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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 MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

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

         BEFORE THE COURT is the [61] Motion for Summary Judgment filed by the City of Wiggins, Mississippi; Mayor Joel T. Miles and Chief of Police Matt Barnett in their official and individual capacities; and Wiggins Police Officers Randy Vinson and Douglas McBride in their official capacities (collectively, the “City”). Plaintiff Alford was granted an extension of time to file a response, but she did not do so within the time allowed. After due consideration of the City's submissions and the relevant law, it is the Court's opinion that the City has shown the lack of a genuine issue of material fact for the jury. The City's Motion will be granted.

         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. She alleges that Vinson touched her inappropriately while “the other Wiggins officer watched.” (Id.). Officer 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.).

         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. (Id. at 30-31). Additionally, she alleges a conspiracy to abuse minorities pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1985. (Id. at 31). She may also have alleged state law torts. The City moves for summary judgment on all of these claims.

         In support of its Motion, the City provided a declaration from Chief of Police Matt Barnett. (City Mot. Ex. D, ECF No. 61-4). Barnett states that the Wiggins Board of Aldermen makes policy for the City. The City had a written policy on the use of force, which required police officers use the appropriate amount of force necessary dependent on the circumstances. (Id. at 2 (¶7); Def. Mot. Ex. C, ECF No. 61-3). The City's written arrest policy “requires officers to act constitutionally and the existence of probable cause to effectuate an arrest.” (Id.; Def. Mot. Ex. E, ECF No. 61-5). In regard to the incident in question here, Barnett states he was not involved and had no knowledge of it until after it had occurred. (Id. at 1 (¶3)). Barnett determined that McBride and Vinson had violated City policy by being present during the strip search and holding Alford in place while two female correctional officers removed her clothing. (Id. (¶4)). As a result, McBride resigned and Vinson was terminated. (Id.).

         Additionally, the City provided deposition testimony from Alford. (City Mot. Ex. A, ECF No. 61-1). Although there is a thorough discussion of all of the events of the night in question, Alford's testimony does not address a City policy of any kind. She testified that she has no knowledge of the police department's policies or the training of the officers. (City Mot. Ex. A 165-66, ECF No. 61-1). Further, she had only knowledge of rumors that police officers had “beat somebody up that same night or a couple of days before that or something.” (Id. at 158-59).

         The Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is mandated against the party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case and on which that party has the burden of proof at trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Factual controversies are resolved in favor of the nonmoving party, but only when there is an actual controversy; that is, when both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts. Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994). The plaintiff has not submitted any argument or evidence in opposition to the defendants' Motion. Nevertheless, the defendants have the burden of establishing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and, ...


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