Freeman v. Spoljaric

Decision Date31 March 2023
Docket Number1:22-cv-203
PartiesWENDELL KENT FREEMAN Plaintiff, v. JONATHAN SPOLJARIC, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Ohio

Litkovitz Magistrate Judge



Defendants Jonathan Spoljaric and Lawrence County filed the instant Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 18) Plaintiff Wendell Kent Freeman's Amended Complaint (Doc. 11), and a separate Motion to Deem Requests for Admissions Admitted (Doc. 29). For the reasons below, the Court GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 18). Specifically, the Court GRANTS Defendants' Motion as to Freeman's due process property deprivation and medical care claims against Spoljaric in his individual capacity, all claims against Spoljaric in his official capacity, and all claims against Lawrence County. The Court DISMISSES those claims WITHOUT PREJUDICE and DISMISSES Lawrence County from this case. However, the Court DENIES Defendants' Motion as to Freeman's excessive use of force unreasonable search, and First Amendment retaliation claims as against Spoljaric in his individual capacity. Those claims may proceed.

As for Defendants' other motion (Doc. 29), the Court ORDERS Freeman to SHOW CAUSE in writing no later than April 28 2023, why, given his failure to respond to Defendants' Requests for Admissions, the Court should not deem both sets of Requests for Admissions fully admitted. Alternatively, Freeman may respond to Defendants' Requests for Admissions and notify the Court he has done so no later than April 28, 2023. In either event, the Court hereby NOTIFIES Freeman that continued failure to respond to Defendants' discovery requests may result in sanctions up to and including dismissing his case with prejudice.


The allegations thus far have been laid out in Freeman's Complaint (Doc. 1) and Amended Complaint (Doc. 11). In addition, Freeman has provided the Court with security camera footage detailing the events at issue. (Doc. 11, #76). As the Court is addressing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) the Court reports here as “facts” the allegations from Freeman's Complaints. The Court notes, though, that the video largely confirms many of those allegations.[1]

A. Factual History

Freeman owns property in Lawrence County, Ohio. (Id. at #59). On that property sits Freeman's house, a separate “small outbuilding,” and a firing range behind his house. (Id. at #61). Freeman once rented the outbuilding to Jennifer Woods for her personal use, but that rental term ended on January 15, 2022. (Id.). Freeman has installed surveillance cameras throughout his property. (Id.).

On January 22, 2022, Freeman alleges a neighbor told him that someone had seen Jennifer Woods's daughter, Sara Woods, break into Freeman's primary residence and take his belongings. (Id.). The neighbor further claimed to have seen Sara enter the outbuilding her mother, Jennifer, had occupied-presumably to steal items there as well. (Id.). Freeman dialed 911 to report a “burglary in progress.” (Id. at #61-62).

Lawrence County Sheriff's Deputy Jonathan Spoljaric responded. (Id. at #62). From the face of the allegations, it is clear Freeman and Spoljaric have some history. After Freeman explained the situation, Spoljaric became agitated, telling Freeman, he was “getting tired of this shit! We've been here 10 times!” and claiming Freeman needed to file an eviction proceeding to remove Sara Woods. (Id.). (Based on Freeman's allegations, it is unclear whether Sara also previously resided on Freeman's property with her mother.) Freeman allegedly responded that Spoljaric knew from prior interactions that Sara “was a problem” and that she had been told she was no longer permitted on Freeman's property. (Id.). Spoljaric asked Freeman where Sara was and also asked for Jennifer's phone number. (Id.). Freeman replied that Sara “was down by the guardrail by the road” and gave Spoljaric Jennifer's phone number. (Id.). Freeman alleges Spoljaric then stated “I'm not taking your report” and left to speak with Freeman's neighbor and other “observers” of the incident by the road. (Id. at #62-63).

Freeman then began recording the interaction on his cell phone. (Id. at #63). While doing so, Freeman stated, “Here they go again. Refusing to take my report.” (Id.). Freeman claims to have recorded for about 15 seconds before re-entering his residence. (Id.). He then “waited for Spoljaric to leave his property.” (Id.). It is unclear how long he waited.

At some point, Freeman claims he looked out the window and did not see Spoljaric or the “observers” in the street where they previously had been. (Id.). Presumably, he felt this meant Spoljaric had left. So Freeman proceeded out the back of his home to his firing range and fired approximately five rounds. (Id.). Freeman then walked around to the front of his house, at which time he noticed Spoljaric still in his driveway. (Id.). Freeman continued walking to his front door and heard Spoljaric yell something he could not understand. (Id.).

