Henry v. Purnell

Decision Date14 July 2011
Docket NumberNo. 08–7433.,08–7433.
Citation652 F.3d 524
PartiesFrederick P. HENRY, Plaintiff–Appellant,v.Robert PURNELL, Defendant–Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit


ARGUED: Katherine Louise Bushman, Georgetown University Law Center, Appellate Litigation Program, Washington, D.C., for Appellant. John Francis Breads, Jr., Hanover, Maryland, for Appellee. ON BRIEF: Steven H. Goldblatt, Director, Charlotte J. Garden, Supervising Attorney, May K. Chiang, Student Counsel, Kate G. Henningsen, Student Counsel, Georgetown University Law Center, Appellate Litigation Program, Washington, D.C., for Appellant.Before TRAXLER, Chief Judge, and WILKINSON, NIEMEYER, KING, GREGORY, SHEDD, DUNCAN, AGEE, DAVIS, KEENAN, WYNN, and DIAZ, Circuit Judges.1

Reversed and remanded by published opinion. Judge GREGORY wrote the opinion, in which Chief Judge TRAXLER and Judges WILKINSON, KING, DUNCAN, DAVIS, KEENAN, WYNN, and DIAZ joined. Judge DAVIS wrote a concurring opinion. Judge SHEDD wrote a dissenting opinion, in which Judges NIEMEYER and AGEE joined. Judge NIEMEYER wrote a separate dissenting opinion.


GREGORY, Circuit Judge:

Without warning, Officer Robert Purnell shot Frederick Henry, an unarmed man wanted for misdemeanor failure to pay child support, when he started running away. In the ensuing § 1983 action, the parties stipulated that Purnell had intended to use his Taser rather than his gun and the district court granted him summary judgment. However, because Tennessee v. Garner prohibits shooting suspects who pose no significant threat of death or serious physical threat, and because Purnell's use of force could be viewed by a jury as objectively unreasonable, we reverse and remand.


Since this case stems from the grant of summary judgment for Purnell, we recount the facts in the light most favorable to the non-movant, Henry. See George & Co. LLC v. Imagination Entm't Ltd., 575 F.3d 383, 392 (4th Cir.2009).

In 2003, a Maryland state court ordered Henry to either pay child support or report to jail on September 8, 2003. When Henry did not comply, a warrant was issued for his arrest on October 9, 2003 for second degree escape. Maryland law defines second degree escape as “knowingly fail[ing] to obey a court order to report to a place of confinement.” Md.Code Ann., Crim. Law, § 9–405(a)(2). “A person who violates this section is guilty of the misdemeanor of escape in the second degree....” Id. § 9–405(b) (currently codified at § 9–405(c)).

Eleven days later, on October 20, 2003, Purnell first attempted to serve the warrant at Henry's last known address, a trailer home in Eden, Maryland. Purnell approached a man who was sitting on the front steps of the trailer and who identified himself as Henry's friend. The man said Henry worked at American Paving Company and offered to give Purnell's name and number to Henry's wife, who was inside the trailer. Purnell then went to the American Paving Company, where an employee said that Henry had not worked in three months, and showed Purnell a photo of Henry. The photo appeared to match the man who had identified himself as Henry's friend. Purnell returned to the trailer home later that day and spoke with Henry's wife. She told Purnell that Henry was not home, allowed Purnell to enter the trailer, and said that Henry worked for a man in a white pickup truck. Purnell seemed “very upset” and told her that he was going to “get [Henry] for pulling a whammy” on him. J.A. 534–35. The next day, October 21, 2003, Henry's wife called Purnell to add that she had given Henry the message and that he was traveling to Baltimore to try to raise bail money.

