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Alford v. City of Wiggins

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Southern Division

March 8, 2017

DAPHINE DOREENE ALFORD PLAINTIFF
v.
THE CITY OF WIGGINS, MS; MAYOR JOEL T. MILES; CHIEF OF POLICE MATT BARNETT; POLICE OFFICERS RANDY VINSON, DOUGLAS MCBRIDE, and OFFICERS JOHN DOES 1-5, Individually and in their official capacities DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          LOUIS GUIROLA, JR. CHIEF U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         BEFORE THE COURT are Motions for Summary Judgment and Qualified Immunity filed by Defendants Randy Vinson [56] and Douglas McBride [63]. Vinson and McBride were police officers for the City of Wiggins, Mississippi when the events at issue in this civil rights lawsuit occurred. They assert they are immune from Plaintiff Daphine Alford's claims against them in their individual capacities. The issues have been fully briefed. After due consideration, the Court finds that Vinson and McBride have shown they are entitled to qualified immunity. Additionally, to the extent Alford alleged state law claims against Vinson and McBride, the Mississippi Tort Claims Act provides immunity from those claims. Accordingly, the Motions will be granted and the claims against Vinson and McBride dismissed.

         Background

         This case arises out of events occurring in the late evening of January 24, 2013. Alford, a black female, alleges that on that night she was standing on a street corner in Wiggins, Mississippi, conversing with her male companion. She alleges she was arrested by Wiggins Police Officers Randy Vinson and Douglas McBride, both white, even though “[s]he was not a suspect, not acting suspiciously and was not observed committing any criminal act.” (Compl. 10, ECF No. 1). After her arrest, she was “crudely, improperly and illegally searched, ” whereupon the officers found “narcotic paraphernalia.” (Id.). She was then “roughly manhandled, ” handcuffed and forced into the police vehicle for transport to the Stone County Correctional Facility. (Id. at 11).

         Upon reaching the Correctional Facility, Alford alleges that Officer Vinson “intentionally tripped and twisted her off-balance causing her to unexpectedly fall forward, face first, directly into the pavement with the blunt impact injuring her head, face, teeth and body.” (Id.). She alleges that Vinson and McBride dragged her into the Correctional Facility while she loudly cried out from the intense pain. (Id.).

         Inside the Correctional Facility, Alford alleges she was manhandled into a small jail cell, where she was forced to the floor. She alleges Vinson kneeled on her face, jaw, and neck to keep her down as she was stripped naked, and Vinson touched her inappropriately while “the other Wiggins officer watched.” (Id.). Later, Vinson, who had moved to a different area, returned to the area of the cell,

where Ms. Alford was protesting what they had done to her. When [Alford] saw Officer Vinson staring at her she became completely emotionally overcome and outraged by what he had just done to her. A Corrections Officer then sprayed pepper spray . . . in [Alford's] face and body even though she was nude, required medical attention for her injuries and was not a threat to anyone.

(Id. at 13).

         Alford alleges she was only able to wash the pepper spray from her body using “a dirty cell commode's unsanitary toilet water.” (Id.). Her pleas for help and assistance were ignored by “the two Wiggins Officers” while they were nearby writing up false criminal charges against her. (Id.).

         Vinson and McBride have provided evidence concerning the incident in the form of videos from the patrol car and inside the Stone County Correctional Facility.[1] The patrol car video does not show the officers' initial contact with Alford, but once she is in the back of the car her commentary can be heard. She accuses the officers of bruising her face, calls them “white boy, ” “cracker, ” and “motherfucker, ” and tells them she had been on crack since she had been in Wiggins. Once the car arrives at the Correctional Facility, the video shows Alford resisting the officer's attempts to make her walk to the receiving door, and his move to bring her to the ground. He is holding her shoulders as he does so, and she swings down to hit the ground on her side. The two officers help Alford to her feet and they proceed to the entrance.

         As Alford is brought through the door, she is clearly resisting and sits down on the ground. She can be seen struggling against the officers as they clear the detox cell of an occupant. Two female correctional officers enter the cell wearing latex gloves, followed by a third. Shortly thereafter, the two police officers leave. About five minutes later, the three female correctional officers leave the cell. Alford appears naked in the door window, and an object can be seen flying past the window. Five correctional officers gather in front of the door, and one readies what appears to be a spray can. As the officers enter, Alford pushes her way out of the cell, but is pulled back in by one of the officers. There is a struggle inside of the cell involving all five correctional officers and Alford, during which the mattress and other items are removed. The officers then leave, and it appears that Alford has been subdued, as she does not appear in the window for the remaining few minutes of the video.

         The officers also provided Alford's deposition testimony explaining her version of the events of that night. She testified that she had gone to “The District” in Wiggins, where drug activity goes on. (Alford Dep. 35-36, ECF No. 56-1). She went there to buy crack cocaine. (Id. at 38). She was there six hours, during which time she did crack and drank alcohol. (Id. at 39-40). She was walking and drinking gin with her friend “Jethro” when officers Vinson and McBride approached them. (Id. at 43, 47). Vinson spoke to “Jethro” while McBride asked her her name. (Id. at 46). Vinson told McBride not to worry about Alford, because “[s]he's just an old nothing crack head.” (Id. at 49). Alford became upset at this comment and cursed at Vinson (“I probably said something to [the] effect” of I'm going to kick your ass), “and that's when the handcuffs came out.” (Id. at 49, 50). The officers forced her to the patrol car and handcuffed her. (Id. at 50). Vinson searched her and found a crack pipe in her pocket. (Id. at 51). The officers wanted to inspect her shoes as well, so as she got into the car she kicked her shoes off toward Vinson. (Id. at 53).

         On the drive to the Correctional Facility, Alford testified she was “yelling. I'm screaming. I'm talking about them. I'm talking about how they should be ashamed, don't know how their wives deal with them, all kind of things. They never said a word the whole time.” (Id. at 58). Officer Vinson took her out of the car at the Correctional Facility, and [h]e “goes, ‘Stop spitting. Stop spitting.' And then all of the sudden, he trips me.” (Id. at 63). She testified she landed on her face and chipped her teeth. (Id. at 65).

         Alford testified that Vinson and McBride forcefully picked her up and brought her into the female detox room, which she was familiar with because she been in the room about ten times previously. (Id. at 70-72). She was “agitated because of what happened to my teeth.” (Id. at 75). Vinson pinned her down in the far corner of the room with his knee in her jaw, and “I'm thinking my jaw is about to break any minute.” (Id. at 76). Alford was stripped from the waist down, and told Vinson she would stop struggling. (Id. at 76-77, 85). Vinson “unpinned” her, and “I just kind of freaked out. I just grabbed the tray and just started, you know swinging the tray and trying to defend myself because I didn't know what they were gonna do next.” (Id. at 77, 79). “I was just screaming and hollering, doing this number with the tray (demonstrating). I didn't hit anybody . . . . I guess by me doing that, [the corrections officer] just automatically just pulled out her mace.” (Id. at 80-81).

         Alford's claims are pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments for excessive force, and false arrest, detention, imprisonment, and prosecution. (Compl. 30-31, ECF No. 1). Additionally, she alleges the officers were engaged in a conspiracy to abuse minorities pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1985. (Id. at 31). She may also have made state law tort claims, although none are explicitly set out in the Complaint. Vinson and McBride move for summary judgment on all of the claims, asserting the defense of qualified immunity.

         I. Summary ...


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