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Adams v. Blount County

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

January 8, 2020

Courtney Adams, Mother and Next Friend of Minors K.E. and V. E.; Kim Huskey, Mother of Decedent and Personal Representative on behalf of Estate of Anthony Edwards, Plaintiffs-Appellees,
v.
Blount County, Tennessee, Defendant, Jerry Burns, In his Individual and Official Capacity, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued: December 3, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee at Knoxville. No. 3:17-cv-00313-Pamela Lynn Reeves, Chief District Judge.

         ARGUED:

          Gary M. Prince, O'NEIL, PARKER & WILLIAMSON, PLLC, Knoxville, Tennessee, for Appellant.

          Troy L. Bowlin II, THE BOWLIN LAW FIRM P.C., Knoxville, Tennessee, for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

          Gary M. Prince, N. Craig Strand, O'NEIL, PARKER & WILLIAMSON, PLLC, Knoxville, Tennessee, for Appellant.

          Troy L. Bowlin II, THE BOWLIN LAW FIRM P.C., Knoxville, Tennessee, for Appellee.

          Before: GRIFFIN, STRANCH, and DONALD, Circuit Judges.

          OPINION

          JANE B. STRANCH, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         This case began with a report of suspicious individuals walking down a rural road in Tennessee in the early morning hours of July 25, 2016. It ended with an encounter between Anthony Edwards and two Deputies, Jerry Burns and James Patty, that resulted in Edwards's death. Edwards's fiancée and his mother sued on behalf of his estate for violations of the U.S. Constitution and Tennessee state law, including a Fourth Amendment claim for excessive force. The motion of the Deputies for qualified immunity on the excessive force claim was denied and is the basis for this interlocutory appeal. Because the appeal is premised on factual disputes and not questions of law, we must DISMISS the case for lack of jurisdiction.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. The Initial Call

         Late in the evening on July 24, 2019, Blount County sheriff's department held a mandatory briefing that included Defendant Deputy Burns regarding suspect Dylan Tarbett, wanted for assaulting an officer. Tarbett was last known to be staying at Winchester Drive, but it was unclear whether he was still there. He allegedly possessed a .45 caliber handgun and had threatened to kill any officer who made contact with him. Burns was patrolling "Zone 4" that evening, which included Winchester Drive.

         Patrol officers received a radio call describing three suspicious individuals walking near Winchester Drive. Burns responded to the call and, concerned that one of the suspicious individuals might be Dylan Tarbett, drove around the area until he saw two men walking toward him on the road. As he drove past the two men, Burns says that he noticed one of them acting "fidgety" and trying to hide his face with his hands. Turning on his body camera, Burns exited his car and asked the men their names and date of birth. Travis Hickman provided his information and Edwards identified himself as "Joe Eldridge" and his date of birth as "7/87/85." Edwards snickered as he provided this information, which aroused Burns's suspicion. Burns ordered Edwards to stand "right there" and put his hands behind his head.

         Burns patted down Edwards, and "as soon as [Burns's] hand hit his pocket, [Edwards] took off." A chase ensued, until Edwards fell and Burns caught up and tried to hold him. Burns ordered Edwards to put his hands behind his back, and Edwards responded, "I'm trying"; the two struggled and yelled with Burns repeatedly shouting, "roll over," and Edwards responding, "I'm trying." After several minutes, Edwards said he was having a seizure and complained of injuries. Deputy Michael Bennett then arrived as backup, ran toward the two yelling commands and, according to his deposition, said it looked like Edwards was giving Burns "a piggy back ride." His body camera revealed that Edwards said, "I'm not running, I'm not, he's [expletive] hitting me." Bennett then went to find Travis Hickman.

         Deputy Patty arrived around the same time and after Bennett left, heard Edwards say "I had a [expletive] seizure, and you go and just [expletive] hit me in the face. It's [expletive] up. Why are you doing this to me?" Burns told Patty that "every time I get up, he runs." Burns handcuffed Edwards with his hands in front of him. Edwards asked Burns to call 911 to which Burns threatened him with a taser, saying "You see this? This is a taser. You do anything I tell you not to do or don't do something I tell you, you're gonna get lit up, you understand?" Burns again said that "every time I get up, he runs" and Edwards responded, "I try to stand up because I feel like I'm going to pass the [expletive] out." At that point, Burns's camera fell off his body.

         B. ...


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