Fields v. City of Tulsa, 21-CV-0179-CVE-SH

CourtUnited States District Courts. 10th Circuit. Northern District of Oklahoma
Docket Number21-CV-0179-CVE-SH
Decision Date07 December 2022



No. 21-CV-0179-CVE-SH

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

December 7, 2022



Now before the Court are Defendant Officer Lucas Temple's Motion for Summary Judgment and Brief in Support (Dkt. # 55) and Defendant Officer Cherish Comfort's and City of Tulsa's Combined Motion for Summary Judgment and Brief in Support (Dkt. # 57). This case arose out of incident that took place on October 16, 2018 in which plaintiff Earnest Joe Fields was arrested for obstructing an officer. Defendant Cherish Comfort argues that he did not use excessive force against plaintiff when he was taken into custody, and Comfort and Lucas Temple assert that they had probable cause to arrest plaintiff for obstructing an officer. Plaintiff responds that police officers violated his Fourth Amendment rights by detaining him without probable cause to believe that he had committed an offense, and Comfort using excessive force when he took an unresisting and compliant suspect to the ground.


On October 16, 2018 at approximately 5:55 a.m., Tameko Warren called 911 to report that she was parked at a QuikTrip store located at 46th Street North and Lewis Avenue in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and she claimed that a man was letting the air out of her tires.


Dkt. # 55-1, at 00:10-00:21 (recording of 911 call). Warren also stated that the man had blocked her vehicle into the parking space with his truck, and she identified the man as her “soon to be ex-husband,” Fields. Id. at 00:21-00:26. Warren described Fields as a black man driving a white Chevy truck. Id. at 00:2800:33. The 911 dispatcher asked if Fields had any weapons, and Warren claimed that Fields had a hammer that he was “hitting” on her window. Id. at 00:36-00:39. The dispatcher asked to Warren to describe Field's appearance, and Warren stated that Field was wearing a brown hat with the word Tulsa, a blue jacket, and a black shirt. Id. at 00:55-1:02. Warren did not know if Fields was still in possession of the hammer, and she told the dispatcher that it was probably in her tire. Id. at 1:121:18. Warren told the 911 dispatcher that she was alone in her vehicle and Fields had not hit her with the hammer. Id. at 1:30-1:36. Warren identified her car as a green Toyota Corolla and her car was still blocked in the parking lot by Fields' truck. Id. at 1:59-2:10 Upon further questioning, Warren stated that her vehicle was in a parking space, not at a gas pump, and Fields was continuing to let air out of her tires. Id. at 2:18-2:26. Warren clarified that she could see the hammer in Fields' hand and she did not want to get out of the vehicle. Id. at 2:30-2:43. Police officers were sent to Warren's location and she waited in her car until they arrived.

Tulsa Police Department (TPD) Officer Jill Sallee arrived on the scene and briefly entered the store before going to speak to Warren. Dkt. # 55-8, at 0:01-0:07 (Sallee bodycam video). Sallee walked over to Warren's vehicle, which was parked near an air pump at the side of the parking lot, and she asked Warren what happened to prompt her to call for help. Id. at 00:10-00:36. Warren stated that Fields pulled up in his truck in front of Warren's vehicle and began letting the air out of the tires of Warren's vehicle, but Warren had not exited her vehicle to inspect the tires since the encounter with Fields began. Id. at 00:37-00:45 Upon further questioning from Sallee, Warren


stated that Fields had not actually hit her and Fields “tapped on the window” with a hammer. Id. at 1:05-1:15. Warren acknowledged that she was scared by Fields conduct, even though she had not been injured, and Fields had been “violent” before this encounter. Id. at 1:20-1:28. Temple and Comfort arrived on the scene while Sallee was interviewing Warren, and Temple entered the store to locate Fields .

