254 F.3d 758 (8th Cir. 2001), 00-3061, Winters v. Adams

Docket Nº:00-3061
Citation:254 F.3d 758
Case Date:June 25, 2001
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

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254 F.3d 758 (8th Cir. 2001)




No. 00-3061

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

June 25, 2001

Submitted: April 13, 2001

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Iowa, Central Division

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Before Bye, Beam, Circuit Judges, and Nangle, 1 Senior District Judge.

Nangle, Senior District Judge.

Robert Adams and Craig Prahm appeal from the final judgment entered in favor of plaintiff/appellee in the District Court for the Northern District of Iowa. The appellants argue that they were entitled to judgment in their favor for three reasons: (1) the trial court erred in ruling that appellants violated appellee's Fourth Amendment rights by extending an investigatory encounter based on a community caretaking standard; (2) the trial court erred in finding that appellant Adams used excessive force against appellee when Adams struck appellee in the eye; and (3) the appellants contend that they are entitled to qualified immunity. For the following reasons, we agree with appellants' contentions. Accordingly, we reverse and dismiss appellee's complaint in its entirety.


Plaintiff/appellee Bradley Winters brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging an unreasonable seizure and an excessive use of force by defendants/appellants, who are police officers, in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. On the evening of July 22, 1995 between 10:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m., dispatchers at the Mason City, Iowa Police Department received a complaint concerning an unknown individual in a residential area of the city. The complaint indicated that this person was possibly intoxicated and was observed exiting and reentering a vehicle that was parked on a dead-end street. Mason City police officers were sent to investigate. Appellant Officer Robert Adams arrived and observed an individual seated behind the wheel of a car parked in the location matching the described location of the vehicle. 2 That appellants later identified that individual as appellee Winters.

Appellant Adams approached the vehicle and inquired as to appellee's circumstances. Appellee responded that he was waiting for a push to start his car. Officer Adams then asked appellee for identification. In response, appellee raised the car window, locked the door and stated that he wished to be left alone. Adams then walked around to the passenger side, 3 and appellee raised that window as well and locked the passenger side door. At this point, Adams testified that he had not observed specific criminal activity, but he continued to ask appellee to exit the vehicle and produce identification.

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Appellant Adams testified that appellee was agitated and evasive when Adams approached the vehicle. Adams further testified that appellee kept his head lowered and wore a wide brimmed hat. According to Adams's testimony, appellee "was trying his darnedest to not make eye contact . . . ." App. at 55. Adams described appellee as appearing to be in a highly agitated state, and appellee began moving "wildly" about the car. App. at 57. Adams testified that appellee was moving about the vehicle and was "just not able to sit still." App. at 61.

Shortly thereafter, appellant Officer Prahm arrived, responding to the same dispatch. Adams informed Prahm that appellee was "acting strangely" and would not exit the vehicle or talk to Adams. App. at 80. Prahm also testified that Adams informed him that appellee would not identify himself and refused to make eye contact. According to appellant Prahm, Adams did not convey a concern for appellee's health at that time. Officer Prahm characterized appellee as "extremely hyper." App. at 82. Although Adams testified that he did not believe that appellee was "[i]ntoxicated by use of an alcoholic beverage" (App. at 57), after appellant Prahm arrived, the officers began to suspect that appellee "ingested or used some type of illegal drug and maybe used too much and was overdosing." App. at 61. Prahm reiterated Adams's testimony that the officers began to conclude that appellee was "under some sort of influence." App. at 83. Appellee became increasingly agitated with the officers and yelled at them to leave him alone.

Both officers testified that given the possibility of intoxication as noted in the initial dispatch, they were initially concerned with determining appellee's physical condition in order to ensure that "he would not be able to drive and hurt someone." App. at 54, 87. The officers decided that they should attempt to enter the vehicle to determine "just how far under the influence this subject may be." App. at 84. Appellant Prahm attempted to unlock one of the doors with the assistance of a "Slim Jim," while Adams attempted to divert appellee's attention toward the other side of the vehicle. Appellee jumped from side to side in order to keep the doors locked until he finally stretched across the vehicle so he could hold both locks down at the same time. At this point, neither officer had called an ambulance, and Prahm and Adams both testified that they did not know what action they would have taken had they successfully gained entry into the vehicle. Adams testified that he did not recall asking appellee whether he was in need of medical attention. Prahm's repeated attempts to gain entry into the vehicle proved unsuccessful.

Appellant Adams testified that while the officers were attempting to gain entry into appellee's car, Adams notified his shift commander, Lieutenant Richard Jensen, and informed him of the situation. Jensen arrived at the scene shortly thereafter. Jensen testified that appellee "was sweating, he was very agitated, [and in a] very animated state. He did not want us anywhere near the vehicle . . . ." App. at 100. Jensen further testified that he quickly concluded that appellee was seriously "mentally impaired" or under the influence of some type of controlled substance and in need of medical assistance. App. at 100-01. Jensen then made the decision that appellee should be taken to the hospital.

Jensen testified that at that point, he had witnessed no illegal activity by appellee. However, Jensen stated that he felt that he had a responsibility to protect appellee and "the public at large to make sure this person can't hurt anyone else." App. at 102. Accordingly, Jensen decided

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to break the passenger window of the car with his nightstick, in order to remove appellee from the vehicle. Jensen called an ambulance before breaking the window. Additionally, prior to breaking the window, Jensen attempted to contact the owner of the vehicle in order to obtain a key.

As the window broke, appellee crawled into the hatchback area behind the front seats of the vehicle. With the window out, the officers were able to unlock the front doors. Appellants Adams and Prahm entered the front seats and attempted to remove appellee from the car. Adams testified that appellee's resistance was "extremely violent." Adams further testified that appellee "was thrashing around trying to fend us off and fight with us. And when we would try to grab him, [appellee] would kick us or kick at us or punch us or whatever he could do to keep us away from him." App. at 72. While Adams was attempting to remove appellee from the vehicle, appellee contends that Adams called him a "little bastard" and then Adams punched appellee in the eye. App. at 22. Adams denies punching appellee. 4

Once the officers opened the rear hatch, appellant Adams testified that appellee attempted to...

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