On October 23, 2003, while in the vicinity for other reasons, Purnell passed by a white pickup truck. Purnell followed the truck and found it parked in the driveway of the trailer home he had previously visited. Purnell approached the truck, which contained a driver, Thomas Walston, and two passengers, Gene Moore and Henry. Purnell came to the driver's side window and asked each man if he was Henry. Each initially said no, but when Purnell asked again, Henry admitted his identity. Henry then exited the vehicle and proceeded to the back of the truck with Purnell. Henry then “started to run towards the front of his truck which was in the direction of the trailer where [he] lived.” J.A. 537–58. Eyewitness Walston described Henry as “kind of jogging a little bit.” J.A. 13–14. “Within a second,” Purnell started running after him; Purnell was roughly five to ten feet away. J.A. 257, 538.2

Purnell had holstered two weapons on his right leg: on his hip was a service revolver, a Glock .40 caliber handgun. On his thigh was an electroshock weapon, a Taser M26 (hereafter, the “Taser”). The Taser was “just underneath [the] service pistol,” approximately twelve inches apart. J.A. 139, 200. Purnell un-holstered his Glock and held it in the horizontal firing position for [t]hree to five seconds.” J.A. 269, 271. He did not issue any verbal warning messages, commands, or instructions to halt. Purnell then fired a single shot, striking Henry in the elbow. Walston, an eyewitness, said Purnell “shot [Henry] before he got past the far end of the trailer.” J.A. 13–14. Purnell caught up with Henry, who was lying on the ground, repeating [h]e shot me, [h]e shot me,” and talking about how much it hurt. J.A. 13. Purnell said he “never intended to shoot Mr. Henry, that [he] had grabbed the wrong weapon.” J.A. 139. Purnell called an ambulance and retrieved medical supplies to slow Henry's bleeding.


This case has a long procedural history: In March 2004, Henry brought this § 1983 action alleging Purnell violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from seizures effectuated by excessive force.

In May 2004, Purnell motioned for the district court to dismiss the case or grant summary judgment in his favor. Purnell contended that he had not “seized” Henry and, alternatively, that he was entitled to qualified immunity. The district court denied Purnell's motion because his “assertions [that he drew the wrong weapon] necessarily depend upon his credibility and therefore give rise to a genuine dispute of material fact.” J.A. 16.

In June 2004, Purnell filed an interlocutory appeal, claiming that the record did not support the district court's conclusion that he was not entitled to qualified immunity. We dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction because “Purnell's argument ... challenges the district court's factual finding.” Henry v. Purnell, 119 Fed.Appx. 441, 443 (4th Cir.2005) (unpublished) (per curiam) (hereafter, “ Purnell I ”).

In June 2005, Henry moved for leave to file an amended complaint, which the district court granted. Henry added a claim for excessive force based on the Maryland Constitution's Declaration of Rights.

On November 10, 2005, the parties entered into a stipulation “for the purposes of this litigation, that on October 22, 2003, [Purnell] intended to un-holster and discharge his Taser M26 which was mounted in a thigh holster below his service weapon, a Glock .40 caliber handgun. Instead, he un-holstered and fired his service weapon, believing that it was his Taser M26.” J.A. 30.

In November 2005, Purnell filed a second motion for summary judgment, arguing that the Fourth Amendment was inapplicable because he never intended to seize Henry with a gun. Alternatively, Purnell argued he was entitled to qualified immunity and was also immune from state tort liability. Henry opposed summary judgment on the grounds that the shooting was a seizure, that outstanding issues of material fact had to be resolved by a jury, and that Purnell was not entitled to qualified immunity. Henry stressed several factors which made Purnell's conduct unreasonable, such as his failure to give a warning or command before firing. Henry also pointed out Purnell's failure to notice physical differences between the Taser and Glock, including the Taser's safety switch, weight, color, and holster position. The parties also disputed the production of additional evidence about Taser training.

In April 2006, the district court issued its first opinion, denying Purnell's motion for summary judgment and granting Henry's motion to compel new evidence about Taser training materials. Henry v. Purnell, 428 F.Supp.2d 393, 395–98 (D.Md.2006). It found “the evidence on summary judgment [was] fully sufficient to create a jury issue on the question of whether Purnell was grossly negligent.” Id. The district court also proposed “a ‘heightened culpability element’ should be added to a Fourth Amendment civil claim.” Id. at 399. The court acknowledged that this was “arguably inconsistent with current law,” “difficult to reconcile with a strict reading of” the objective reasonableness test set out in Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 109 S.Ct. 1865, 104 L.Ed.2d 443 (1989), and partially “inconsistent with the literal language of Graham. Henry, 428 F.Supp.2d at 399–400, 401 n. 9. 3

