880 F.3d 831 (7th Cir. 2018), 17-1771, Hurt v. Wise

Docket Nº:17-1771, 17-1777
Citation:880 F.3d 831
Opinion Judge:Wood, Chief Judge.
Party Name:William HURT, Deadra Hurt, and Andrea Hurt, Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. Matthew WISE, et al., Defendants-Appellants.
Attorney:Theresa Kleinhaus, Attorney, Russell R. Ainsworth, Attorney, Debra Loevy, Attorney, Loevy & Loevy, Chicago, IL, for Plaintiffs-Appellees. Jason B. Bell, Attorney, Bell Hess & Van Zant, PLC, Elizabethtown, KY, for Defendants-Appellants (Case No. 17-1771). Robert Burkart, Attorney, Clifford R. Whit...
Judge Panel:Before Wood, Chief Judge, and Flaum and Hamilton, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:January 23, 2018
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
 
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880 F.3d 831 (7th Cir. 2018)

William HURT, Deadra Hurt, and Andrea Hurt, Plaintiffs-Appellees,

v.

Matthew WISE, et al., Defendants-Appellants.

Nos. 17-1771, 17-1777

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

January 23, 2018

Argued November 8, 2017

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Appeals from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Evansville Division. No. 3:14-cv-00092— Jane Magnus-Stinson, Chief Judge.

Theresa Kleinhaus, Attorney, Russell R. Ainsworth, Attorney, Debra Loevy, Attorney, Loevy & Loevy, Chicago, IL, for Plaintiffs-Appellees.

Jason B. Bell, Attorney, Bell Hess & Van Zant, PLC, Elizabethtown, KY, for Defendants-Appellants (Case No. 17-1771).

Robert Burkart, Attorney, Clifford R. Whitehead, Attorney, Keith W. Vonderahe, Attorney, Ziemer, Stayman, Weitzel & Shoulders, Evansville, IN, for Defendants-Appellants (Case No. 17-1777).

Before Wood, Chief Judge, and Flaum and Hamilton, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Wood, Chief Judge.

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Andrea, Deadra, and William Hurt were all arrested after their uncle, Marcus Golike, was found dead on the banks of the Ohio River. The arrests came after Deadra and William " confessed" that they, with some help from Andrea, murdered Golike. But one by one, each was absolved. Andrea was never criminally charged. The charges against Deadra were dropped after four months. And while the state prosecuted William, he was not convicted on any charge.

With the criminal proceedings behind them, Andrea, Deadra, and William filed a civil suit against the officers and detectives involved in their arrests and prosecutions. Their claims focus on the interrogations of Deadra and William, the decisions to arrest all three plaintiffs, and the alleged fabrication of evidence by the police. All defendants filed motions for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity. For the most part, the district court denied the motions. The defendants challenge those rulings in this interlocutory appeal. We conclude that with minor exceptions the district court correctly assessed the situation.

I

A

In June 2012 a male body washed up on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River. A state medical examiner’s autopsy revealed that the hyoid bone in the neck of the deceased, plus a rib, had been fractured. There were no other visible injuries. She concluded that the injuries were consistent with asphyxia by strangulation.

Zachary Jones and Matthew Wise of the Kentucky State Police (" KSP" ) initially took the investigatory reins. They found two items in the front pocket of the man’s pants: a letter, enclosed in a plastic bag, from the Social Security Administration addressed to Marcus Golike, and a folded baseball cap. The police soon confirmed that the body was indeed that of Golike, a resident of Evansville, Indiana. At that point the Evansville Police Department (" EPD" ) and EPD detective Jeff Vantlin assumed primary responsibility for the investigation. Jones and Wise continued to assist.

The Evansville detectives learned that Golike had last been seen at the home of Debbie Hurt, Golike’s foster sister and Andrea’s, Deadra’s, and William’s mother. Vantlin went to Debbie’s home, where he spoke separately with Debbie and William. At the time, William was 18 years old.

