Doran v. Eckold, 03-1810.

Decision Date06 June 2005
Docket NumberNo. 03-1810.,03-1810.
Citation409 F.3d 958
PartiesDavid DORAN, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Dennis ECKOLD, in his official capacity as President of the Board of Police Commissioners of Kansas City, et al., Defendants-Appellants.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit

William E. Quirk, argued, Kansas City, MO, for appellant.

Jeffrey L. Fisher, argued, Seattle, WA, for appellee.


LOKEN, Chief Judge.

At 10:00 p.m. on the evening of August 11, 1998, Kansas City police executed a warrant to search the home of David Doran for drugs and other contraband, using a tactic called "dynamic entry." Officer Ty Grant, serving as "ram officer," yelled "Police, search warrant," and immediately hit the front door with his ram, breaking in on the third hit. Officer Mark Sumpter as point man entered the house before its occupants had time to answer the door. When Sumpter reached the kitchen doorway, he saw Doran running toward him pointing a handgun. Sumpter testified that he yelled, "Police, search warrant, get down," and fired when Doran did not lower his weapon. Doran was hit twice, sustaining serious injuries. He commenced this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, asserting Fourth Amendment damage claims against Officer Sumpter for use of excessive force; the investigating officer, Wesley Williamson, for an illegal warrant search; Officer Grant for illegal entry; Sergeant Eric Greenwell for failure to supervise Grant; and the Board of Police Commissioners for failure to train its officers regarding the Fourth Amendment restrictions on no-knock entries and for deliberate indifference to a custom and practice of no-knock entries.

At trial, Doran testified he was asleep when he heard the ramming. Thinking the noise was a break-in or a fight on the front porch, he grabbed a pistol from under his pillow, ran into the kitchen, saw laser lights and realized it was the police, and bent to set his gun on the floor when he was shot. After a four-day trial, the jury found in favor of Officer Sumpter, rejecting Doran's excessive force claim. However, the district court ruled as a matter of law that exigent circumstances did not justify the no-knock entry. As a result, the jury instructions on the illegal entry claim against Officer Grant and the failure-to-train claim against Sergeant Greenwell virtually directed a verdict in favor of Doran on those claims. The jury returned a verdict in excess of two million dollars for Doran on those claims and on his claims against the Board, finding that Doran's injuries were the direct result of the Fourth Amendment violations. The district court entered judgment on this verdict. Grant, Greenwell, and the Board appeal, arguing inter alia that exigent circumstances justified the no-knock entry. We agree and therefore reverse.

I. Background.

In July 1998, Kansas City Police received an anonymous tip about criminal activity allegedly occurring at the Doran home. The tipster alleged:

• that methamphetamine was being manufactured at the house to be searched;

• that Doran was selling crack cocaine and methamphetamine at the front door throughout the day;

• that drugs were stored in dresser drawers throughout the house;

• that guns were kept in the bedroom; and

• that Doran's 26-year-old son Joseph lived in the house and had recently been arrested for possessing a sawed-off shotgun.

Narcotics Detective Wesley Williamson verified the house's location, determined that cars parked at that location were registered to the Doran family, and collected bags of trash in front of the residence. In the trash, he found fifty sandwich bags with the corners cut out, a common way for traffickers to package and distribute narcotics; methamphetamine residue in two plastic bags, three plastic sandwich bag corners, and a pill bottle; an empty box of a "Dristan" product that contains pseudoephedrine, often used in the manufacture of methamphetamine; and mail tending to confirm that the trash belonged to the Dorans. Detective Williamson recited these facts in a warrant application and obtained a warrant to search the Doran home.

The task of executing the warrant was assigned to the Police Department's Street Narcotics Unit, a specialized unit whose primary function is to execute search warrants, usually on drug houses. Sergeant Greenwell was in charge of the Unit's entry team. Before executing the warrant, Greenwell reviewed the warrant and warrant affidavit, learning about the illegal activity alleged in the anonymous tip. Sergeant Greenwell and Detective Williamson then drove by the Doran house to verify its location and to "determine any tactical concerns." Based on this information and his experience with methamphetamine labs, Sergeant Greenwell concluded that this would be a high-risk entry and instructed his team to make a dynamic entry.

