Crowe v. County of San Diego

CourtUnited States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of California)
Citation303 F.Supp.2d 1050
Decision Date17 February 2004
Docket NumberNo. 99CV0241 R(RBB).,99CV0241 R(RBB).
PartiesMichael CROWE, et al., Plaintiffs, v. COUNTY OF SAN DIEGO, et al., Defendants. And Related Actions

Milton J Silverman, Jr., Law Offices of Milton Silverman, San Diego, CA, counsel for Crowe plaintiffs.

Robert J Francavilla, Casey, Gerry, Reed and Schenk, San Diego, CA, counsel for Treadway plaintiffs.

Dennis A Schoville, Louis Arnell, Schoville and Arnell, San Diego, CA, counsel for Houser plaintiffs.

Mark A Waggoner, City of Escondido, Office of the City Attorney, Escondido, CA, counsel for Escondido defendants.

George W Brewster, Jr., County of San Diego, Office of County Counsel, San Diego, CA, counsel for defendant Stephan.

Diana L Field, Ferguson, Praet and Sherman, Santa Ana, CA, counsel for defendants McDonough and the City of Oceanside.

Kenneth H Moreno, Scott Loeding, Murchison and Cumming, San Diego, CA, counsel for defendant Blum.

Richard J Schneider, Golnar Fozi, Daley and Heft, Solana Beach, CA, counsel for City of Escondido.


RHOADES, District Judge.

Death is always and under all circumstances a tragedy, for if it is not, then it means that life itself has become one.

-Letter from Theodore Roosevelt to Cecil Spring-Rice (March 12, 1900)1

This tragic story centers around the investigation into the death of young Stephanie Crowe in January 1998. Stephanie's murder was investigated by the Escondido Police Department. The investigation of her death initially led to the arrest and indictment of Stephanie's brother, Michael Crowe, and his two friends, Michael Treadway and Aaron Houser (collectively, "the boys"), all juveniles at the time. Prior to the boys' trial, potentially-exculpatory evidence was discovered which resulted in the District Attorney dropping the charges against the boys without prejudice. Currently, a man named Richard Tuite is on trial for Stephanie's murder.


On the night of January 20, 1998, the police received phone calls that Tuite, a transient, was bothering people in the vicinity of the Crowe residence. Witnesses testified at their depositions in this case that the man they saw appeared drunk or high. See Sharon Thomas Deposition Transcript ("DT") p. 16:22-24 (Exhibit 2, Plaintiffs' Notice of Lodgment ("NOL") in Support of Plaintiffs' Opposition to Defendant City of Escondido's Motion for Summary Judgment ("MSJ")); Sheldon Homa DT p. 17:12-15 (Exhibit 6, Plaintiffs' NOL in Support of Plaintiffs' Opposition to Defendant City of Escondido's MSJ). One witness heard Tuite yell "I'm going to kill you you fucking bitch." Sharon Thomas DT p. 18:1-6. Another witness saw Tuite spinning around in circles. See Dawn Homa DT p. 51:11-52:2 (Exhibit 7, Plaintiffs' NOL in Support of Plaintiffs' Opposition to Defendant City of Escondido's MSJ).

Between 7:00 and 8:00 p.m. that night, Tuite entered one house after the occupant, Dannette Mogelinski, mistaking his knock for that of a neighbor, invited him in. See Dannette Mogelinski DT p. 27:27-28:13 (Exhibit 3, Plaintiffs' NOL in Support of Plaintiffs' Opposition to Defendant City of Escondido's MSJ). Tuite repeatedly asked for Tracy. Mogelinski said she did not know Tracy. Tuite left but then opened the door and again asked for Tracy. Mogelinski again said she did not know Tracy, and Tuite left. See id. 32:12-33:28.

Around 9:28 p.m., Gary West, a neighbor of the Crowes, called police to report a transient who had knocked on his door and said he was looking for a girl. See Exhibit 11, Plaintiffs' NOL in Support of Plaintiffs' Opposition to Defendant City of Escondido's MSJ. Escondido police officer Scott Walters, not a defendant in this action, was dispatched to the area. While investigating this call, Officer Walters drove up to the Crowe house. As he explained in his deposition in this case:

There was a motion light above the garage door that turned on when 1 drove up. The door that was next to the garage door was open. And I could see inside. There were lights inside the house. Absolutely nothing unusual at the house. And the door closed as pulled up. I couldn't see who was closing it.

Scott Walters DT p. 49:20-28 (Exhibit 15, Plaintiffs' NOL in Support of Plaintiffs' Opposition to Defendant City of Escondido's MSJ). Officer Walters left the Crowe house and indicated in his log that the transient was "gone on arrival." See id. p. 50:3-5. This was some time before 10:00 p.m.