Debbie told Vantlin that Golike had been at her house the night before his body was found. She had made dinner for him, but went to bed before he left. She recalled that it was a Saturday night, and that William and Golike had stayed up playing chess. Vantlin next spoke with William, who corroborated the basic facts, but at first said that the events Debbie described had taken place a few days earlier, on Thursday. When confronted with the discrepancy in dates, William agreed that Debbie might have been correct. Vantlin also observed that William’s hand was swollen and freshly scratched. William explained that the swelling was the result of

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having punched a tree, and that he sustained the scratches while scooping ice cream at work. Vantlin later visited the ice cream store where William worked and verified the existence of the exposed rods on which William said he had scraped his hand.

A week later, Jones, Vantlin, and Wise returned to the Hurts’ home, where Jones interviewed William. Jones suspected that William knew more about Golike’s death than he was admitting, and so he accused William of not being forthcoming. When asked, William expressed doubts about his ability to pass a polygraph, but he said that he was willing to try.

The same day, the officers visited Golike’s brother and informed him that Golike’s body had been found in the river. The brother immediately asked, " Is it verified he was killed, other than jumping off a bridge? Because he has been on that bridge three times before threatening to kill himself." Golike had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and had been released from prison just days before his death. In prison, he had been on suicide watch. It is not clear when the detectives learned of Golike’s full psychological history.

While the officers were interviewing Golike’s brother, Debbie called Vantlin and said that Harley Wade, a foster son who had moved in with her not long before, had recently choked her to the point of nearly losing consciousness. She wondered if Harley might be involved in Golike’s death. The officers wanted to interrogate Harley, but they dropped that idea when they learned that Harley was a ward of the state and could not be questioned without an attorney present. Instead, they switched their attention back to William and asked Debbie to bring William to the station for questioning.

Debbie complied with this request. Once William was at the station, Jones and Vantlin took him to an interrogation room, where they read the Miranda warnings and William signed a waiver of his rights. The two officers grilled him for roughly four hours. The interrogation took place in two parts: a one-hour session, punctuated by a 40-minute break, and then a two-and-a-half hour session. The entire interrogation was video-recorded.

During the first hour, William repeatedly gave a consistent account of what happened the Saturday night before Golike’s death. He told the police that after he and Golike played chess, Golike left the house and William never saw him again. But each time, Jones and Vantlin told William that he was a liar. They insisted that they knew William was involved in Golike’s death, that they already had enough information to put him in jail, that William was not " telling [Jones and Vantlin] what [they] need to hear," and that his continuing to tell the same story could not change their minds. All the while, Jones and Vantlin introduced details about the suspected crime. For example, they asked William about what may have happened at the river, whether Golike was wearing a hat, whether Golike had been tied up, whether Harley was the primary culprit, and whether Golike had been choked. William became visibly upset during parts of the interrogation, crying and hitting himself on the head.

After the break, Jones and Vantlin asked William if he had done any " soul-searching." William said that he had, and he again offered the same account he already had provided several times. Jones and Vantlin brushed it aside, calling William a liar and repeating that he was not telling them " what [they] need to hear." Jones told William that he needed to tell the truth, and he made it clear what he meant

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by that: " we’re [i.e., Jones and Vantlin] the ones that determine if you’re lying or not. So far, we’ve both determined you’re lying." Jones added that if William did not tell the " truth," he faced a fate " worse than prison."

William eventually broke. He " confessed" that he, Andrea, Deadra, and Harley were responsible for Golike’s death. He told Jones and Vantlin that after the chess game, he got in the family van with his siblings. As they drove along, they spotted Golike by the roadside. They stopped and got out of the car, and Harley started joking around with Golike. But Harley got out of control (for unexplained reasons) and started punching and choking Golike. William said that he got a few punches and kicks in as well. They then tied Golike up in bed sheets and put him in the van. Deadra drove to Dress Plaza, Evansville, where they dumped Golike’s body into the Ohio River. On the way back from the river, they stopped at the Kangaroo, a convenience store, to buy some snacks using Golike’s debit card.

William’s " confession" was replete with easily verified and contemporaneous evidence of inaccuracy and unreliability. When William offered any detail about the death, he prefaced it with phrases such...

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