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Nelson v. Brown

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

January 9, 2020

F/N/U BROWN, et al., Defendants.

          Eli J. Richardson Judge



         To The Honorable Eli J. Richardson, District Judge

         This pro se civil rights action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 arises out of Plaintiff Charles D. Nelson's pretrial detention in the Wilson County Jail in Lebanon, Tennessee. (Doc. No. 1.) Nelson alleges that Defendants Officer Nathaniel Morse and Lieutenant Craig Brown used excessive force against him in violation of his constitutional rights when they handcuffed him and shocked him with a taser in March 2017. (Id.) Morse and Brown have filed a renewed motion for summary judgment, supported by a memorandum of law, a statement of undisputed material facts, and several exhibits. (Doc. Nos. 44-46.) Nelson has responded in opposition only to the defendants' statement of undisputed material facts. (Doc. No. 49.) Upon consideration of the record evidence as a whole, and for the reasons that follow, the Magistrate Judge will recommend that the Court grant the defendants' motion and enter summary judgment in their favor.

         I. Background

         A. Factual Background[1]

         The events underlying Nelson's claims took place inside the Wilson County Jail on March 20, 2017. (Doc. Nos. 1, 1-1.) The incident began when Nelson got out of his bunk, put on socks, and came out of his cell for recreation time. (Doc. No. 1-1.) Officer Morse was performing a security check in I-Pod and noticed that Nelson's pants were tucked into his socks. (Doc. No. 44-1.) The Wilson County Jail does not allow detained or incarcerated persons to wear their pants tucked into their socks because tucked-in pants are often used as a gang sign. (Id.) Morse states that he talked to Nelson about his socks and that Nelson “pulled his pant legs from his socks half way[, ]” then walked to a table and sat down. (Id. at PageID# 172-73, ¶ 7.) Nelson states that he walked to the table because he was trying to point out other inmates whose pants legs were also tucked in. (Doc. No. 49.)

         Morse ordered Nelson to return to his cell, or “lock down.” (Doc. Nos. 1-1, 44-1, 49.) Nelson asked to speak to Lieutenant Brown (Doc. Nos. 1-1, 44-1); Morse refused and instead called for Officer Micah Estes to meet him in I-Pod (Doc. No. 44-1). Estes arrived and asked Nelson what was going on. (Doc. Nos. 1-1, 44-1, 49.) Nelson tried to explain and again pointed out a few other inmates whose pants were tucked into their socks. (Doc. Nos. 1-1, 49.) Estes ordered Nelson to return to his cell. (Doc. Nos. 1-1, 44-1, 46.) Nelson got up from the table, walked to the stairs, and told the officers to take him to L-Pod, which is a segregation unit. (Id.)

         The parties give differing accounts of what happened next. Morse states that Estes ordered Nelson to put his hands on the wall and that Nelson did so, but that Nelson “began to fight and resist” when Morse cuffed Nelson's left hand. (Doc. No. 44-1, PageID# 173, ¶ 15.) Morse states that he and Estes then “placed Mr. Nelson on the ground . . . where he continued to resist.” (Id.) According to Nelson, Morse and Estes “started using excessive force [and] saying [he] was resisting[, ] [b]ut [he] wasn't . . . .” (Doc. No. 1-1, PageID# 7.) Nelson states that “the way that [Morse and Estes] [were] using force was hurting [his] arm” because he has prior injuries on that side of his body, but that “instead of them list[e]ning they [were] mak[]ing it seem like [Nelson] was resisting.” (Id.)

         Lieutenant Brown and other officers arrived after Nelson was already on the ground. (Doc. Nos. 1-1, 44-1, 44-2.) Nelson states that he was on the ground with his hands behind his back when Brown shocked him with a taser and “there was no reason at all for” Brown to do so. (Doc. No. 1-1, PageID# 8.) Morse and Brown state that Nelson was actively resisting Estes and Morse's efforts to handcuff him, including by refusing commands to give them his hands, when Brown delivered a shock to Nelson's lower back. (Doc. Nos. 44-1, 44-2.) Brown states that Nelson then “attempted to jerk away from the officers, but Officer Morse was able to get [him] handcuffed.” (Doc. No. 44-2, PageID# 176, ¶ 12.)

