruling pending limited discovery
[doc. 36], Plaintiff has now responded [doc. 39], and
Defendant Baker has replied [doc. 40]. For the reasons stated
below, Defendant Baker's Motion for Summary Judgment
[doc. 23] will be denied.
2017, Plaintiff initiated this action by filing a pro
se complaint, naming the Knoxville Police Department
(“KPD”) and Officer Baker as defendants. [Doc.
2]. Plaintiff used a form complaint for civil rights
violations, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. [Id.]. In
describing the facts of his case, Plaintiff stated:
“Officer Baker grabbed me. He was called about someone
else blocks away that wasn't me. I got off my bus and was
on my way home. He beat me and knocked out my front tooth.
Its [sic] on video. He punched me in the face 3-4
times.” [Id. at 3-4]. Under the section for
requesting relief, Plaintiff stated “Im [sic] poor and
need dental care, he knocked my tooth out and all I was doing
was walking home.” [Id. at 5]. Thereafter,
Plaintiff obtained counsel, who entered an appearance on
Plaintiff's behalf. [Doc. 7]. The Court later dismissed
Plaintiff's claims against the KPD. [Doc. 19].
night of December 26, 2016, at around 9:47 p.m., Officer
Baker, who was a patrol officer with the KPD, received a
dispatch call regarding a report of a suspicious person
walking down an alley and shining a flashlight. [Doc. 23-1 at
1; Doc. 39-2 at 6]. The report from the 911 call received
that night indicates that the caller advised that a
suspicious black male, wearing jeans, a white shirt, and
white shoes was in an alley with a flashlight. [Doc. 39-4 at
Baker responded at approximately 10:35 p.m., and observed
Plaintiff walking in front of the Pizza Palace on East
Magnolia Avenue, which is located a short distance from where
the initial 911 call was made. [Doc. 23-1 at 1-2]. When
Officer Baker first spotted Plaintiff, he was in a back
alley, “not walking in a purposeful direction.”
[Doc. 39-3 at 10]. Officer Baker then pulled his cruiser
around to the parking lot of Pizza Palace to confront
Plaintiff. [Id. at 9-10]. When Officer Baker pulled
into the Pizza Palace parking lot, he did not turn on the
lights or sirens on his police cruiser. [Id. at 11].
Upon Officer Baker approaching him, Plaintiff was immediately
non-compliant with Officer Baker's verbal commands. [Doc.
23-1 at 2]. Plaintiff was not under arrest, but he was being
detained because Officer Baker believed he had reasonable
suspicion that Plaintiff was an individual surveying closed
businesses. [Doc. 39-3 at 16]. However, Officer Baker did not
tell Plaintiff this information, and did not recall ever
telling Plaintiff why he was being questioned.
[Id.]. Officer Baker asserts that, during their
interaction, Plaintiff was putting his hands in his pockets,
and Officer Baker became concerned whether Plaintiff had a
weapon. [Doc. 23-1 at 2; Doc. 39-3 at 17]. At some point,
Officer Baker began telling Plaintiff to “get on the
ground, ” because Plaintiff was allegedly imposing
himself on Officer Baker's personal space, which made
Officer Baker nervous. [Doc. 39-3 at 19]. Officer Baker also
withdrew his taser and repeatedly threatened to
“pop” Plaintiff, by which he meant using his
taser. [Id. at 20]. Officer Baker stated that he
retrieved his taser in response to the imminent physical
threat from Plaintiff. Officer Baker admitted that he never
even asked Plaintiff for his name, asserting that he never
had a chance. [Id.]. Officer Baker stated that he
would have explained the situation better to Plaintiff if he
had a chance to without Plaintiff being physically imposing
and verbally aggressive. [Id. at 22-23].
Plaintiff was noncompliant with his commands, Officer Baker
called for backup. [Doc. 23-1 at 4]. Officer Roger Simmons
received the request for backup around 10:38 p.m., and
concluded, from Officer Baker's tone of voice, that he
was encountering a tense and rapidly-developing situation
that required immediate assistance. [Doc. 23-2 at 1]. Upon
Officer Simmons' arrival, he exited his police cruiser
and told Plaintiff “you better f***ing listen to him,
dude.” [Doc. 39-3 at 29-30]. Officer Simmons and
Officer Baker then immediately attempted to take control of
Plaintiff's hands. [Doc. 23-1 at 4; Doc. 23-2 at 2].
Officer Baker asserts that he still had no chance to tell
Plaintiff that he was being detained at this point. [Doc.
39-3 at 31]. According to Officers Baker and Simmons,
Plaintiff forcefully resisted being detained, including: (1)
refusing to put his hands behind his back; (2) attempting to
pull away from the officers; and (3) swinging at Officer
Baker twice with a closed fist, the first of which struck
Officer Baker in the right jaw. [Doc. 23-1 at 4; Doc. 23-2 at
2; Doc. 39-5 at 3]. Officer Baker stated that Plaintiff
struck him in the face with his left hand, and Officer Baker
had a red mark on his chin from the strike. [Doc. 39-3 at
37]. In response, Officer Baker struck Plaintiff with a
closed fist approximately five to six times in the face until
Plaintiff fell to the ground and was neutralized. [Doc. 23-1
at 4; Doc. 23-2 at 2; Doc. 39-5 at 3]. Thereafter, the
officers took Plaintiff into custody and charged him with
resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. [Doc. 23-1 at 4;
Doc. 23-2 at 2].
to his encounter with Officer Baker, Plaintiff had stayed at
his home, which he shared with his mother and younger
siblings, most of the day, which was the day after Christmas.
