831 F.2d 829 (9th Cir. 1987), 85-1868, Rinker v. Napa County

Docket Nº:85-1868, 85-1920, 85-2789 and 85-2813.
Citation:831 F.2d 829
Party Name:Steven A. RINKER, Plaintiff-Appellee-Cross-Appellant, v. COUNTY OF NAPA; City of Napa; City of Calistoga; City of St. Helena, and Randall Fitt, Defendants-Appellants-Cross-Appellees.
Case Date:October 22, 1987
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

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831 F.2d 829 (9th Cir. 1987)

Steven A. RINKER, Plaintiff-Appellee-Cross-Appellant,


COUNTY OF NAPA; City of Napa; City of Calistoga; City of

St. Helena, and Randall Fitt,


Nos. 85-1868, 85-1920, 85-2789 and 85-2813.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

October 22, 1987

Argued and Submitted Feb. 11, 1987.

Stuart R. Mandel, Beverly Hills, Cal., for plaintiff-appellee-cross-appellant.

Donald T. Ramsey, San Francisco, Cal., for defendants-appellants-cross-appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.

Before ANDERSON, ALARCON and HALL, Circuit Judges.

J. BLAINE ANDERSON, Circuit Judge:

This case arose out of a shooting which occurred on March 14, 1980, in which officer Randall Fitt of the Napa Special Investigations Bureau shot Steven Rinker in the face during a drug raid. A jury found appellants liable for battery and negligence and for violating 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983. Appellants moved for judgment notwithstanding the verdict ("JNOV") on the Sec. 1983 violation. The district court denied the motion. We reverse.


After an investigation of Kim Dixon, who rented a home in Napa, California, Officer Fitt, his partner and his supervisor formulated a "buy-bust" plan to apprehend a major cocaine supplier. At least two alternative plans were formulated. Due to certain circumstances, the plan which involved a raid of the house was implemented. There were eight people in the house the night of the raid: Kim Dixon, an NSIB agent buying cocaine, Dixon's two-year old daughter, Chris Wohlers, Steven Rinker and three visitors that evening--Fielder, the cocaine dealer, and two seventeen-year old girls. After the code word had been

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given, the police prepared to enter the house. At the front door, Fitt knocked loudly, yelled "Police!" and announced the narcotics raid. 1 The two teenage girls testified that the knock and announcement were loud enough to be heard in the back bedroom where they and Rinker were laying out lines of "speed" (methamphetamine) on a mirror to snort. After waiting for a response, Fitt opened the front door and immediately apprehended Ms. Wohlers. As Fitt moved down the hallway, he saw the NSIB agent through an opened bedroom door. After knocking and identifying himself, Fitt entered the room and arrested Dixon. As he was about to hand Dixon over to the NSIB agent, Fitt heard sounds of movement from inside a bedroom several feet away. Not knowing that Fielder, the cocaine supplier, had already been arrested by another officer, Fitt held a struggling Dixon behind him with his left arm and proceeded down the hallway with his gun in his right hand. When he reached the bedroom door, he yelled "police!" while simultaneously opening the door.

Shortly after Fitt entered the bedroom, he shot Rinker. The parties dispute the facts surrounding this shooting. According to appellants, after he opened the door, Fitt was at first relieved to see Rinker in the room, since, due to previous encounters, Fitt knew Rinker was not the cocaine supplier they were seeking. With his gun still drawn, Fitt said "Hi." As he did, a strange look spread across Rinker's face and Rinker "suddenly exploded in motion, jumping toward Fitt with something clenched in his right fist." Although his exit was blocked by Dixon, Fitt began to say "Don't" and tried to jump back. Fitt testified that in that same instant, he "knew" Rinker had something in his hand. Fitt admitted that he was not sure whether it was the flash of the mirror, the movement of the razor blade used to cut the speed, or the plastic bag of speed that gave him such a distinct impression that Rinker was armed. Fitt testified that he saw what...

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