715 F.3d 165 (6th Cir. 2013), 11-2501, Flagg v. City of Detroit

Docket Nº:11-2501.
Citation:715 F.3d 165, 85 Fed.R.Serv.3d 692
Opinion Judge:COLE, Circuit Judge.
Party Name:Ernest FLAGG, as Next Friend of J.B., a minor; Taris Jackson, as Next Friend of A.J., a minor; and Dr. Brian Greene, as Next Friend of I.B., a minor, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. CITY OF DETROIT, a municipal corporation; and Kwame M. Kilpatrick, jointly and severally, Defendants-Appellees.
Attorney:Norman A. Yatooma, Norman Yatooma & Associates, P.C., Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, for Appellants. Linda D. Fegins, City of Detroit Law Department, Detroit, Michigan, for Appellee City of Detroit. Michael C. Naughton, Thomas & Naughton, P.C., Detroit, Michigan, for Appellee Kilpatrick. Norman A. Y...
Judge Panel:Before: SILER, COLE, and SUTTON, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:April 25, 2013
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
 
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Page 165

715 F.3d 165 (6th Cir. 2013)

85 Fed.R.Serv.3d 692

Ernest FLAGG, as Next Friend of J.B., a minor; Taris Jackson, as Next Friend of A.J., a minor; and Dr. Brian Greene, as Next Friend of I.B., a minor, Plaintiffs-Appellants,

v.

CITY OF DETROIT, a municipal corporation; and Kwame M. Kilpatrick, jointly and severally, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 11-2501.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit.

April 25, 2013

Argued: Nov. 27, 2012.

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ARGUED:

Norman A. Yatooma, Norman Yatooma & Associates, P.C., Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, for Appellants.

Linda D. Fegins, City of Detroit Law Department, Detroit, Michigan, for Appellee City of Detroit. Michael C. Naughton, Thomas & Naughton, P.C., Detroit, Michigan, for Appellee Kilpatrick.

ON BRIEF:

Norman A. Yatooma, Howard Yale Lederman, Norman Yatooma & Associates, P.C., Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, for Appellants.

John A. Schapka, City of Detroit Law Department, Detroit, Michigan, for Appellee City of Detroit. Michael C. Naughton, James C. Thomas, Thomas & Naughton, P.C., Detroit, Michigan, for Appellee Kilpatrick.

Before: SILER, COLE, and SUTTON, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

COLE, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiffs-Appellants J.B., A.J., and I.B., the minor children of Tamara Greene, appeal the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendants-Appellees Kwame Kilpatrick and City of Detroit on Plaintiffs' § 1983 claims of conspiracy to deny and denial of access to the courts. Plaintiffs claim that Defendants denied them access to the courts by obstructing the investigation of their mother's death, thereby preventing Plaintiffs from obtaining a remedy in state court. Plaintiffs appeal: (1) the district court's decision to exclude evidence of the firing of former Deputy Chief Brown and Defendants' alleged interference with an investigation by the State of Michigan; (2) a grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendant Kilpatrick; (3) a grant of summary judgment in favor of the City of Detroit; and (4) the district court's sanctioning the City of Detroit with a permissive adverse inference instruction instead of a mandatory adverse inference instruction. We affirm the judgment of the district court.

I.

A.

Plaintiffs allege that, in or around fall of 2002, then-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and several members of his Executive Protection Unit (EPU) were present at a party at the Manoogian Mansion, Detroit's mayoral residence. It was rumored that Tamara Greene performed at this party as an exotic dancer, and that Carlita Kilpatrick, Kwame Kilpatrick's wife, arrived at the party unexpectedly and assaulted Greene.

On April 30, 2003, at approximately 3:40 a.m., Tamara Greene was shot to death in her car. The morning after the shooting, Sergeant Marian Stevenson of Detroit Police Department (DPD) Homicide Squad 8, one of the officers who had answered the initial call to the scene, was chosen to lead the murder investigation. According to Stevenson, the " talk through Homicide" that day was that " there was a connection between the death of Tammy Greene and the incident at the [Manoogian] mansion." Other officers told Stevenson they would not " want to be [her]," that they would not want to work with her on the case, or even " walk side by side with" her because she " might get shot like Tammy." As Stevenson pursued the investigation, circumstantial evidence arguably consistent with, but at best vaguely indicating, a coverup began to emerge.