Freeman entered his home from the front door, closed the door, and placed his firearm on the kitchen table. (Id.). Freeman then re-opened his front door, stepped out his home, and yelled “What?” to Spoljaric. (Id. at #64). Spoljaric responded by “complain[ing] that [Freeman] discharged his firearm.” (Id.). Freeman told Spoljaric he believed he was entitled to “fire his weapon on his own property,” to which Spoljaric said, “That's not how it works.” (Id.). Freeman responded, “How does it work?” (Id.).

At that point, Spoljaric approached Freeman while he stood just outside his open front door. (Id.). Freeman raised his hands into the air and “stepped backwards approximately 3 feet,” crossing the threshold into his home. (Id.). Spoljaric ordered Freeman to exit, unholstering his pepper spray. (Id.). Freeman stood still. (Id.). With hands still raised, Freeman stated he had done nothing wrong. (Id.). Spoljaric deployed his pepper spray across the threshold without stepping into Freeman's residence. (Id.).

His hands still raised upright, Freeman turned away from Spoljaric and “stumbled a few more feet” farther into his home. (Id.). Freeman asked why Spoljaric had sprayed him and repeated his claim he had done nothing wrong. (Id.). Spoljaric again demanded Freeman come outside. (Id.). When Freeman did not comply, Spoljaric stepped into Freeman's home and deployed his taser. (Id.). Freeman collapsed. (Id.). Freeman alleges Spoljaric “continued the intermittent taser electrocution [for] over a 30 second period of time.” (Id.).

Following the taser deployment, Freeman claims Spoljaric then “punched him several times to his head and kneed [him] several times in the ribs and his back.” (Id. at #64-65). During this time, Freeman asked “why do you keep doing this to me, sir,” and Spoljaric allegedly responded, “I'm not going to be shot at by some fucking idiot.” (Id. at #65). Spoljaric handcuffed Freeman and escorted him out of the home to his cruiser. (Id.). Along the way, Freeman alleges Spoljaric intentionally pushed his head into the door jamb. (Id.).

As noted, the Court has reviewed video footage of this altercation recorded by a camera inside Freeman's home and pointed at the front door. The video largely depicts many of these events as so far described. However, Freeman leaves the frame directly before being tased. Therefore, the video does not show Freeman being tased or the events surrounding him being handcuffed.

Freeman next alleges Spoljaric searched his pockets, recovering various items including his cell phone. Of some note, Freeman's original Complaint does not allege Spoljaric took Freeman's phone outside the house but instead took his phone later from inside the house. (Compare Id. at #65, with Doc. 1, #6). Either way, Freeman alleges Spoljaric took his phone.

As Spoljaric placed Freeman in his cruiser, Freeman complained he could not breathe or see and was in pain. (Doc. 11, #65). So Spoljaric contacted local emergency medical services. (Id.). Later, Spoljaric re-entered Freeman's residence along with another officer. (Id.). (It is unclear when this second officer arrived.) While in the home, Spoljaric discussed the events with the second officer, stating “Well, then he started recording, like he always does … and then he starts, I don't know, shooting in the air.” (Id.). Spoljaric seized Freeman's firearm from the table and took several pictures before leaving. (Id. at #66).

From the video, the Court notes that while talking with the other officer, Spoljaric glanced at the surveillance camera pointed at him. Immediately after noticing the camera, Spoljaric states [Freeman] wouldn't … then we start wrestling over here … he wouldn't comply, wouldn't turn around, wouldn't stand up. And I'm trying to get him out and he's still wrestling with me.” This, of course, provides at least some evidence Freeman resisted arrest while out of frame. That said, as Defendants have moved to dismiss, the Court must review all evidence in the light most favorable to Freeman, and the video does not depict the “wrestling” Spoljaric describes.

Medics transported Freeman to a local emergency room. (Id. at #66). At the E.R., staff removed the taser prongs and poured milk in Freeman's eyes. (Id.). Although Freeman alleges he complained of difficulty seeing and breathing, medical staff discharged him back into Spoljaric's custody without performing more tests or providing additional treatment. (Id.). Spoljaric then took Freeman to jail, where Freeman allegedly reported “chest pains and lightheadedness” to jail staff. (Id. at #66). After two days of similar complaints jail staff transported Freeman back to the hospital, where he...

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