987 F.2d 719 (11th Cir. 1993), 92-8347, Wilson v. Northcutt

Docket Nº:92-8347.
Citation:987 F.2d 719
Party Name:Daniel T. WILSON, individually and in his capacity as administrator of the estate of adminr. Nancy B. Wilson, deceased, Betty L. Wilson, Ann Wilson, Steve Wilson, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Gaylon NORTHCUTT, S.B. Lovett, A.L. Kerstetter, Clayton County, Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:April 01, 1993
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
 
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Page 719

987 F.2d 719 (11th Cir. 1993)

Daniel T. WILSON, individually and in his capacity as

administrator of the estate of adminr. Nancy B.

Wilson, deceased, Betty L. Wilson, Ann

Wilson, Steve Wilson,

Plaintiffs-Appellants,

v.

Gaylon NORTHCUTT, S.B. Lovett, A.L. Kerstetter, Clayton

County, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 92-8347.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

April 1, 1993

Rehearing Denied May 25, 1993.

Page 720

Wade M. Crumbley, Crumbley & Crumbley, McDonough, GA, for plaintiffs-appellants.

Beverly Holland Pritchard, Drew, Eckl & Farnham, Atlanta, GA, Larry A. Foster, Foster & Foster, Jonesboro, GA, for defendants-appellees.

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

Before KRAVITCH and ANDERSON, Circuit Judges, and HILL, Senior Circuit Judge.

KRAVITCH, Circuit Judge:

Appellants brought this § 1983 action on behalf of their deceased mother, Nancy Wilson, alleging violations of her Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Clayton County, Georgia and three Clayton County Deputy Sheriffs were named as defendants. The appellants alleged that the defendants-appellees violated Nancy Wilson's rights by using unreasonable and excessive force in attempting to arrest her and thereby caused her death. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of appellees. We affirm the district court, although we do so on grounds different from those stated in the district court's order.

Background

Nancy Wilson was a fifty-eight year old resident of Clayton County. She had a history of mental illness, including a psychiatric hospitalization. On November 1, 1988, she received a speeding ticket for going 44 in a 25 mile per hour zone. A court date was set for December 1, 1988.

Sometime before her court date, Wilson sent the state court a letter entitled "Brief on Conspiracy by N.B. Wilson, Justice, United States Supreme Court." In this document, Wilson indicated that she was a Justice of the Supreme Court. She also alleged, among other things, that the police officer who gave her the ticket was a fugitive from the Warm Springs Mental Hospital, and that the police were part of a "pirate gang." Together these allegations showed Mrs. Wilson's loss of touch with reality. There is no evidence, however, that the appellees knew of the existence of this letter. Wilson failed to appear in state court on the speeding charge on December 1, 1988.

On July 21, 1989, a state court judge issued a bench warrant for Nancy Wilson's arrest because of her failure to appear in court in response to the speeding ticket. The bench warrant directed that she be arrested, but allowed bond in the amount of $200. The warrant was transmitted to the Clayton County Sheriff's Department in the usual manner. The Sheriff's Department serves approximately one thousand warrants each month. On July 25, 1989, appellee Kerstetter received a number of warrants to serve, including the one for Wilson. In addition to the information on the face of the warrant, Kerstetter was provided with a general physical description of Wilson which was generated from computer records.

Appellees Kerstetter and Lovett, dressed in Deputy Sheriff uniforms, attempted to serve the warrant on July 25, 1989. Following established procedure, upon arrival, Kerstetter went to the front door of Nancy Wilson's condominium while Lovett approached the back door. Kerstetter knocked but received no answer. Lovett told Kerstetter that a white female had entered the condominium through the back glass door. Leaving Lovett at the front, Kerstetter went to the back door. Kerstetter knocked on the back door and announced himself as a Deputy Sheriff; there was no response. Kerstetter then saw a

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foot kick a board onto the track of the sliding glass door. Interpreting this action as an effort to keep the deputies out of the condominium, Kerstetter returned to the front and conferred with Lovett.

After more attempts to gain entry by knocking, Kerstetter spoke to one of Wilson's neighbors, Danny Turner. Although appellees had no knowledge of Wilson's mental health history, Turner appears to have told Kerstetter that Wilson was "crazy" or "not all there." Some of the specifics of the conversation are in dispute. Appellants contend that Turner said Wilson had a gun; appellees allege that Turner simply said Wilson might have a gun. Kerstetter informed Lovett of his conversation with Turner and called for a superior officer to come to the scene. While waiting for appellee Sergeant Northcutt to arrive at the Wilson condominium, Kerstetter continued knocking on the door and identifying himself as a Deputy Sheriff in an attempt to gain entry. There was no response.

Northcutt arrived on the scene and was informed of all the events that had taken place up to that point. Northcutt too knocked on the door to no avail. Northcutt attempted to contact Wilson by telephone, but she did not answer. Kerstetter told Northcutt that there was an open window in the Wilson condominium which could be used as a point of entry for the deputies. Northcutt approved the plan and Kerstetter climbed through the window. The parties disagree as to whether Kerstetter had to force the window open with a pocket knife or whether the window was already open. Kerstetter then opened the door for Northcutt and Lovett.

After a brief search, the deputies concluded that Wilson had locked herself in the upstairs bathroom. Northcutt knocked on the bathroom door and identified himself as a Deputy Sheriff. Northcutt ordered Wilson to open the door because he had a warrant for her arrest. Wilson responded that she had not been speeding and threatened to kill herself. Appellees claim that Northcutt did not believe that Wilson had a gun. Northcutt decided to open the bathroom door. Appellants allege Northcutt ordered the door "broken down." According to appellees, Northcutt instructed Lovett to pick the lock. In...

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