542 F.3d 124 (5th Cir. 2008), 07-50785, Ramirez v. Knoulton

Docket Nº:07-50785.
Citation:542 F.3d 124
Party Name:Alfredo RAMIREZ, Jr., Plaintiff-Appellee, v. John KNOULTON, Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:August 26, 2008
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
 
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Page 124

542 F.3d 124 (5th Cir. 2008)

Alfredo RAMIREZ, Jr., Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

John KNOULTON, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 07-50785.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit.

August 26, 2008

Page 125

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 126

Richard L. Ellison (argued), Kerrville, TX, for Ramirez.

William Michael McKamie, John Frank Onion, III (argued), Law Offices of William M. McKamie, P.C., San Antonio, TX, for Knoulton.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas.

Before SMITH and PRADO, Circuit Judges, and LUDLUM[*], District Judge.

PRADO, Circuit Judge:

Defendant-Appellant Kerrville Police Officer John Knoulton (“Knoulton" ) appeals the district court's denial of summary judgment based on qualified immunity in this excessive force suit brought by Plaintiff-Appellee Alfredo Ramirez, Jr. (“Ramirez" ). Because there is no genuine issue of material fact-and because Ramirez failed to allege facts supporting a constitutional violation-we reverse the district court's denial of summary judgment and render judgment in favor of Knoulton.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

In early 2005, Ramirez, then age twenty-one, was under investigation for indecency with a child by contact, viz., sexual contact with a thirteen-year-old girl.1 On the morning of January 18, 2005, Ramirez spoke on the phone with Kerrville Police Detective Steve Sudyka (“Sudyka" ), who was investigating the sexual contact charge. A distraught Ramirez told Sudyka that he would not go back to jail, that he had a .22 caliber handgun, and that he would “take care of the problem." Sudyka interpreted this to mean that Ramirez intended

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to commit suicide, so Sudyka dispatched two patrol cars to Ramirez's home. The uniformed officers who responded were told that Ramirez was suicidal and armed.

The officers, including Knoulton, arrived to find Ramirez walking from his home to his car. Ramirez drove away and the officers followed, with Knoulton driving immediately behind Ramirez. Knoulton's supervisor instructed him to pull Ramirez over. Knoulton activated his patrol car's flashing overhead lights and turned on his vehicle's video camera. Ramirez did not immediately stop. He continued driving under the speed limit, paused at two stop signs, and made two turns before finally stopping on the side of a road. The road where Ramirez stopped did not have houses immediately lining the street, nor was there much traffic; only one civilian car appeared during the incident.

The officers crouched behind their patrol cars with weapons drawn. Knoulton and at least one other officer called to Ramirez, telling him to keep his hands where they could be seen and to reach out through the open window and open the car door. The officers repeated these commands, but Ramirez did not comply. Instead, after sitting in the car for over a minute, Ramirez opened the door from the inside and set his feet on the ground. At this point, the officers saw that Ramirez held something in his right hand, and they yelled more urgently for Ramirez to raise his hands. They also asked what was in his hand.

Ramirez then rose from the car seat and officers ordered him to drop what was in his hand and raise his hands. Ramirez did not comply but swung the car door closed with his right hand, clearly showing that he held a handgun in that hand. Thereafter, Ramirez stood in profile to the officers, with his arms at his sides and the handgun in his right hand, the side of his body opposite from the officers. Ramirez briefly put his hands on his hips, then brought his hands together in front of his waist. As Ramirez's hands came together, Knoulton fired a single round from his AR-15 rifle, hitting Ramirez in the face. Ramirez fell to the ground, landing with his head partially under his car. The radio transmission of “shots fired, man down" went out immediately.

The officers approached cautiously with their weapons trained on Ramirez. He flailed on the ground, and the officers eventually were able to move close enough to move the handgun away and apprehend Ramirez. He was transported to a hospital via helicopter and survived his injuries.

In April 2006, Ramirez filed suit against Knoulton and the City of Kerrville under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging a violation of his Fourth Amendment right to be free from excessive force. The parties consented to proceed before a magistrate judge. On June 15, 2007, the magistrate judge denied Knoulton's summary judgment motion on the basis that a genuine issue of material fact existed on Knoulton's claim of qualified immunity.2 Knoulton filed this interlocutory appeal.

II. JURISDICTION AND...

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