[Doc. 39-2 at 12-14, 16]. Around 7:00 or 8:00 p.m., Plaintiff
left to go to the Wal-Mart at University Commons.
[Id. at 12-13]. Plaintiff was wearing a white shirt,
black jacket, white below-the-knee shorts, and light gray
tennis shoes. [Id. at 28-29]. Plaintiff took the bus
from the bus stop near his house to the Wal-Mart.
[Id. at 17-18]. Plaintiff was looking for a specific
charger for his phone, but could not find it at the Wal-Mart.
[Id. at 17]. Plaintiff then took the bus home, and
got off the bus on Magnolia Avenue at the stop just past the
Pilot, in front of a tobacco store. [Id. at 18-19].
Plaintiff was carrying a plastic bag. [Id. at 19].
Plaintiff intended to walk directly home, which was a 15- or
20-minute walk from the bus stop. [Id.]. Before
walking home, however, Plaintiff stopped in the alley (which
he generally walks through to go home from the bus stop) to
call his mother and tell her that he was on his way home.
[Id. at 20]. At that point, he was approached by
Officer Baker in his police cruiser. [Id.].
Plaintiff states that Officer Baker indicated that he wanted
Plaintiff to come over to his cruiser “I guess so he
could, you know, talk to me, search me, whatever, ” but
Plaintiff felt harassed and did not think Officer Baker
should have stopped him. [Id. at 20-21]. Plaintiff
also states that he felt threatened and scared because he did
not know what Officer Baker was going to do. [Id. at
21]. Plaintiff further states that he felt that it was
“not right” that Officer Baker never told him why
he was being detained. [Id. at 22]. Plaintiff admits
that he never permitted Officer Baker to pat him down, but
states that he did not resist efforts to be handcuffed and
did not strike, or try to strike, Officer Baker.
[Id. at 23-24]. Plaintiff reiterates that he did not
hit Officer Baker in the face, or anywhere else.
[Id. at 24]. Plaintiff states that he did not obey
Officer Baker's verbal commands because he was scared and
felt threatened. [Id. at 26]. Plaintiff admits that
he ultimately pled guilty to disorderly conduct. [Doc. 39-2
at 28; Doc. 40-1 at 1].
Standard of Review
judgment under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure is proper “if the movant shows that 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). The moving party bears the burden of establishing that
no genuine issues of material fact exist. Celotex Corp.
v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986); Moore v.
Phillip Morris Cos., 8 F.3d 335, 339 (6th Cir. 1993).
All facts and all inferences to be drawn therefrom must be
viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio
Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Burchett v.
Kiefer, 310 F.3d 937, 942 (6th Cir. 2002). “Once
the moving party presents evidence sufficient to support a
motion under Rule 56, the nonmoving party is not entitled to
a trial merely on the basis of allegations.”
Curtis Through Curtis v. Universal Match
Corp., 778 F.Supp. 1421, 1423 (E.D. Tenn. 1991) (citing
Celotex, 477 U.S. 317). To establish a genuine issue
as to the existence of a particular element, the non-moving
party must point to evidence in the record upon which a
reasonable finder of fact could find in its favor.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248
(1986). The genuine issue must also be material; that is, it
must involve facts that might affect the outcome of the suit
under the governing law. Id.
Court's function at the point of summary judgment is
limited to determining whether sufficient evidence has been
presented to make the issue of fact a proper question for the
factfinder. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. The Court
does not weigh the evidence or determine the truth of the
matter. Id. at 249. Nor does the Court search the
record “to establish that it is bereft of a genuine
issue of material fact.” Street v. J.C. Bradford
& Co., 886 F.2d 1472, 1479-80 (6th Cir. 1989). Thus,
“the inquiry performed is the threshold inquiry of
determining whether there is a need for a trial-whether, in
other words, there are any genuine factual issues that
properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because
they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either
party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250.
Baker asserts that he is entitled to qualified immunity as to
Plaintiff's excessive force claim, asserting that the
force he used during Plaintiff's arrest was objectively
reasonable, in response to the immediate threat posed by
Plaintiff. [Doc. 24 at 8-12]. Officer Baker asserts that he
used only the force necessary to subdue Plaintiff.
[Id. at 12]. Officer Baker also contends that the
dashcam video evidence proves that Plaintiff punched, and
attempted to punch, Officer Baker, and therefore, in
construing the facts in the light most favorable to
Plaintiff, the Court should discount any assertion that
Plaintiff did not strike, or attempt to strike, Officer
Baker. [Id. at 9-10]. Officer Baker further asserts
that Plaintiff's rights against the force used were not
clearly established at the time of his arrest. [Id.
responds that, under the objective reasonableness standard,
Officer Baker violated Plaintiff's right to be free from
excessive force. [Doc. 39 at 17]. Plaintiff highlights that
he was, at the most, suspected of trespassing, which is
neither a violent nor a serious offense. [Id. at
18]. Second, Plaintiff asserts that he posed no real or
serious threat to Officer Baker's safety, and a
reasonable jury could conclude that Plaintiff merely
exhibited a passive showing of resistance. [Id. at
18-20]. Plaintiff contends that Officer Baker was only
justified in using the amount of force that a reasonable
officer could have believed was needed to end his passive
resistance, which did not include grabbing him and punching
him repeatedly in the face with enough force to knock out his
front teeth. [Id. at 20]. Plaintiff also contends
that Officer Baker failed to consider less intrusive options,
and lists several ...