Stephanie Crowe was found dead by her grandmother, Judith Kennedy around 6:30 a.m. on January 21, 1998. An autopsy determined that Stephanie was stabbed numerous times with a knife with a 5-6 inch blade. It is undisputed on this record that Stephanie died between 10:00 and 11:00 p.m. on January 20, 1998. See Plaintiffs' Separate Statement of Undisputed Material Facts in Opposition to Defendant City of Escondido's MSJ, Fact 17. Paramedics John Peters and Steve Mandich, not defendants in this action, were the first to respond to the 911 call. Detective Barry Sweeney, a detective with the Escondido Police Department and a defendant in this action, arrived on the scene soon after.

Police questioned all of the members of the Crowe household. Michael Crowe was questioned several times. Before the first questioning of Michael Crowe, Michael was advised of his Miranda rights. During this questioning, Michael told Detective Mark Wrisley, a defendant in this action, and Detective Phillip Han, who is not a defendant in this action, that he had gotten up at 4:30 a.m. that morning with a headache. See Transcript of Police Interview of Michael Crowe Taken at The Polinsky Center, January 22, 1998 pp. 21:23-22:10. He had turned on his television for light and had walked to the kitchen, where he took some Tylenol. See id. pp. 22:3-23:12. Michael stated that he was in the kitchen for approximately 15 minutes. See id. p. 23:15-17. He stated that when he was in the hallway he could see that Stephanie's door was closed, as were the other doors. See id. pp. 22:28-23:5; 24:23-28. By defendants' account, the statement that Stephanie's door was closed was suspicious because by 4:30 a.m. Stephanie was dead in the doorway of her bedroom with the door open. See Phillip Anderson DT pp. 132:26-133:8 (Exhibit 21, Plaintiffs' NOL in Support of Plaintiffs' Opposition to Defendant City of Escondido's MSJ). During this interview, Michael Crowe also stated that Joshua Treadway was his best friend.

On January 22, 1998, Escondido Police Detectives Lanigan and Naranjo, not defendants in this case, went to the Tread way residence to speak with Joshua Treadway. The detectives saw a knife in plain view on top of a couch in the living room. See Lanigan DT pp. 27:13-28:12 (Exhibit E, attached to Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of Escondido Defendants' MSJ or in the Alternative Partial Summary Judgment, of the Claims Asserted by the Treadway Plaintiffs). When Joshua was asked who owned the knife, he said it was his brother's; however, when his brother was questioned about the knife, he stated that it belonged to Joshua.2 See id. pp. 28:13-29:27; 33:4-35:20.

After being questioned two additional times, Michael Crowe was arrested for Stephanie's murder on January 23, 1998.

On January 26, 1998 Detective Han obtained a search warrant for the Treadway residence. Probable cause for the warrant was predicated upon the fact that Michael Crowe had been arrested for the murder, Michael had stated that Joshua Treadway was his best friend, Michael had called Joshua Treadway from the police station on the morning of the murder, and a knife meeting the description of the murder weapon had been seen at the Treadway residence.

On January 27, 1998, prior to the execution of the search warrant for the Treadway residence, Margaret Houser,3 Aaron Houser's mother, alerted police to the fact that a knife with a 4-5 inch blade which belonged to her son was missing from his collection. Based on this information, Detective Han sought and obtained a warrant to search the Houser residence.4 Defendants also questioned Aaron Houser that same day. Aaron Houser's questioning lasted approximately 1½ hours, and the focus of the questioning was on Michael's possible involvement in the murder. Aaron was asked about his friendship with Michael, his interest in fantasy games, and Michael's personality. Aaron told detectives that as far as he knew, Michael did not get along with his parents and that Michael had a "make-believe list of people he would kill." See Transcript of Interrogation of Aaron Houser dated 1-27-98 pp. 13:12-13; 15:10-21. Aaron was also asked about Aaron's interest in knives and about the knife that he was missing. Aaron did not make any self-incriminating statements during this interview.

The warrants for the Treadway and Houser residences were executed on the evening of January 27, 1998. While the warrant for the Treadway residence was being executed, Joshua Treadway was being questioned by police. Joshua's interrogation began around 7:00 p.m. During his questioning, the search of the Treadway residence revealed two knives under his bed. One had a 5½ inch blade, and the other had a 6 inch blade. Joshua was then arrested for stealing Aaron Houser's knife. After being read his Miranda rights, Joshua admitted taking the knife from Aaron, but denied any involvement in Stephanie's death. However, over the course of further questioning, Joshua changed his story. He told defendants that he had gotten the knife from Aaron Houser and that Aaron had told him it was the knife used to kill Stephanie. Joshua's questioning ended at approximately 8:15 a.m. on January 28. Joshua was allowed to go home after the questioning.

Joshua Treadway was questioned again on February 10, 1998. This...

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