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Davis v. Hinds County

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

September 27, 2018




         This case is before the Court on two motions for sanctions, [92] and [154], filed by Plaintiff Chakakhan R. Davis. Proceeding pro se, Davis asserts various claims under federal and state law against Hinds County, Mississippi. Her claims relate to her May 26, 2015, arrest and subsequent detention at the Hinds County Detention Facility. Davis requests that the Court impose sanctions on Hinds County relating to certain discovery responses and the delayed production of body-worn camera (“BWC”) footage of her arrest.

         I. Factual Background

         Davis filed suit in the Circuit Court of Hinds County, Mississippi on August 2, 2016. Hinds County, along with other since-dismissed defendants, removed the case to this Court on August 29, 2016. On October 27, 2016, the Court stayed discovery in the case pending resolution of several immunity-based motions to dismiss. The Court lifted the stay on May 23, 2017, and held a telephonic case management conference on June 27, 2017.

         On July 20, 2017, Davis propounded her first set of interrogatories and requests for production of documents to Hinds County. [40]; [41]. Davis asked Hinds County to identify any BWC footage of her arrest and detention and to produce the same. [90-1] at 14; [92] at 8. In an interrogatory response propounded on September 26, 2017, Hinds County stated, “[t]here were no body cameras worn by any of the County officers on May 26, 2015, or during the course of Plaintiff's May 2015 incarceration.” [90-1] at 14. In response to a request for production, Hinds County stated, “Defendant would affirmatively aver that the officers did not wear ‘body cam recorder[s]' and as such, no such recordings exist. Defendant does not have in its possession any other video or audio recording pertaining to Plaintiff.” [92] at 8.

         After receiving Hinds County's discovery responses, Davis continued to seek information regarding the existence of BWC footage of her arrest and detention. On December 21, 2017, she propounded a second set of interrogatories and requests for production. [69]; [70]. Davis requested that Hinds County identify any written policies it had with regard to BWCs and the date that those policies went into effect. [90-2] at 1. In response, on February 8, 2018, Hinds County produced a a copy of the Hinds County Sheriff's Department (“HCSD”) policy on BWCs. [92-2]. That policy went into effect on May 1, 2015, twenty-five days before Davis's arrest. Id. The policy required, inter alia, that officers assigned cameras “activate the BWC to record all law enforcement related contacts with citizens in the performance of official duties.” Id. at 2.

         On February 20, 2018, Davis filed her first motion for sanctions [92]. Davis contended that Hinds County improperly destroyed, or failed to preserve, BWC footage of her arrest. In support of this allegation, Davis attached as an exhibit an audio CD containing recordings from her cell phone of the arrest. [92-1]. One of the audio recordings includes her interaction with an HCSD deputy in the minutes prior to her arrest. Id. at Track 2, time stamp 1:20. In the recording, the deputy tells Davis, “I got it right here, right here. You trying to record everything? You don't need it, I got it right here. See what I'm saying? I'm recording.” Id.

         Based on the HCSD policy and her cell phone recording, Davis asserted that her arrest must have been recorded using a BWC. Davis contended that despite Hinds County's discovery responses to the contrary, BWC footage of her arrest must have existed at some point, but Hinds County had failed to preserve or produce it. She requested sanctions under Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(e).

         On March 14, 2018, Hinds County filed its response to Davis's motion for sanctions. In its response, Hinds County shifted its position on whether the two deputies at the scene, Bobby Nichols and Corey Carr, had been wearing BWCs at the time of the arrest. Specifically, Hinds County essentially admitted that they had been wearing cameras at the time, but denied that any footage of the arrest existed.

         In support of its response, Hinds County filed an affidavit from HCSD IT Officer Warren Finch. In his affidavit, Officer Finch testified that “[i]n May 2015, at the time of [Davis's arrest] . . ., patrol deputies were assigned body cameras which were worn by the officers.” [104-3] at 1. However, Finch testified that he had conducted a search of Deputy Nichols's and Deputy Carr's cameras and their respective folders on the HCSD server, and he found no footage of Davis's May 26, 2015, arrest. Id. at 2. Further, Finch explained that he was the only employee with the ability to delete BWC footage and that he had not deleted footage from these officers' folders. Id. He testified, “[t]o my knowledge no one has deleted any footage created by and/or uploaded by Deputies Nichols or Carr . . . .” Id.

         The Court considered Davis's motion, Hinds County's response, and Davis's rebuttal. Because the Court could not reconcile Finch's affidavit with Davis's recording of the deputy telling her that he was filming the arrest, the Court deferred ruling on the motion and set the matter for hearing. [145] at 6. The Court scheduled the hearing for July 17, 2018, and required that Hinds County secure the presence of Deputies Nichols, Carr, and Finch. Id.

         On July 9, 2018, defense counsel served supplemental discovery responses stating that Hinds County had recovered video files of Davis's arrest, which had been recorded by Deputy Carr's BWC, and was producing them. [152], [154] at 3-4. On July 10, 2018, defense counsel sent an email to the undersigned's chambers explaining that “[t]he County's IT Officer was able to recover two video files created by Deputy Carr from the scene of Plaintiff's May 26, 2015, arrest.” Counsel stated that Hinds County had supplemented its discovery responses and provided Davis with a disc containing the files.

         On July 13, 2018, Davis filed a second motion for sanctions against Hinds County [154]. Davis argued that Hinds County “willfully provided discovery answers or responses known to be false.” [154] at 9. She moved for sanctions pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 11 and 37.

         On July 17, 2018, the Court held its hearing. Davis failed to attend despite having received notice, and the Court held the hearing in her absence.[1] Defendants made available two of the three witnesses addressed in ...

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