Abdullahi v. City of Madison, 04-4114.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
Citation423 F.3d 763
Docket NumberNo. 04-4114.,04-4114.
PartiesHalima ABDULLAHI, on her own behalf and as Administrator for the Estate of Jamal Mohamed, Deceased, Plaintiff-Appellant, and Ali Mohamed Abdi, whereabouts unknown, Involuntary Plaintiff-Appellant, v. CITY OF MADISON, Sergeant Patrick Grady, Officer Herbert Mueller, Officer Jessica Murphy and Capitol Police Officer James Brooks, Defendants-Appellees.
Decision Date12 September 2005

Jon Loevy (argued), Arthur Loevy, Jon Rosenblatt, Michael Kanovitz, Loevy & Loevy, Chicago, IL, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Amanda J. Kaiser (argued), Boardman, Suhr, Curry & Field, John J. Glinski (argued), Office of the Attorney General Wisconsin Department of Justice, Madison, WI, for Defendants-Appellees.

Before CUDAHY, EVANS and WILLIAMS, Circuit Judges.

CUDAHY, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff Halima Abdullahi, mother of a man who died during (or shortly after) defendant police officers' attempts to subdue and arrest him, brought a Fourth Amendment Claim against the City of Madison and the police officers involved, alleging that one of the officers used excessive force during the arrest and that the other officers failed to intervene. The district court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment, ruling that there was no evidence that the officers engaged in any objectively unreasonable conduct. Plaintiff now appeals. For the reasons set forth here, we reverse and remand.


This case marks the tragic final chapter of a troubled life. Decedent Jamal Mohamed, the son of Somali immigrants, suffered from severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) due to various traumatic experiences he endured as a child in his homeland. As a result, he was prone to having "episodes" of disorientation and erratic behavior. Mr. Mohamed was apparently having one of these episodes on the fateful afternoon of November 20, 2002.

At approximately 1:18 p.m. on that day, nurse Pamela McCarty was in her Jeep on her way to work when she noticed the decedent staggering across three lanes of traffic on University Avenue in Madison, Wisconsin. She observed that he was breathing heavily and in apparent physical distress, and he stumbled and fell as he attempted to negotiate the curb. Ms. McCarty got out of her Jeep and attempted to assist Mohamed, at which point he attempted to climb into her Jeep, threw himself against the vehicle, ran back out into traffic, threw debris at her and then grabbed her hair and clawed at her uniform. McCarty attempted to free herself by hitting Mohamed in the head with her cell phone, and she ultimately succeeded after Mohamed had punched her once in the face.

Meanwhile, defendant City of Madison Police Officer Jessica Murphy received dispatches reporting that a male was causing a disturbance in a tailor's shop in the 2800 block of University Avenue. As she was driving to University Avenue, she received further dispatches alerting her to Mohamed's altercation with McCarty by the roadside. When Murphy arrived at the scene of the altercation, she observed Mohamed lying on his back on the sidewalk near the curb. Fearing that Mohamed might need medical attention, she called for fire rescue. As Murphy approached, Mohamed sat up and began swinging his belt over his head by the buckle.

Defendants Sergeant Patrick Grady and City of Madison Officer Herbert Mueller were also on patrol in the area when they heard the dispatches related to Mohamed. When they heard additional radio transmissions that Mohamed may have grabbed a pedestrian and was swinging a belt at officer Murphy, they sped to the scene on an emergency basis. Defendant State Capitol Officer James Brooks was also in the area. After seeing Murphy's squad car speeding toward the scene with its siren activated, Brooks got into his squad car, turned on his scanner and headed in Murphy's direction. While en route he heard a female officer say something to the effect of "he's whipping his belt at me" and "step it up."

Shortly thereafter, Brooks and Grady arrived at the scene. They observed that Mohamed was flailing with his belt and making a guttural, growling noise. Brooks testified that, as he approached, Mohamed jumped up from his knees to a standing position, a move so "athletic" that it "shocked" him. Defendants Grady, Murphy and Brooks them moved in to subdue Mohamed. Murphy grabbed one of Mohamed's arms while Brooks and Grady grabbed the other. The three officers moved Mohamed up against the Jeep to gain control over him and then took him to the ground, onto his stomach. Brooks testified that it was the most "peaceful" takedown he had ever been a part of.

Once on the ground, Mohamed began kicking his legs, moving his arms so they could not be handcuffed and arching his back upwards as if he were trying to escape. Grady attempted to control Mohamed's legs, and Murphy, who was on Mohamed's left, was able to cuff his left hand. At some point during the encounter, defendant officer Mueller arrived on the scene and grabbed Mohamed's right thigh and ankle in an attempt to keep him under control. Defendant Brooks was on Mohamed's right side, and he placed his right knee and shin on the back of Mohamed's shoulder area and applied his weight to keep Mohamed from squirming or flailing. Brooks increased the pressure on Mohamed's back until Mohamed stopped arching his back upward. Mohamed apparently stopped struggling about 15-20 seconds after Brooks began to apply his weight to Mohamed's shoulder area, and Brooks was able to cuff Mohamed's right wrist and connect the handcuffs to those that Murphy had applied on Mohamed's left wrist. Brooks took his weight off Mohamed after the handcuffing was complete. In all, Brooks estimates that his knee and shin were on the back of Mohamed's shoulder for approximately 30-45 seconds.

Brooks testified that Mohamed was still breathing after the handcuffing was completed and Brooks had got off him. Grady, who was trying to maintain control of Mohamed's legs, suggested that Mohamed's legs be restrained. By this time, several other police officers had gathered at the scene, and one of them (Officer Morovic) ran to his squad car to retrieve a kickstop restraint. At some point during this sequence of events (the parties differ on this point) Officer Jerry Goehring walked up to the scene.2 Goehring did not observe any movement from Mohamed, and the defendant police officers all soon realized that Mohamed was not breathing. Mueller and Grady, who were still holding onto Mohamed's legs, felt him go limp, and Brooks and Grady both said something to the effect that Mohamed was no longer breathing.

Fire rescue workers had just arrived at the scene, and the police officers removed all restraints so that paramedics could initiate resuscitation efforts. Mohamed died at 2:39 p.m., approximately two and a half minutes after the defendant officers had taken him to the ground.

Plaintiff filed the present suit on November 10, 2003, alleging that Officer Brooks used excessive, deadly force to subdue her son Jamal Mohamed by kneeling on his back while he was lying prone on the ground, causing chest and neck trauma ultimately resulting in his death, in violation of the decedent's Fourth Amendment rights. She also brought Fourth Amendment claims against the other defendant police officers—Murphy, Grady and Mueller—under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that they observed Brooks using an unreasonable level of force against Mohamed and failed to intervene.

Four different doctors provided medical testimony regarding the cause of Mohamed's death. They all agree that Mohamed died of chest and neck trauma, including a collapsed left lung and injuries consistent with strangulation. They all observed that a tremendous amount of air had been forced into the tissue surrounding Mohamed's lungs, as if his chest had been crushed or squashed. The medical experts differ as to their certainty about the exact cause or timing of these injuries.

Dane County Coroner John Stanley officially listed the cause of death as "(a) Traumatic Asphyxia, (b) Truncal Emphysema/Tension; Pneumothorax [collapsed lung]/Laryngeal [neck area] hemorrhage, (c) Neck and Chest trauma." (PRFF (Madison) at ¶ 78.) However, he was not able to explain the exact causes of the trauma, stating that the origins of the collapsed lung and neck hemorrhage remain an "unanswered question." (Id. at ¶¶ 20-21.) Defendant Brook's Expert, Dr. Robert W. Huntington III, who performed the initial autopsy on Mohamed, testified that he had never seen such a severe neck hemorrhage before, and he was unable to determine the exact cause or timing of the injuries. He did say that Mohamed's injuries were consistent with strangulation and "would strongly suggest force while he was alive," though he said they presented a "real conundrum" since they were not explained by the defendant police officers' accounts of their encounter with Mohamed. (PRFF at ¶ 43, S.J. Exh. K at 5.) Dr. Billy Bauman, hired by defendants Grady, Mueller and Murphy (the Madison city police officers), opined that Mohamed's injuries did not occur during his struggle with the defendant police officers, though he concedes that the injuries could have been the result of blunt force trauma and might have been related to Brooks' kneeling on Mohamed if Brooks had knelt on Mohamed's neck. (PPFF at ¶¶ 60-62.)

Finally, plaintiff's medical expert, Dr. Howard Adelman, concurred that Mohamed died of trauma to the chest and neck, including a collapsed lung, and suffocation. He asserts that Mohamed's injuries were caused by trauma or force inflicted upon the decedent while he was still alive. He noted that these types of injuries occur "when the chest is compressed by an external weight or force and is prevented from expanding," creating a physiological chain of events "akin to drowning." (Adelman Aff., S.J. Exh. G at 18.) Dr. Adelman also...

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