Estate v. City of Martinsburg

Decision Date09 June 2020
Docket NumberNo. 18-2142,18-2142
Citation961 F.3d 661
Parties ESTATE OF Wayne A. JONES BY Robert L. JONES and Bruce A. Jones, Administrators of the Estate of Wayne A. Jones, Plaintiff - Appellant, v. The CITY OF MARTINSBURG, WEST VIRGINIA ; Pfc. Erik Herb; Pfc. Daniel North; Ptlm. William Staubs; Ptlm. Paul Lehman; Pfc. Eric Neely, Defendants - Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit

Christopher E. Brown, THE BROWN FIRM PLLC, Alexandria, Virginia, for Appellant. Philip W. Savrin, FREEMAN MATHIS & GARY, LLP, Atlanta, Georgia, for Appellees.

Before GREGORY, Chief Judge, and FLOYD and THACKER, Circuit Judges.

Affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded by published opinion. Judge Floyd wrote the opinion in which Chief Judge Gregory and Judge Thacker joined.

FLOYD, Circuit Judge:

In 2013, Wayne Jones, a black man experiencing homelessness, was stopped by law enforcement in Martinsburg, West Virginia for walking alongside, rather than on, the sidewalk. By the end of this encounter, Jones would be dead. Armed only with a knife tucked into his sleeve, he was tased four times, hit in the brachial plexus, kicked, and placed in a choke hold. In his final moments, he lay on the ground between a stone wall and a wall of five police officers, who collectively fired 22 bullets. Jones's Estate sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, bringing a Fourth Amendment claim against the officers and a Monell claim against the City of Martinsburg. In protracted litigation, the Estate has been kicked out of district court three times. Most recently, the district court granted summary judgment to the defendants on both claims, holding that the officers are protected by qualified immunity and that the City cannot be liable under a Monell theory for failing to train those officers. Although we agree that the City is insulated from Monell liability premised on one incident of excessive force, we reverse the grant of summary judgment to the officers on qualified immunity grounds, as a reasonable jury could find that Jones was both secured and incapacitated in the final moments before his death.


In reviewing the district court's grant of summary judgment, we state the facts in the light most favorable to the Estate. See Yates v. Terry , 817 F.3d 877, 881 (4th Cir. 2016). Having previously done so, we largely reiterate our description of the facts in Estate of Jones v. City of Martinsburg , 726 F. App'x 173, 174–75 (4th Cir. 2018), with a few elaborations when relevant to our qualified immunity analysis.

Around 11:30 p.m. on March 13, 2013, Officer Paul Lehman of the Martinsburg Police Department (MPD) was on patrol when he spotted Jones walking in the road, instead of on the sidewalk, near downtown Martinsburg, West Virginia. A state law and a city ordinance both require that pedestrians use sidewalks when available. See W. Va. Code § 17C-10-6(a) ; Martinsburg, W. Va. Ordinance § 371.06(a). Jones was a 50-year-old black man and weighed 162 pounds. He was experiencing homelessness and had been diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Lehman followed Jones in his marked police car for one minute. Lehman then parked his car near Jones, exited the vehicle, and asked Jones why he was walking in the street. Lehman asked Jones for identification; Jones replied that he did not have any identification. Lehman then asked to search him for weapons. Jones first asked, "What's a weapon?" When Lehman explained that this meant "anything—guns, knives, clubs," Jones acknowledged that he did have "something."

The encounter quickly escalated. Lehman called the MPD for backup and began to demand that Jones put his hands on the police car. Jones did not comply and instead tried to move away from Lehman. Lehman began to repeatedly shout, "Put your hands on the car." Jones responded, "What are you trying to do?"; "What do you want?"; and "What did I do to you?" Lehman never answered Jones's questions. Lehman then pulled out his taser and discharged it on Jones. Officer Daniel North reached the scene at approximately the same time that Lehman was discharging his taser. North tased Jones as well. The officers reported that the tasers appeared to have no effect on Jones. According to Lehman, Jones then "hit" Lehman in the face in such a way that his toboggan was pulled over his eyes.

Jones broke away and ran down the street. North pursued him on foot and was the first officer to catch up with him. According to North, Jones's hands were "about to go up," and he "took that as [Jones] may try to assault him." Unless he was clairvoyant, North could not have known that Jones's hands were "about" to be raised. North then "struck [Jones] in the brachial."

