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Estate of Gray v. Dalton

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

January 6, 2017

THE ESTATE OF BETTY SUE DUNN GRAY, Wilburn Gray, as Administrator of the Estate of Betty Sue Dunn Gray; WILBURN GRAY, individually and on behalf of all Wrongful death beneficiaries of Betty Sue Dunn Gray; RONNIE BROWN, individually and on behalf of all Wrongful death beneficiaries of Betty Sue Dunn Gray; WILLIAM BROWN, individually and on behalf of all Wrongful death beneficiaries of Betty Sue Dunn Gray PLAINTIFFS
SCOTT DALTON, individually and in his official capacity as officer for the Alcorn County Sheriff's Department; CHARLES RINEHART, in his official capacity as Sheriff of Alcorn County, Mississippi and as supervisor of Scott Dalton; ALCORN COUNTY, MISSISSIPPI, a political subdivision of the State of Mississippi; and JOHN DOES 1-10 DEFENDANTS



         Defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment [116] seeking a summary adjudication of Plaintiffs' claims. After reviewing the entire record, arguments by counsel, case law, rules and authorities, the Court finds as follows:

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Wilburn and Betty Sue Gray, a mid-sixties couple, resided on County Road 100 during December of 2013. Betty's son, Wilburn's stepson, Ronnie Brown lived close and often came over for dinner. On December 23, Brown asked Wilburn if he could borrow his truck but Wilburn refused citing his concern about Brown's lack of drivers' license and suspected drug use. In retaliation, Ronnie Brown assaulted Wilburn Gray. As he was leaving the house, Brown told Gray he would be back shortly and threatened to cause physical damage to his truck at that time. Wilburn Gray called 911 and told the dispatcher that he did not have an emergency but wished to talk to a deputy about a problem he was having with his stepson. He informed the dispatcher that his stepson was not currently at his house.

         At around 7:15 pm, the 911 dispatcher called for a deputy to go take the report of the disturbance at Gray's address. Deputy Scott Dalton responded that he was on his way to the address. As the call was not of an emergency nature, Dalton did not use blue lights or sirens to signal his approach. He parked his cruiser behind an SUV parked in the carport of the Gray house. After returning a text from his wife, Deputy Dalton contends he could see two people sitting in recliners through the front window of the Gray residence. There were no outside lights or street lights, and the house was lit from within. Dalton approached the house door off of the carport by walking between the SUV parked in the carport and the house. The door to the interior of Gray's house is located in the upper right hand corner of the wall to the right of the parked SUV. Dalton claims the glass door which opens into the carport was closed, but the wood door behind the glass door, which opened into the house, was open.

         The facts as relayed by both parties vary wildly from this point.

         Dalton claims he was approached by Betty Gray who opened the glass door and spoke to him. Deputy Dalton stated that he told Betty Gray that he was with the Sheriff's Department at that time. Dalton also contends that at that angle, Dalton could see Wilburn Gray sitting in his recliner. He reported seeing Wilburn Gray reach over to a side table, grab a gun, and cock it. Dalton submits that he warned Wilburn Gray to put down the gun and told Wilburn Gray that he was with the Sheriff's Department at least three times before Wilburn Gray “came very aggressively toward the door.” Dalton then pulled his duty weapon and fired two shots as Dalton was backing away from the carport door. Gray reached around the busted glass door frame and shot at Dalton twice.

         Wilburn Gray's version of the facts starts after he called 911 and requested a deputy come out to take his report. Gray contends he heard something outside and assumed it was his stepson returning to damage his pick-up truck. According to Gray, he retrieved his pistol from above his refrigerator where it was kept in a holster and told his wife Betty that he was going to fire a warning shot to scare Ronnie Brown off. When he went to open the glass door into the carport, a bullet shot the glass out of the door. Reflexively, Gray shot his gun. He then heard another officer, later identified as David Harrison, yelling at him to put his gun down. Gray contends he never heard or saw Deputy Dalton before he was arrested. He did not know an officer was in his carport when he went to the door. Gray claims he never heard Dalton say he was with the Sheriff's Department or heard Dalton ask for him to put his weapon down or to get down until after he shot.

         Deputy Dalton's dashboard camera recorded the incident. From the angle of the dash cam, however, it is unclear whether Dalton saw or talked with anyone. The only clearly audible statement is Dalton yelling, “Drop the goddamn gun” immediately prior to his shooting his weapon.

         One of Deputy Dalton's shots hit Wilburn Gray's wife, Betty, in the neck. After extensive medical intervention, Betty Sue Gray died on July 29, 2014 of complications from the gunshot wound.

         Wilburn Gray was arrested and charged with assault on a police officer and spent December 23 through December 26, 2013, in jail before being afforded a bond.

         Wilburn Gray, Ronnie Brown, and William Brown, on behalf of themselves, The Estate of Betty Sue Gray, and the other wrongful death beneficiaries, filed this lawsuit claiming that the shooting of Betty Gray was an excessive and unnecessary use of deadly force, the Sheriff failed to properly train and supervise Dalton regarding the use of deadly force, and Wilburn was wrongly arrested and detained. After significant discovery, the Defendants filed the Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiffs responded, and the motion is ripe for review.

         Summary Judgment Standard

         Rule 56 provides that “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment 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); see also Sierra Club, Inc. v. Sandy Creek Energy Assocs., L.P., 627 F.3d 134, 138 (5th Cir. 2010). “Where the burden of production at trial ultimately rests on the nonmovant, the movant must merely demonstrate an absence of evidentiary support in the record for the nonmovant's case.” Cuadra v. Houston Indep. Sch. Dist., 626 F.3d 808, 812 (5th Cir. 2010) (punctuation omitted). The nonmovant “must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. (punctuation omitted). “An issue is material if its resolution could affect the outcome of the action.” Sierra Club, Inc., 627 F.3d at 138. “An issue is ‘genuine' if the evidence is sufficient for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Cuadra, 626 F.3d at 812.

         The Court is not permitted to make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence. Deville v. Marcantel, 567 F.3d 156, 164 (5th Cir. 2009). When deciding whether a genuine fact issue exists, “the court must view the facts and the inference to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Sierra Club, Inc., 627 F.3d at 138. However, “[c]onclusional allegations and denials, speculation, improbable inferences, unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic argumentation do not adequately substitute for specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial.” Oliver v. Scott, 276 F.3d 736, 744 (5th Cir. 2002).

         Discussion ...

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