Burghardt v. Ryan

Decision Date17 September 2021
Docket NumberCASE NOS. 5:19-cv-325,5:19-cv-2788
Parties Matthew BURGHARDT, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Ezekiel RYAN, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Ohio

Andrea L. Whitaker, Whitaker Law, Akron, OH, for Plaintiffs.

Anne M. Markowski, Kenneth A. Calderone, Hanna, Campbell & Powell, Akron, OH, for Defendant Ezekiel Ryan.

Gregory A. Beck, Melvin L. Lute, Jr., Baker, Dublikar, Beck, Wiley & Mathews, North Canton, OH, for Defendant Kristofer London.



Before the Court are two dispositive motions: (1) the motion of defendant Ezekiel Ryan ("Ryan") for summary judgment (Doc. No. 65 (Ryan MSJ)); and the motion of defendant Kristofer London ("London") for summary judgment (Doc. No. 70 (London MSJ)). Plaintiffs Matthew Burghardt, as guardian of Matthew B. Burghardt ("Burghardt"), and Christian Beard ("Beard") (collectively referred to as "plaintiffs") have filed an omnibus response to the motions (Doc. 76 (Opposition)), and each defendant has filed a reply. (Doc. No. 80 (London Reply); Doc. No. 81 (Ryan Reply).)1 ,2 For the reasons that follow, the motions for summary judgment are granted.


In this civil rights action, plaintiffs challenge the events surrounding the February 13, 2018 shooting incident involving Burghardt and Beard and members of two local police departments. In the early morning hours of February 13, 2018, Ryan, a police officer with the Lakemore Police Department, responded to a dispatch call reporting a theft in progress at the Tractor Supply Company located in Lakemore, Ohio. (Doc. No. 60 (Deposition of Elizabeth Rittenour) at 223 ; Doc. No. 64 (Deposition of Ezekiel Ryan) at 51.) According to employees in the store, two men set off the alarm connected to a log splitter that was located on the walkway outside the store before driving away in a dark-colored van with no license plate.4 (Doc. No. 60 at 11–14, 16, 18–19; Doc. No. 64 at 52; Doc. No. 62 (Deposition of Kristopher5 London) at 80.) Ryan proceeded to the plaza where the store was located, and store employees advised Ryan that the van had left the plaza. (Doc. No. 64 at 52.) Ryan began to scour the surrounding area looking for the van. (Id. at 52–3.)

At around the same time and in the same general area, Beard and Burghardt were riding around in a borrowed dark-colored van. Beard was driving the vehicle. (Doc. No. 63 (Deposition of Christian Beard) at 18–19.) While Beard refused to answer the question regarding whether he and Burghardt had visited the Tractor Supply Company that morning (see Doc. No. 63 at 18), Burghardt testified that he and Beard visited the store around 9:00 a.m. on February 12, 2018 and looked at log splitters.6 (Doc. No. 66-5 (Deposition of Matthew B. Burghardt) at 6 (17)7 .) Beard testified that he parked the van in a crescent-shaped driveway in a nearby residential area because it was a convenient place to park. (Doc. No. 63 at 19.)

The rest of the encounter was captured by an overhead surveillance camera and the body cameras of London, an officer with the Springfield Police Department, and Eric East ("Sergeant East"), London's sergeant. (These records were manually filed with the Court and will be referred to as "Surveillance Cam", "London Body Cam", and "East Body Cam", respectively.)8 As will be seen below, these undisputed accurate depictions of the events leading up to the shooting, along with the undisputed facts determined during discovery, clearly demonstrate how Beard's reckless and dangerous behavior quickly turned what might have been a routine theft investigation into a dangerous situation, wherein defendants had only seconds to determine whether the use of deadly force was necessary to protect the officers on scene.

Before the Court gets to the videos, however, it is necessary to pause briefly to address the treatment of such evidence. The Supreme Court has addressed the role of video evidence on summary judgment. In Scott v. Harris , 550 U.S. 372, 380, 127 S. Ct. 1769, 167 L. Ed. 2d 686 (2007), the Court held that "[w]hen opposing parties tell two very different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts for the purposes of ruling on a motion for summary judgment." According to the Sixth Circuit:

Scott's holding is twofold. First, Scott stands for the proposition that witness accounts seeking to contradict an unambiguous video recording do not create a triable issue. [ Scott , 550 U.S.] at 380–81, 127 S.Ct. 1769.... Second, Scott reaffirmed the holdings of Matsushita [v. Elec. Indus., Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp. , 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S. Ct. 1348, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538 (1986) ] and Anderson [v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986) ] that, in disposing of a motion for summary judgment, a court need draw only reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party; it need not construe the record in such a manner that is wholly unsupportable—in the view of any reasonable jury—by the video recording.

