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Estate of Manus v. City of Eupora

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Aberdeen Division

March 31, 2015

CITY OF EUPORA, MISSISSIPPI, et al., Defendants.


SHARION AYCOCK, District Judge.

Plaintiffs filed this action, asserting constitutional claims brought through 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as various state law claims. This case has been extensively litigated, including several dispositive motions. Rulings in those individual motions narrowed the issues substantially from its original filing. The Court subsequently commenced a four day bench trial on August 18, 2014. Following a thorough review of the evidence and applicable law, the Court is prepared to rule.

Procedural History

Joseph Conway Manus ("Manus") originally brought this action, alleging that on September 7, 2010 law enforcement officers from Webster County, Mississippi; Eupora, Mississippi; and Mathiston, Mississippi used excessive force against him in order to effectuate an unlawful arrest and denied him medical care during the seven days that he was in their custody. As a result, Manus claimed he suffered serious injuries, including quadriplegia. Manus died on December 1, 2012 while this lawsuit was pending.

After his death, Manus' widow, Miranda Manus, acting on her own behalf, as well as with Manus' mother, Lois Manus, on behalf of all wrongful death beneficiaries, and Manus' estate were substituted as Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint [249] adding claims for wrongful death on June 6, 2013. All Defendants filed motions for summary judgment, asserting, among other things, that Plaintiffs' claims were barred by the doctrines of qualified immunity and the Mississippi Tort Claims Act. The Court granted in part and denied in part these motions in its Order [324] and Memorandum Opinion [325] entered March 31, 2014.

Thereafter, Eupora Police Chief Gregg Hunter, the estate of Eupora Police Officer Keith Crenshaw, [1] and the city of Eupora filed a Motion for Reconsideration [327] requesting the Court reconsider its finding that genuine issues of material fact precluded the grant of summary judgment and qualified immunity in their favor with regard to Plaintiffs' claims against them for excessive force bystander liability and for the denial of medical care. The Court declined to reconsider [338] its prior opinion with regard to Plaintiffs' claims against these Defendants for excessive force bystander liability and Plaintiffs' claims against Chief Hunter and the city of Eupora for deliberate denial of medical care. However, the Court reversed its finding with regard to Plaintiffs' claim for deliberate denial of medical care against Officer Crenshaw and dismissed that claim with prejudice.

Subsequently, Plaintiffs reached a settlement agreement with Webster County and the individual County Defendants, and the Court entered an Order [350] dismissing Plaintiffs' claims against these Defendants without prejudice on July 31, 2014.

Allegations at Issue

As stated in the Pretrial Order [379], Plaintiffs' claims remaining at trial included:

• Use of excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment by Eupora Police Officer Mitch Jackson, in his individual capacity, Mathiston Police Chief Roger Miller, in his individual and official capacities, and the city of Mathiston;
• Liability as a bystander to excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment by Chief Hunter and Chief Miller, in their individual and official capacities, Officer Crenshaw, in his individual capacity, and the cities of Eupora and Mathiston;
• Denial of medical care in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment by Chief Hunter and Chief Miller, in their individual and official capacities, and the cities of Eupora and Mathiston;
• State law claims based on the individual Defendants' acts in reckless disregard relating to the arrest of Manus;
• State wrongful death claims brought by Miranda Manus on behalf of all wrongful death beneficiaries, based on the individual Defendants' acts or omissions not within the course and scope of employment and not arising while Manus was in custody.[2]

Findings of Fact

On the afternoon of September 7, 2010, Webster County Sheriff's Deputies Derek May and Jeremy Kilgore entered the home of Joseph Conway Manus and attempted to take him into custody.[3] When they entered the residence, they found Manus located in a bedroom at the end of a hallway with the door shut, refusing to come out. After Kilgore threatened to kick it down, Manus opened the bedroom door and Kilgore shot at him with his taser. Kilgore testified that he saw a knife in Manus' hand and that he fell over a bed in a room across the hallway while attempting to retreat from Manus, who was undeterred by the taser. Manus also testified in his deposition that Kilgore tripped and fell over the bed but claimed that he did so when he initially reached for his taser and that he did not know why Kilgore tased him. Both Manus and Kilgore testified that Manus then retreated to the original bedroom and shut the door.

Kilgore testified that he told Deputy May to call for backup. Though he disputed having actually had a knife, Manus himself admitted that the officers believed he had a knife and that that was the reason they called for backup. Manus remained in the bedroom while the officers awaited assistance.

Webster County Sheriff Phillip Smith was the first officer to respond to the call for assistance and arrived on scene in his personal vehicle. Smith took a bat from the bed of his truck and entered the Manus' residence. Smith testified that he took the bat in case he needed it to gain entry into the home but that he dropped it near the front door once he was able to enter the house without it. Mathiston Police Chief Roger Miller testified that he arrived as Smith was entering the house and that he saw Smith carrying a bat. Likewise, May testified that Smith was carrying a bat when he exited his vehicle and approached the house. Kilgore testified that he thought Smith put the bat down when Kilgore told him that he would be able to kick in the bedroom door.

