Debra Jones & Arden C. Post v. Norton
|United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. United States District Court of Utah
|3 F.Supp.3d 1170
|07 March 2014
|Debra JONES and Arden C. Post, individually and as the natural parents of Todd R. Murray; and Debra Jones, as personal representative of the Estate of Todd R. Murray, for and on behalf of the heirs of Todd R. Murray, Plaintiffs, v. Vance NORTON, Vernal City police officer in his official and individual capacity; et al., Defendants.
[3 F.Supp.3d 1176]
Frances C. Bassett, Sandra L. Denton, Todd K. Gravelle, Martha L. King, Fredericks Peebles & Morgan LLP, Louisville, CO, Kimberly D. Washburn, Law Offices of Kimberly D. Washburn, Draper, UT, for Plaintiffs.
Britton R. Butterfield, Jesse C. Trentadue, Noah M. Hoagland, Suitter Axland, Scott D. Cheney, David N. Wolf, Gregory M. Soderberg, Salt Lake City, UT, for Defendants.
[3 F.Supp.3d 1177]
TENA CAMPBELL, District Judge.
On April 1, 2007, after police officers' high speed car chase and subsequent foot pursuit of Todd Murray on the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation (the Reservation), Mr. Murray suffered a gun-shot wound to the head. Mr. Murray, who was twenty-one-years old and a member of the Ute Indian Tribe, died that same day in a local hospital. Mr. Murray's parents and Debra Jones, Mr. Murray's mother and the executor of his estate, filed this civil rights lawsuit, alleging that his death was caused by the unconstitutional acts of local law enforcement. This matter comes before the court on cross-motions for summary judgment.1 For the reasons set forth below, the court finds that in all but one instance no unconstitutional violation occurred, and, in that one instance where a violation did occur, the officer is entitled to qualified immunity. Accordingly, the Defendants' motions for summary judgment are GRANTED and Plaintiffs' cross-motion is DENIED.
The Plaintiffs bring civil rights claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and § 1985 against the municipalities of Uintah County and the City of Vernal, and against law enforcement officers, in their individual, as well as their official, capacities. The individual officers are four troopers with the Utah State Highway Patrol (Jeff Chugg, Dave Swenson, Craig Young and Rex Olsen); three Uintah County Sheriff Deputies (Bevan Watkins, Troy Slaugh and Anthoney Byron); Sean Davis, who is an investigator with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR); and Vance Norton, a detective with the Vernal City Police Department (collectively, the Individual Defendants). The Plaintiffs also allege two state law claims (assault/battery and wrongful death) against Detective Norton individually.2
In their § 1983 claims against the Individual Defendants, the Plaintiffs allege illegal seizure, excessive force, and failure to intervene to prevent the officers' unconstitutional acts. Under § 1985, they allege conspiracy to obstruct justice and conspiracy to violate Mr. Murray's civil rights based on racial animus. (Vernal City is also named in the Plaintiffs' § 1985 conspiracy claims.) All of the Individual Defendants filed motions for summary judgment on the basis that no constitutional right was violated, but even if there were a violation, they are entitled to qualified immunity from the suit. 3 In response, the
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Plaintiffs filed a cross motion for partial summary judgment against the Individual Defendants on the illegal seizure, excessive force, and failure to intervene claims.4
The Plaintiffs also bring claims against Uintah County and the City of Vernal (collectively, the Municipalities), that employ many of the Individual Defendants. The Plaintiffs allege that the Municipalities failed to train or supervise their officers about jurisdictional limits on their law enforcement authority, probable cause to arrest, and the proper use of force, and failed to implement policies regarding the same.
Uintah County and Vernal City filed motions for summary judgment, arguing that (1) there was no violation of Mr. Murray's civil rights; (2) there is no respondeat superior liability under § 1983 and § 1985; (3) there is no evidence of a causal link between any constitutional violation and the Municipalities' alleged failure to train, supervise, or implement policies; and (4) the jurisdiction arguments fail because there is no evidence that the officers knew Mr. Murray was a member of the Ute Tribe until after Mr. Murray was shot and examined by the EMTs.
On the morning of April 1, 2007, Mr. Murray was a passenger in a car driven by Uriah Kurip. Mr. Murray and Mr. Kurip were driving west on Highway 40 in Uintah County near Vernal, Utah. Trooper Dave Swenson of the Utah Highway Patrol was parked near mile marker 134.6 Mr. Murray and Mr. Kurip drove past Trooper Swenson's parked patrol vehicle. Using his radar, Trooper Swenson recorded the car's speed at 74 miles an hour in a 65 miles-per-hour zone.