Kinlin v. Kline , 749 F.3d 573, 576 (6th Cir. 2014) (quotation marks and further citations omitted) (emphasis in original). So while the parties present their own, often conflicting, narratives of the encounter, the Court will consider the facts in a light most favorable to plaintiffs, while keeping in mind that it will not credit any disputed facts that clearly contradict the video footage of the parties’ encounter. See, e.g., Lewis v. Charter Twp. of Flint , 660 F. App'x 339, 343 (6th Cir. 2016) (noting that "the video does not clearly show that [the suspect] ‘targeted’ [the officer] when he accelerated the vehicle and attempted to flee").

According to the Surveillance Cam, Beard pulled the van into the crescent-shaped driveway and parked next to the snow-covered grassy area formed by the crescent-shaped driveway and behind another parked vehicle, which was parked to the left of and next to a second vehicle in the driveway. (See Doc. No. 62 at 84.) Immediately thereafter, an individual is seen exiting the van and moving to the rear of the van and out of view of the camera before reemerging into view approximately 30 seconds later and returning to the passenger side of the van and getting back inside. Beard testified that, upon arriving, he and Burghardt proceeded to go to sleep in the vehicle. (Doc. No. 63 at 20.) Approximately one minute and forty seconds after Beard parked, Ryan spotted the van and pulled into the driveway behind it so as to prevent the van from moving. He parked and activated his overhead lights. (Doc. No. 64 at 53, 67.)9 He noticed that, upon his arrival, the van's engine immediately turned off, and the extinguishment of the lights can be seen in the video. (Id. at 53.) While Ryan believed that the van generally matched the description of the vehicle involved in the attempted theft at the Tractor Supply Company, he noticed that the vehicle had a license plate. (Id. ) He radioed dispatch to confirm that the van he was looking for did not have a license plate, and dispatch confirmed that it did not. (Id. )

Ryan exited his cruiser and walked around the van, shining his flashlight into the interior. He noticed two individuals reclining in the front seats appearing to be asleep. There is no dispute that Beard was in the driver's seat and Burghardt was in the passenger seat. Ryan testified that this behavior was a red flag because the van's engine had been on until he pulled up behind it. He believed, therefore, that the individuals were pretending to be asleep, and he considered this to be irrational behavior. (Id. at 53–55.) Within minutes of Ryan's arrival, London and Sergeant East arrived on the scene. London testified that he and Sergeant East reported to the scene because Ryan had not responded to dispatch's radio follow-up inquires. (Doc. No. 62 at 84.) They each parked their vehicles on the street adjacent to the driver's side of the van. London and Sergeant East exited their cruisers, and, along with Ryan, began shining their flashlights into the interior of the van and knocking on the vehicle's windows. (See also id. at 87–88.) From the body cams of London and Sergeant East, the officers can be seen and heard trying to make contact with the vehicle's occupants and instructing them to open the windows and doors and exit the vehicle.10 There is no dispute that the officers did not see any weapons inside the vehicle, though there were areas of the van that the officers’ flashlights could not fully illuminate. (Id. at 90–91; Doc. No. 64 at 64; Doc. No. 61 (Deposition of Eric East) at 26.) London walked to the rear of the vehicle and can be heard radioing dispatch to run a computer search on the van's license plate. He was advised by dispatch that the license plate was registered to a Jeep station wagon.11 (See Doc. No. 62 at 149; Doc. No. 64 at 67; Doc. No. 61 at 26.) The fake license plate was another "red flag" to the officers that the van and its occupants had been involved in criminal conduct. (See Doc. No. 64 at 68; see also Doc. No. 62 at 149; Doc. No. 61 at 46.)

Additionally, Sergeant East testified that Beard's eyes were reactive to his flashlight, providing further support for the theory that the two individuals were awake and pretending to be asleep. (Doc. No. 61 at 44–45; see also Doc. No. 64 at 59 [Ryan could see plaintiffs "squinting their eyes when [he] shine[d his] light in their face[s]"]; Doc. No. 62 at 151.) Because the occupants appeared to be awake, the officers believed that they were intentionally disobeying commands to exit the vehicle. (Doc. No. 61 at 45, 48.) While Beard testified that both he and Burghardt were sleeping and did not hear any commands, he admits that he could hear the officers trying to "wake them up" and gain entry into the van. (Doc. No. 63 at 20–21.) He further testified...

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