Officer William Staub arrived at the scene and ran toward Jones and North. Jones had "cornered himself" in "a stoop entranceway to a bookstore, up a couple steps." North stated that he told Jones to "just get on the ground, just listen to what we're saying," to which Jones replied: "I didn't do anything wrong." Staub said that "North had his taser out but he wasn't doing nothing" when Staub approached. Jones then moved his hands up. The night of the incident, Staub said that "the guy kind of put his hands up like ‘alright’ [resigned tone], so me and North both kind of grabbed his hands." Staub and North grabbed Jones, and the three tumbled down the stairs such that North was thrown away from Staub and Jones. Staub "chipped" a bone in his thumb during the fall. Staub wrestled Jones to the ground and put him in "a choke hold, just to kind of stop him from resisting." A loud choking or gurgling sound, which seems to be coming from Jones, is audible on Staub's audio recorder at this time.

Lehman rejoined the group, and Officers Eric Neely and Erik Herb arrived, bringing the number of MPD officers on the scene to five. Jones was on the ground with his feet facing down, moving in a swimmer's kick-like motion. One officer can be heard loudly calling Jones a "motherf**ker." At least one officer can be seen kicking Jones as he lay on the ground. Officer Neely tased Jones for a third time, and North then applied "a drive stun without any probes." The officers reported that these efforts to stun Jones had no visible effect.

Staub was on his knees on the ground and still had Jones in a choke hold when he felt "like a scratch on my hand," which he initially "didn't think much of" because they "were rolling around on the concrete." Then, "a second or two later," at approximately the same time that Officer Neely tased Jones, Staub felt "a sharp poke in [his] side," which "alarmed" him. Staub reported that he then "saw the subject's right hand with a fixed blade knife in his hand" and shouted, "He's got a knife! He's got a knife!" Neely also reportedly saw "a weapon in [Jones's] right hand." At least one officer called to "Get back, get back!"

Having learned of the knife, the officers simultaneously drew back approximately five feet. As they moved back, Jones's left arm dropped lifelessly. Jones was motionless on the ground, laying "with his right side on the ground" and his "right elbow ... on the ground." All five officers drew their firearms and formed a semi-circle around the recumbent Jones, who was between the officers and the bookstore wall. The officers ordered Jones to drop the weapon. Jones remained motionless and did not verbally respond. Lehman reported that Jones "did not make any overt acts with the knife towards the officers." On the night of the incident, Staub similarly reported that as the officers stepped back, Jones "still had the f**king knife in his hand and he wasn't f**king doing nothing." Seconds later, the five officers fired a total of 22 rounds at Jones, causing 23 wounds, and killing him where he lay on the sidewalk. Neely fired the first shot, but the next rounds immediately followed. Most of the bullets entered Jones's back and buttocks. Jones died shortly before midnight.

In the immediate aftermath on the scene, one or two of the shooting officers called for emergency medical services, but none of them rendered aid themselves. When searching Jones's lifeless body, officers found a small fixed blade knife tucked into his right sleeve. After being told that state police were coming to investigate, officers can be heard saying that the incident would be a "cluster" and that they were going to "have to gather some f**king story."

At the time of the shooting, MPD's aggression response policy was to "meet your aggression with the suspect's aggression." J.A. 141. Under that policy, incidents of physical force must be necessary, objectively reasonable, and proportionate. J.A. 142. MPD did not have any program or policy pertaining to interactions with people with mental illness. According to the deposition testimony of Chief of Police Kevin Miller, he decided to conduct such a training after the shooting.

One month after Jones's death, his Estate sued the City of Martinsburg and then-unknown police officers in federal court. The amended complaint alleged three § 1983 claims: (1) that the five named officers used excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment; (2) that the officers violated the Fourteenth Amendment by killing Jones, thereby wrongfully depriving his family of a familial relationship with him; and (3) that the City of Martinsburg was liable under a variety of Monell theories, including failure to train and failure to discipline the police officers. See Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. , 436 U.S. 658, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978).

We now hear the third appeal in this case. The first two appeals pertained to dismissals based on inadvertent admissions by the Estate during discovery. The defendants had sent a Request for Admissions, to which the Estate responded two days late. At first, the district court deemed the facts admitted and granted the defendantsmotion for summary judgment. The Estate appealed, arguing that although it had not moved to withdraw the...

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