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According to Plaintiffs' witnesses, the Greene investigation, as well as the possibility of a link between Greene and the alleged party, aroused the interest of DPD officers. On May 21, 2003, an anonymous caller to DPD linked Greene to the party. The next day, Commander Fred Campbell of the DPD's Central Services Bureau, who was three levels above Stevenson in the chain of command, met with Stevenson and Lieutenant Billy Jackson, who headed Squad 8 until his promotion in the fall of 2003, to discuss the investigation. Campbell also briefed several DPD superiors. As the investigation proceeded, then-Chief of Police Jerry Oliver allegedly requested the investigative file " numerous" times, after which file items went missing on multiple occasions.

Stevenson discovered that case notes concerning the Greene murder investigation had been erased from her computer hard drive, and that four floppy disks containing investigation materials had been taken from a locked case on her desk. Stevenson later realized that additional materials were missing from the Greene file, including a spiral notebook in which Stevenson recorded her investigative activities and handwritten notes from witness interviews. Also missing was a videotape of Greene's funeral, which purportedly showed " a couple" of police officers from DPD Homicide and two members of the EPU in attendance.

On March 10, 2004, after ongoing discussions within DPD of potential links between Greene and the rumored party at the mayoral residence, Chief of Police Ella Bully-Cummings approved the reassignment of the Greene case to the DPD Cold Case squad. According to Squad 8 Lieutenant Alvin Bowman, Bully-Cummings said that she wanted the Greene file " put away in a safe place" and that the case was not to be discussed " outside of this room." According to Jackson and Stevenson, cases usually were not sent to the Cold Case squad as quickly as Greene's, with most being transferred at least one and a half to two years after the commencement of an investigation. Sergeant Odell Godbold of the Cold Case Squad, one of the three squad members assigned to the Greene investigation, testified that the usual practice was to transfer cases after at least two years from the opening of the initial file, that he had never received a case less than two years old, and the squad's federal funding was conditioned on a requirement that the transferred cases be at least two years old.

Stevenson testified that she had never had a homicide investigation " taken" from her, and was on the verge of pursuing leads that would have led her to question members of Kilpatrick's EPU and staff. Shortly after the transfer of the Greene investigation, Stevenson, Bowman and Jackson were allegedly transferred to inferior positions within DPD without credible explanation. Also, Stevenson testified that after her transfer, among other things, her house was broken into twice and she repeatedly observed DPD officers near her residence. These incidents caused Stevenson to be concerned for her safety and motivated her to move out of the precinct.

According to Godbold, the Cold Case squad initially perceived no limits on its ability to conduct its investigation. Godbold claims he initially believed that Greene's friend and passenger on the night of the shooting, Eric Mitchell, was the shooter's real target, and that is why he ignored evidence that led back to Greene's performance at the alleged party.

Beginning in late 2004, Godbold's investigation into Greene's murder began to run into obstacles, including Godbold's reassignment to a building that did not house the case file and the disappearance of a

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cell phone recovered from the murder scene. Godbold testified that he was permitted to continue the Greene investigation for a few months, until Assistant Chief of Police Walter Martin discovered that Godbold had shown the Greene file to the head of DPD's Major Crimes division at his request. According to Godbold, after that, Martin took the file away from him. In August 2005, Godbold arrived at work to find the Cold Case squad shut down. Godbold was assigned— by whom, he did not know— to a non-leadership role in Squad 6, a demotion practically, if not officially, which contributed to his decision to retire in 2006.

After retirement, Godbold claims to have learned that potentially helpful tips were concealed from him while he was investigating Greene's death. At that time, Crime Stoppers, an organization that gathers anonymous tips in an effort to solve crimes, faxed a number of tips regarding Greene's murder to DPD. Godbold claims he never received those tips. After retiring, Godbold worked at Crime Stoppers and re-sent the tips to DPD. He claims that the file produced by DPD in discovery in this case only contained " some of them."

In late 2005, around the time the present suit was filed, Martin had the Greene file delivered to the Wayne County prosecutor's office. The case was not returned to DPD until December 2007, when a reconstituted Cold Case unit headed by Sergeant Michael Russell took charge of it. Russell actively investigated the Greene case from December 2007 to September 2008. During this time, Russell did not investigate the claim of a party at the Manoogian Mansion at which Greene danced because he felt there was no evidence connecting any such party to the shooting.

From September 2008 until spring or early summer 2010, the Greene investigation was inactive, due, according to Russell, to the absence of new evidence or witnesses. In 2010, the case was forwarded to the Violent Crimes Task Force for review. The task force made little progress. To date, Greene's murder has not been solved and the investigation appears to be inactive.

In addition to deficiencies in DPD's investigation of Greene's murder, Plaintiffs cite certain DPD...

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