         Morse and Brown filed two videos that capture some of these events, although neither video includes audio.[2] (Doc. No. 44-5.) The first video was taken by a camera located behind the stairs on one end of the first floor of a large, two-story room in the Wilson County Jail. It shows two officers, presumably Morse and Estes, standing near a table where a few men in bright orange uniforms are sitting. Morse and Estes are dressed in dark shirts and khaki-colored pants. One man in an orange uniform, presumably Nelson, stands and walks toward the camera and Morse and Estes follow him. When they reach the foot of the stairs, all three men disappear from the camera's view. About 45 seconds later, the video shows either Morse's or Estes's leg-identifiable by the khaki pants-moving erratically on the ground near the foot of the stairs as though a struggle is taking place. Twenty seconds after that, a door to the left of the camera opens and eight officers enter the scene and move toward the foot of the stairs. Three officers remain in the camera's view, watching what is happening at the foot of the stairs. The other five officers who entered, presumably including Brown, disappear from the camera's view. About 30 seconds after the officers enter, Nelson comes back into view standing between two officers with his hands cuffed behind him. One officer holds each of Nelson's arms, and Nelson and all of the officers move toward the door.

         The second video was taken by a camera located on the second floor and at the opposite end of the room. It shows the area at the foot of the stairs from a distance. In this video, Nelson rises from the table and walks away from the camera and toward the stairs, followed by Morse and Estes. Nelson climbs halfway up the stairs, then stops. Morse and Estes stand near him and the three men remain still for about ten seconds. Then Nelson walks back down the stairs and stops near the base of the stairs. Morse and Estes again follow him. There are about eleven other men in orange uniforms in the room, and most appear to be watching Nelson, Morse, and Estes. Nelson moves toward the wall at the base of the stairs and disappears from the camera's view behind what appears to be a guard station. Morse and Estes stand behind him with their arms and hands not in view. About fifteen seconds later, Morse, Estes, and Nelson tumble to the ground in front of the stairs. The footage is blurry, but it is clear that the three men are struggling. It appears that Nelson tries to stand up and is pulled back down. Morse and Estes appear to be on top of Nelson less than 30 seconds later when the first of the eight arriving officers reaches the foot of the stairs. Four officers then surround Morse, Estes, and Nelson, but the camera is too far away, the footage too blurry, and the view too obstructed to tell what is happening inside the cluster of officers. Eventually, the officers on the ground stand and move away from the camera and toward the door with Nelson.

         After this incident, the officers took Nelson to a nurse for a medical evaluation. (Doc. Nos. 44-1, 44-2, 46.) The nurse was “[u]nable to see any marks on [Nelson's] back” (Doc. No. 44-3, PageID# 177) and signed a “post use of force medical evaluation” form indicating that Nelson did not have any “[a]brasions[, ]” “[c]uts[, ]” or “[b]ruising” (Doc. No. 44-4, PageID# 178). The nurse's notes reflect that Nelson was offered a breathing treatment “as scheduled.” (Doc. No. 44-3, PageID# 177.) Morse and Brown submitted a third video of Nelson taken after the medical evaluation. (Doc. No. 44-6.) The footage appears to be from a body camera and includes audio. Nelson is seated with his hands cuffed in front of his body, holding a plastic breathing tube. Nelson is arguing with an officer who is telling him to put his breathing treatment down. Two officers grasp Nelson's arms, pull him to his feet, and, with other officers, escort Nelson through a doorway and into a hallway. Nelson yells “stop jerking on me man!” An officer tells Nelson to walk. Nelson continues to voice complaints as three officers walk him down a hall, through a few doorways, and into an empty cell.

         B. ...

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