Temple entered the store and found Fields making a cup of coffee.[1] Dkt. # 55-11, at 00:0100:30. Temple asked Fields to go outside the store to speak with police, but Fields indicated that he was going to pay for his coffee and get some gas for his truck. Id. at 00:45-00:51. At this point in the encounter, Fields paid for his coffee and gas and Temple went to speak to Sallee at Warren's vehicle, but Temple directed Comfort to make sure that Fields did not leave the store. Id. at 1:452:03. Temple spoke to Sallee and learned that Fields “tapped” on Warren's vehicle with a hammer, and Temple inspected Warren's vehicle for possible damage. Id. at 3:00-3:32. Temple returned to the store, and Fields was speaking in a raised voice to Comfort as Comfort directed Fields to remain in the store. Id. at 4:01-4:15. Comfort clearly told Fields to stay in the store and Fields again stated that he was going to put gas in his truck. Id. at 4:17-4:25. Temple advised Fields that the officers were trying to determine what happened during Fields' interaction with Warren at her vehicle, and Fields continued to state that he was going to put gas in his truck. Id. at 4:30-4:45. Temple told Fields to go outside the store to speak with the officers to avoid interfering with the business, and Fields walked toward the checkout counter. Id. at 4:47-4:53. Fields took off his jacket and he removed some items that were clipped onto his pants, and he began to walk past the officers on his


way out of the store. Id. at 4:55-5:01. Fields was fully out of the store and walking toward his truck when Comfort performed a takedown maneuver. Id. at 5:03-5:07. Comfort placed Fields in handcuffs and promptly allowed Fields to stand up, and Fields began to demand that the officers stop touching him. Id. at 5:43-6:03. The officers told Fields to calm down and they brought him to one of the patrol vehicles, and Fields sat in the back seat of a patrol car after continuing to argue with the officers. Id. at 6:05-7:57. Fields continued to argue with Comfort after he was placed in the patrol vehicle. Id. at 10:55-13:10. Fields was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of obstructing an officer, but the charge was dismissed before the case went to trial. Dkt. # 55-3, at 2; Dkt. # 72, at 13.

On October 16, 2020, Fields filed this case in Tulsa County District Court alleging claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City, Temple, and Sallee for the use of excessive force to arrest plaintiff and for wrongful arrest. Fields' state court petition names Sallee and Temple as defendants as to his claims of excessive force and wrongful arrest, and he alleged a § 1983 claim against the City based on a theory of municipal liability. Defendants removed the case to this Court based on the presence of a federal question in Fields' petition. Fields filed an amended complaint (Dkt. # 21) clarifying that it was Comfort who allegedly use excessive force by performing a take down maneuver, and the use of excessive force claim (claim I) was alleged against Comfort only. Fields asserted a wrongful arrest claim (claim III) against Comfort, Temple, and Sallee, and a claim of municipal liability (claim II) against the City. Fields subsequently dismissed his claim against Sallee with prejudice to refiling. Dkt. # 74.



Summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 is appropriate where there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986); Kendall v. Watkins, 998 F.2d 848, 850 (10th Cir. 1993). The plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 317. “Summary judgment procedure is properly regarded not as a disfavored procedural shortcut, but rather as an integral part of the Federal Rules as a whole, which are designed ‘to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every action.'” Id. at 327.

“When the moving party has carried its burden under Rule 56(c), its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.... Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no ‘genuine issue for trial.'” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986) (citations omitted). “The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the [trier of fact] could reasonably find for the plaintiff.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. In essence, the inquiry for the Court is “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Id. at 250. In its review, the Court construes the record in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment. Garratt v. Walker, 164 F.3d 1249, 1251 (10th Cir. 1998).



Defendants seek summary judgment on plaintiff's § 1983 claims. Comfort argues that his use of a take down maneuver was objectively reasonable under the circumstances, and plaintiff cannot establish that his constitutional rights were violated by Comfort's conduct. Dkt. # 57. Comfort and Temple argue that they had probable cause to arrest plaintiff for the offense of obstructing an officer in violation of OKLA. STAT. tit. 21, § 540. Plaintiff disputes defendants' contention that he acted in a hostile manner toward police officers or that he refused to obey commands to speak to the officers. Plaintiff claims that it was unnecessary for...

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