Trooper Swenson activated his overhead lights and began following the car, intending to make a traffic stop. Instead of stopping, Mr. Kurip drove faster. Trooper Swenson notified the dispatch officer that he was involved in a high-speed chase. For approximately thirty minutes, Trooper Swenson pursued the car, in and out of the Reservation's boundaries.7 At times, the two cars reached speeds of approximately 125 miles an hour. At an area called “Four Corners,” Mr. Kurip ran the car off the road. When Trooper Swenson tried to use his patrol car to block Mr. Kurip's car, Mr. Kurip accelerated, struck the patrol car, and drove away. Trooper Swenson was able to see inside the car and described the occupants to dispatch as “two tribal males.” 8 He continued his pursuit. Upon learning of the chase, other officers began heading to Trooper Swenson's location to provide backup assistance.
Detective Vance Norton, who was off-duty and driving in his own car, saw the two cars speed by. He says he saw the
[3 F.Supp.3d 1179]
two men in the car and thought they were Hispanic. He called dispatch on his cell phone to ask what was happening, and the dispatch officer told him that it was a high speed chase but that other officers were not yet in the area. Detective Norton told dispatch that he would follow the chase until another officer arrived. He did not have a police radio in his car so he could not listen to regular dispatch reports. Detective Norton did not hear Trooper Swenson say the two men in the car were “tribal males.”
About the same time, Lieutenant Jeff Chugg, supervisor of the Utah Highway Patrol troopers, was at home when he received a call that one of his officers was involved in a highspeed chase. He began to monitor radio traffic and was on the phone with dispatch during the car chase. Soon after he began monitoring the pursuit, he saw on a CAD 9 screen the words “Trooper Swenson had advise[d] that it was a car with two tribal males and Nevada plates.” 10 At some point, he got into his car and drove to what had by then become a crash scene.
Trooper Rex Olsen was on duty at the time of the car chase. He was in his patrol car when he heard over the radio about the high-speed chase. He drove toward Trooper Swenson's location to provide backup.
Deputy Troy Slaugh, from the Uintah County Sheriff's Department, also learned that the high speed chase was happening. He called his colleague, Deputy Bevan Watkins (who was a “K–9” officer 11 at the time) to let him know that Uintah County officers were responding to help Trooper Swenson. Deputy Watkins testified that it “was very common to call out a canine when there was a pursuit taking place because it was common for individuals to bail out of a vehicle that was stopped.” 12 Deputy Watkins called the dispatch operator to offer his assistance. He received “consent” to go to the scene with his dog.13 He then began driving in the direction of the high speed chase.
About the same time, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) Investigator Sean Davis was on patrol in a nearby area when he learned of the chase over the radio. He drove toward Trooper Swenson's location.
Similarly, Trooper Young and Deputy Byron drove to the scene when they heard about the high speed chase. Both Trooper Young and Deputy Byron testified that they did not hear any reference to “tribal males.”B. THE FOOT CHASE
The car chase ended when Mr. Kurip lost control of the car and came to a stop on Turkey Track Road, which is located on the Reservation. Both Mr. Kurip and Mr. Murray got out of the car and ran. Trooper Swenson arrived almost immediately after the Kurip car stopped and Mr. Kurip and Mr. Murray got out of the car. As they began running, Trooper Swenson got out of his car, pointed his gun at Mr. Kurip and Mr. Murray, and ordered them to get down on the ground. The men did not stop and continued running in different directions. 14 Trooper Swenson did not see
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any weapons in the men's hands or in their waistbands. Trooper Swenson took the keys from the Kurip car, returned to his own car, and then followed Mr. Kurip because Mr. Kurip was the driver of the vehicle. After a short drive, Trooper Swenson again got out of his car and began chasing Mr. Kurip on foot. He quickly caught and arrested Mr. Kurip.
Detective Norton was the first officer (after Trooper Swenson) to arrive at the scene. He saw Trooper Swenson standing on a hill with a man in handcuffs (Mr. Kurip) and asked Trooper Swenson about the other man (Mr. Murray). (The court notes that none of the law enforcement officers on the scene knew Mr. Murray or Mr. Kurip.) Trooper Swenson told Detective Norton that the man had run away and pointed in the direction where Mr. Murray had fled. Detective Norton began his pursuit, first in his car and then on foot. Soon after, Deputy Byron and Trooper Young arrived at the crash scene in their separate cars. As Trooper Swenson had done with Detective Norton, he asked the two officers to capture the...
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