On the evening of August 11, the entry team gathered at an assembly point a few blocks from the Doran home. Because of the hazards associated with methamphetamine labs, Greenwell arranged for a fire department pumper and an ambulance to wait at the assembly point. Members of the entry team other than Officer Grant wore respirators to reduce the risk from chemical fumes. After Sergeant Greenwell briefed the entry team, the team proceeded to Doran's house and executed the warrant. Doran was shot soon after Officer Sumpter entered the house. The police completed the search after tending to Doran, finding one ounce of marijuana in the son's room but neither a methamphetamine lab nor other illegal drugs. Doran was not charged with an offense. This lawsuit followed.

II. The District Court's Rulings and the Record on Appeal.

Prior to trial, all defendants moved for summary judgment on Doran's various § 1983 claims. As relevant here, the court granted Detective Williamson summary judgment on Doran's claim of illegal search, concluding that Williamson had sufficiently verified the anonymous tip to have "an objectively reasonable belief in the existence of probable cause for the issuance of a search warrant." Doran dropped his remaining claim against Williamson for unlawful execution of the warrant. Eliminated as a defendant, Williamson — who by then had become an agent of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms — did not testify at trial. The district court denied Officer Sumpter summary judgment on Doran's excessive force claim. The court also denied Grant, Greenwell, and the Board summary judgment on Doran's claims relating to the no-knock manner in which the warrant was executed, concluding "there is insufficient evidence of exigent circumstances to justify dispensing with the knock and announce requirement," and there were material fact disputes over whether the entry team announced, knocked, and waited an appreciable period before entering.

Though the district court reserved a final ruling on Doran's knock-and-announce claims because of potential fact disputes, the court properly recognized that the question of exigent circumstances, like the ultimate issue of Fourth Amendment reasonableness, is an issue of law for the court. See United States v. Cooper, 168 F.3d 336, 339 (8th Cir.1999); United States v. Mattison, 153 F.3d 406, 410 (7th Cir.1998). Therefore, both before and during the trial, the district court excluded evidence that was relevant to the question of exigent circumstances, even if it was part of the summary judgment record on the issue, if it was either unduly prejudicial or not relevant to fact issues to be decided by the jury. For example, because the court excluded evidence tending to challenge the lawfulness of the valid search warrant, the warrant and warrant affidavit were not offered at trial. Similarly, the police "DRAGNET" report summarizing the anonymous tip was not admitted into evidence because it contained a potentially prejudicial reference to the son's alleged arrest for possession of a sawed-off shotgun.

The court made its final ruling on the exigent circumstances issue during the instructions conference held at the close of the trial evidence. Consistent with its pretrial summary judgment ruling, the district court "ruled as a matter of law that there were not exigent circumstances which permitted the waiver of the knock or wait rule, and we'll not be submitting that to the jury." In making this ruling, the court declared that it considered "all of the evidence which is admissible during the course of trial, as well as Plaintiff's Exhibit 8 [the DRAGNET tip report] ... [and] all of the evidence that, in fact, has been presented to me." Neither party objected to the court considering evidence that was only presented during pretrial motion proceedings to decide the legal issue of whether exigent circumstances justified the no-knock entry. Indeed, given the need to withhold irrelevant or unduly prejudicial information from the jury's consideration, we agree with the district court's approach to this issue, though our task on appeal would be easier if the court had defined more precisely what evidence not in the trial record "has been presented to me." Therefore, we will review the same record that the district court considered in making its legal determination of no exigent circumstances.1

III. The Controlling Legal Standard.

In Wilson v. Arkansas, the Supreme Court held for the first time that the "common-law `knock and announce' principle forms a part of the reasonableness inquiry under the Fourth Amendment." 514 U.S. 927, 929, 115 S.Ct. 1914, 131 L.Ed.2d 976 (1995). The Court cautioned, however, that "[t]he Fourth Amendment's flexible requirement of reasonableness should not be read to mandate a rigid rule of announcement that ignores countervailing law enforcement interests." Id. at 934, 115 S.Ct. 1914. The Court noted examples of...

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