Purnell appealed to this Court again, claiming that the district court erred in concluding that he “seized” Henry and denying him qualified immunity. J.A. 7–8. In September 2007, we affirmed in part and vacated in part. Henry v. Purnell, 501 F.3d 374 (4th Cir.2007) (hereafter, “ Purnell II ”).4 We affirmed the district court's determination that Purnell's shooting of Henry was a “seizure” under the Fourth Amendment. Id. at 381–82. But we vacated and remanded the case for the district court to “reassess the issue of whether a constitutional violation occurred in light of the proper burden of proof and the discovery materials that it ordered Purnell to produce.” Id. at 384. If on remand Henry “establish[ed] that the seizure in this case was unreasonable ( i.e., that Purnell's mistake in using the Glock rather than the Taser was unreasonable),” then we suggested that Purnell would “have the opportunity to demonstrate his entitlement to qualified immunity.” Id. at 384.


To continue reading

Request your trial
744 cases
  • Cromartie v. Billings
    • United States
    • Virginia Supreme Court
    • January 16, 2020
    ...of an officer’s actions, we must consider the facts at the moment that the challenged force was employed. See Henry v. Purnell, 652 F.3d 524, 531 (4th Cir. 2011).The Supreme Court of the United States established a test in Graham to determine whether the force used by a police officer viola......
  • Robinson v. Miller
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of West Virginia
    • September 10, 2015
    ...the concerns the objective reasonableness of the officer's conduct in light of the relevant facts and circumstances." Henry v. Purnell, 652 F.3d 524, 534 (4th Cir. 2011) (citation omitted); see also Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 399 (1989) ("The Fourth Amendment inquiry is one of 'objecti......
  • Corral v. Montgomery Cnty.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Maryland
    • March 5, 2014
    ...quotation marks omitted). An officer who makes an honest, but unreasonable mistake will not be protected. Henry v. Purnell, 652 F.3d 524, 535 (4th Cir.2011) (en banc). The defense “protects ‘all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.’ ” Waterman, 393 F.3d at 476......
  • Hines v. Johnson
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Middle District of North Carolina
    • March 30, 2020
    ...whether the right violated was clearly established." Gregg v. Ham, 678 F.3d 333, 338-39 (4th Cir. 2012) (quoting Henry v. Purnell, 652 F.3d 524, 531 (4th Cir. 2011) (en banc)). "In determining whether a right is clearly established, courts consider 'whether it would beclear to a reasonable ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
3 books & journal articles
    • United States
    • Notre Dame Law Review Vol. 93 No. 5, May 2018
    • May 1, 2018
    ...(4th reasonableness of an officer's actions who fired his Cir. 2010), reh'g en Glock instead of a Taser and failed to warn the victim banc 652 F.3d 524 before doing so, failed to utilize the laser sight, and (4th Cir. 2011). failed to distinguish the different safety locks, but concluding t......
  • The Limits of Punishment Inmate and Pretrial Detainee Constitutional Rights
    • United States
    • South Carolina Bar South Carolina Lawyer No. 30-6, May 2019
    • Invalid date
    ...of Corrs., 849 F.3d 372, 378–79 (7th Cir. 2017). [12] See, e.g., Thompson v. Virginia, 878 F.3d 89, 97 (4th Cir. 2017); Henry v. Purnell, 652 F.3d 524, 531 (4th Cir. 2011). [13] 42 U.S.C. § 1988. [14] Newport v. Fact Concerts, Inc., 453 U.S. 247, 269–70 (1981). [15] Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.......
  • Weapon Confusion: TASER CEWs, Firearms, and Human Error Theories
    • United States
    • Sage Criminal Justice Review No. 48-4, December 2023
    • December 1, 2023
    ...mistake.”Hanover Evening Sun, A4.Grimley, B. (2006, June 23). Shooting mistake puts “hostile”man in hospital. Kitsap Sun.Henry v. Purnell, 652 F.3d 524 (4th Cir. 2011).Klinger, D. A. (2008). On the importance of sound measures of forceful police actions. Criminology & PublicPolicy,7(4), 605......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT