Baker v. Union Twp.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. Southern District of Ohio
Writing for the CourtMichael R. Barrett
PartiesTOMMY BAKER, et al., Plaintiffs, v. UNION TOWNSHIP, OHIO, et al., Defendants.
Decision Date22 August 2013

TOMMY BAKER, et al., Plaintiffs,
UNION TOWNSHIP, OHIO, et al., Defendants.

CASE NO.: 1:12-cv-112


Dated: August 22, 2013

Judge Michael R. Barrett


This matter is before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment of Defendants Union Township, Ohio, The Union Township Board of Trustees, and Michael Ventre (collectively, "Defendants").1 (Doc. 28). Plaintiffs Tommy Baker and Jennifer Jones have filed a response in opposition (Doc. 39), and Defendants have filed a reply (Doc. 44). This matter is now ripe for review.


This case is based upon an incident that occurred on February 14, 2011 in Union Township. The basic facts regarding that incident are as follows:

On February 14, 2011, two officers of Union Township's police department, Officer Michael Ventre ("Officer Ventre") and Officer Danielle Smith ("Officer Smith"), received a 911 dispatch call from the bartender at the VFW Hall regarding a disturbance involving a physical fight between Plaintiff Tommy Baker ("Baker") and Claude Snow. (Doc 19, pp. 27-29, 39, 40-44, 46-47; Doc. 23, pp. 49-51; Doc. 27, p. 74). After Officer Ventre and Officer Smith arrived at the VFW Hall, Baker came out of the front door, but

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when he saw the officers he turned around to go back inside. (Doc. 19, pp. 50-51; Doc. 27, pp. 88-90). Baker then exited the VFW Hall through the back door to avoid the police officers. (Doc. 19, pp. 51-52). As he exited the back door, Baker walked between a parked truck and a parked van and then he began to jog to his nearby home. (Id. at 53).

At that same time, Officer Ventre had exited his police cruiser to wait for other officers to arrive at the scene and he heard a door shut at the back of the VFW Hall and observed Baker walking towards the woods. (Doc. 27, pp. 90-91). Officer Ventre claims that he called out to Baker, identifying himself as a police officer to Baker in a normal speaking voice and then requesting that Baker come back to speak to him. (Id. at 93-94). When Baker did not come back, Officer Ventre contends that he began walking towards Baker at which time Baker suddenly took off running towards the woods. (Id. at 94-95). Officer Ventre testified that he began running as fast as he could to catch up with Baker and then followed Baker into the woods. (Id. at 95).

During the pursuit, Officer Ventre displayed his Taser, and he contends that he gave verbal commands to Baker to get on the ground and advised Baker that he was under arrest. (Id. at 96). According to Officer Ventre, Baker refused to comply and instead clenched his fist and assumed a fighting stance. (Id.) Officer Ventre testified that at that point he deployed his Taser at Baker but the Taser had no effect, as the top probe struck him somewhere in the chest but the bottom probe did not connect with him. (Id. at 96-97). Baker, however, testified that as he was jogging towards his home, he heard something and then felt something hit him in the leg at which point he fell to the ground in pain. (Doc. 19, p. 54). Baker then realized he had been tased. (Id. at 54-

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57). Nevertheless, Baker stood up and began running away from the officers to his home. (Id. at 56-58; Doc. 27, pp. 97-98).

Officer Ventre testified that he continued chasing Baker towards his home and observed Baker run up the stairs to a house, enter the front door, and shut the door behind him. (Doc. 27, pp. 97-98). Officer Ventre testified that when he ran up the stairs, he discovered the front door was locked, yelled "police department," and advised that he was going to kick in the front door if it was not immediately opened. (Id. at 98). Defendant Jennifer Jones ("Jones") came to the door, opened it, and let Officer Ventre into the house. (Id.)

According to Officer Ventre, the house was dark when he entered the living room area. (Id. at 96-98). As Officer Ventre entered, he went around a section of furniture, and observed Baker in a dark hallway. (Id. at 98). Officer Ventre claims that he then displayed his Taser and gave Baker more verbal commands to get on the ground. (Id.) He claims that Baker just stood there with his fists clenched. (Id.) Officer Ventre testified that he again advised Baker to get on the ground, but Baker instead approached a closed door and opened it. (Id.) Officer Ventre testified that as Baker opened the door, he deployed the second Taser into Baker's back, which took effect and caused Baker to fall into the doorway. (Id. at. 98-99). Officer Ventre testified that as he tased Baker in the back when he was moving towards the door, he was unaware that the door led to an open stairwell. (Id. at 98-100). He further testified that as he approached the open door, he realized for the first time that the door opened into a stairwell and he observed Baker at the bottom of that stairwell. (Id. at 99).

Baker offers a different account of what occurred once Officer Ventre entered the house. Baker testified that when Officer Ventre entered the house, the lights were on

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and Baker already had opened the door to his basement intending to go downstairs. (Doc. 19, pp. 61, 65, 67). He testified that when Officer Ventre saw him, Baker was standing in the middle of the hallway in front of the door to the basement stairs. (Id. at 67, 81). At that time, Officer Ventre was standing near a cupboard in the living room. (Id. at 84-86). Baker testified that he did not move from his position until Officer Ventre deployed the Taser, at which point he twisted his upper body toward the open door. (Id. at 66-68, 81). After he was tased, Baker attempted to grab for the handrail to the basement stairs, but missed and tumbled down the stairs. (Id. at 66-68, 81). Officer Ventre then called the life squad and Baker was rushed to the hospital. (Id. at 71). Baker testified that his injuries included a broken neck, damage to the nerves in his arm, damage to his back, and potential cognitive impairments due to bleeding in his brain. (Id. at 23, 98-113, 121-22).

Jones offers a third account of what occurred at the house. She testified that when Baker entered the home, he told her the police had tased him and instructed her not to open the front door. (Doc. 21, p. 31). When Jones heard pounding on the front door, she turned on the front porch light and saw a police officer standing there repeating "police, open the door." (Id. at. 32-33). When Jones opened the door for Officer Ventre, he pushed her and raised his right hand at Baker who was standing in the hallway with the basement door "leaning on him." (Id. at 33-34). The door was partially opened and partially closed. (Id. at 34-36). Jones testified Baker was a big guy and was facing her and Officer Ventre with his body partially in the hallway and partially in the doorway. (Id. at 34-36). Jones testified that Officer Ventre told Baker "don't run" at which point Baker "turned to go down the stairs." (Id. at 36-37, 43). Jones testified that she yelled "don't tase him" and looked away as Officer Ventre tased Baker in the

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back left shoulder area as he turned toward the open door. (Id. at 36-38, 43, 47-48, 51, 61-62, 71). Jones testified that Baker did not put his hands up, begin to get down on the ground, or indicate surrender prior to being tased. (Id. at 50-51). Afterwards, Jones went to see if Baker was alive but Officer Ventre told her to stay away. (Id. at 55). Jones testified that she has not sought medical, psychological or counseling treatment as a result of the incident and is no longer emotionally affected by the incident. (Id. at 17, 67-68).

Following the incident, a police report and a use of force report both were prepared. (Doc. 27, pp. 144-45, 148-49). The police report charged Baker with resisting arrest, obstructing official business, and disorderly conduct while intoxicated, all of which were misdemeanors. (Id. at 144-45). Both reports included a narrative of the incident from Officer Ventre. (Id. at 144-45, 148-49).

The next day, Chief Terrence Zinser, the police chief at the Union Township Police Department, conducted a use-of-force investigation of the incident. (See Doc. 25, pp. 1, 8-10, 23-26, 32, 47-48). Based on the use-of-force investigation, Chief Zinser determined that Officer Ventre's use of force was appropriate, that Officer Ventre did not violate the use-of-force policy of Union Township, and that Officer Ventre did not need retraining. (Id. at 19, 32). Subsequently, Baker pled no contest to the resisting arrest charge in exchange for the dismissal of the obstructing official business and disorderly conduct while intoxicated charges. (Doc. 19, pp. 91-92; Doc. 28-1).

On February 7, 2012, Baker and Jones filed this lawsuit against Union Township, the Union Township Board of Trustees, and Officer Ventre, both individually and in his official capacity. (Doc. 1). In the Complaint, Baker asserts claims for (1) excessive force under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against all Defendants; and (2) assault and battery

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against Officer Ventre. (Doc. 1). Jones asserts a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress against Officer Ventre. (Doc. 1). Baker and Jones seek an award of compensatory damages against all Defendants, as well as punitive damages against Officer Ventre. (Doc. 1).


Summary judgment is appropriate "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A dispute is "genuine" when "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 1065 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986). A fact is "material" only if its resolution affects the outcome of the suit. Id.

On summary judgment, a court must view the evidence and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v....

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