Kilgore told Manus to open the bedroom door and, when Manus failed to comply, Kilgore kicked it down. At this point, the narratives of Plaintiffs and Defendants greatly diverge. The testimony at trial established that an altercation occurred between Manus and the officers wherein Manus was maced by Miller, tased by May, and restrained on the floor. Beyond these basic facts, the testimony was largely inconsistent. Manus testified that he was sitting in a chair in the bedroom when the officers kicked down the door. He claimed that he stood up and the officers turned him around and placed him in handcuffs. Then, according to Manus, Smith struck him in the back of the neck with the bat twice, causing him to fall to the floor. Manus claims that Kilgore fell to the floor with him, cutting his head on a jar knocked off a dresser by Smith. Manus testified that Smith dropped down on Manus' neck with his knee, May tased him, and Miller maced him, all while he was handcuffed with his hands behind his back on the floor and not resisting. Manus testified that the officers then stood him up, escorted him out of the house into a patrol car, and transported him to the Webster County jail.

According to Kilgore, however, when he kicked the door down, Manus rushed out into the hallway and lunged at him, pushing him into a third bedroom. Kilgore testified that he grabbed Manus around the waist and pushed him back into the hallway, where Miller maced Manus and May tased him in an attempt to stop him from resisting. Kilgore testified that he then pushed Manus into the original bedroom and tripped him to the floor on his back. Kilgore testified that, as they entered the bedroom, he was hit hard on the head and heard glass shatter. Kilgore claimed Manus continued to resist the officers, hiding his arms under his body so that the officers could not place him in handcuffs, so May tased Manus again on the leg. According to Kilgore, once he and either Smith or May were finally able to put Manus in handcuffs, the officers stood him up and escorted him outside.

Similarly, May testified that Manus rushed out into the hallway after Kilgore kicked down the door and that he shot him with his taser. May also testified that Kilgore grabbed Manus around the waist and that Manus, Kilgore, and Smith moved back into the original bedroom. May claims that when he followed them into the room, Manus was face down on the floor with his hands underneath his body and that Kilgore was on his left, Smith was on his right, Miller was holding his right leg, and May held his left leg. May testified that Manus continued resisting, so he tased Manus high on his left leg. May testified that he handcuffed Manus and the officers then escorted him out.

Smith also testified that Manus came out into the hall once Kilgore kicked down the bedroom door and that he heard glass break. Smith claimed that he grabbed Manus' left side and that he, Manus, and Kilgore went back into the original bedroom, where he and Kilgore took Manus to the ground. Smith testified that Manus was initially on his back, with Smith holding his left arm, May somewhere at Manus' feet, and Kilgore also in the room. Smith stated that he wasn't sure if Miller actually entered the room but that he sprayed them all with mace from somewhere at their feet. Smith claimed that Manus eventually wound up face down and gave the officers his hands after Miller sprayed them with mace. At that point, according to Smith, the officers were able to handcuff Manus, stand him up, and walk him out.

For his part, Miller testified that, after the door was kicked in, he saw Manus rush out into the hall and push Kilgore into another bedroom. Miller claimed he saw Kilgore, Smith, and May fighting Manus in the hall and that he maced Manus because the other officers were not able to contain him. According to Miller, the officers and Manus then went back into the original bedroom, and he saw them all on the floor but did not know how they got there. Miller claimed Manus was fighting the officers on the floor, kicking, cursing, and trying to keep them from handcuffing him. Miller testified that he entered the room and held Manus' right foot to keep him from kicking. Miller testified that at some point after that the officers were able to handcuff Manus and that they stood him up and walked him out of the room.

Finally, Eupora Police Chief Gregg Hunter testified that he arrived just after Miller and that he heard what sounded like a door being kicked in before he entered the residence. Hunter testified that when he got to the bedroom Manus, Smith, Kilgore, May, and Miller were already struggling on the floor and that Manus was not yet handcuffed. However, both Kilgore and May testified that Hunter arrived at essentially the same time as Miller and that Manus was still in the bedroom with the door closed. Hunter claimed that he saw May tasing Manus on the leg but did not see Miller spray Manus with mace, although he did smell it in the room. Hunter testified that he was in and out of the bedroom during the altercation because Manus' mother, Lois, kept coming to the door with Manus' young daughter in her arms and he was attempting to make her stay back. At some point, Hunter claimed that he told May to ease off the taser once the officers were able to handcuff Manus. Hunter testified that someone handcuffed Manus while his back was turned and that they then stood Manus up and walked him out.

It is undisputed that Manus failed to comply with the officers' orders to come out of the bedroom on the day in question[4] and that he had a history of resisting arrest.[5] Manus also admitted to sending text messages to his brother while in the bedroom and to calling his brother asking him to come get him. Defendants introduced a series of text messages to and from Manus' cellphone showing that Manus was trying to leave the residence and "leave [M]ississippi real quick" because he was "about to go back to ...

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