Knapps v. City of Oakland

Decision Date03 August 2009
Docket NumberNo. 05-2935 MEJ.,05-2935 MEJ.
Citation647 F.Supp.2d 1129
PartiesUganda KNAPPS, Plaintiff, v. CITY OF OAKLAND, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of California

James B. Chanin, Julie M. Houk, Law Offices of James B. Chanin, Berkeley, CA, for Plaintiff.

Arlene Marcia Rosen, Office of the City Attorney, Oakland, CA, Julie M. Houk, James B. Chanin Law Offices, Berkeley, CA, for Defendants.



MARIA-ELENA JAMES, United States Magistrate Judge.


This case is before the Court for claims arising out of an incident on August 10, 2004 between Plaintiff Uganda Knapps ("Plaintiff") and Oakland Police Officers Michael Cardoza, Francisco Rojas and Sergeant James Kelly. On July 19, 2005, Plaintiff filed a Complaint alleging excessive force and malicious prosecution under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as supplemental state law claims for negligence, false arrest/imprisonment battery, and statutory claims for the violation of his rights under California Civil Code sections 51.7 and 52.1.

The parties waived a jury trial, and the case was tried before the Court on October 17, 23, and 24, 2007. After considering and weighing all the evidence and the parties' arguments, and having assessed the credibility of the witnesses, the Court enters the following findings of fact and conclusions of law as required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a).


As a preliminary matter, the Court notes that the trial in this case was largely about witness credibility, as the parties presented contradictory versions of the incident. For purposes of the findings of fact, the Court states the conflicting testimony as appropriate, with credibility determinations made in the conclusions of law.

A. Background

1. Plaintiff Uganda Knapps, an African-American male, was 29 years old at the time of the August 10, 2004 incident. (Trial Tr., Day 3, 113:3-6; Pl.'s Ex. 6, Audio CD ("CD").)

2. In June of 2004, Plaintiff began work at the Hodges Residential Facility ("Hodges") in Oakland, California. Hodges is an adult residential facility that cares for developmentally-disabled adults. (Trial Tr., Day 3, 121:8-11; 208:9-16.)

3. His responsibilities included helping the residents with their daily activities, monitoring their behaviors, charting information, dispensing medications, and helping with basic household chores. Plaintiff testified that he received brief training from Marsha Jones. (Trial Tr., Day 3, 121:22-122:9; 209:11-14.)

4. Michael Fowler, a mentally-challenged adult, was a resident at Hodges. (Trial Tr., Day 3, 122:1-15; 136:25-137:2; 208:19-23.) Mr. Fowler died at an unknown time after the incident from an unrelated cause. (Pl.'s Ex. 2, p. 9.)

5. Prior to August 10, 2004, Plaintiff had been involved in two prior incidents with Mr. Fowler. In the first, Mr. Fowler threatened Plaintiff with a butter knife. (Trial Tr., Day 3, 122:16-123:4.) In the second, Mr. Fowler went to a nearby park with a group of patients and a counselor from Hodges, but did not return with the group. (Trial Tr., Day 3, 124:22-125:19.) On both occasions, Plaintiff sought law enforcement assistance, and he testified that there were no major problems with police in either incident. (Trial Tr., Day 3, 124:16-21; 126:2-4.)

6. Defendant Oakland Police Officer Michael Cardoza graduated from the Oakland Police Department ("OPD") Academy in 2000 and, at the time of the August 10, 2004 incident, had been a police officer for a little under four years. (Trial Tr., Day 1, 5:6-12.)

7. Defendant Oakland Police Officer Francisco Rojas also graduated from the OPD Academy in 2000 and, at the time of the August 10, 2004 incident, had been a police officer for a little under four years. (Trial Tr., Day 3, 8:9-9:1.)

8. On the night of August 10, 2004, Officers Cardoza and Rojas were members of a Crime Reduction Team ("CRT") called to assist an Alameda County unit with an auto theft investigation in the same area as the incident at issue in this case. Officer Cardoza was an acting sergeant and supervisor of the CRT team involved in the investigation. (Trial Tr., Day 1, 5:13-6:20; Trial Tr., Day 3, 9:2-9.)

9. On the night of the incident, Officer Cardoza was dressed in a utility uniform bearing patches identifying him as an Oakland Police officer. (Trial Tr., Day 1, 8:5-20.)

10. Officer Rojas was dressed in street clothes. (Trial Tr., Day 3, 15:2-5.)

11. Both officers were in a white SUV driven by Officer Rojas. Although it was an OPD vehicle, it did not have any markings identifying it as such. (Trial Tr., Day 3, 14:21-15:1; Trial Tr., Day 1, 11:8-10.)

12. Both officers had hand-held police radios tuned to a tactical channel dedicated to the vehicle theft operation. They did not receive any broadcast from the regular broadcast channels, and they therefore did not receive any information about the incident involving Plaintiff and Mr. Fowler. (Trial Tr., Day 1, 11:11-12:12; 50:17-21, Trial Tr., Day 3, 15:9-16:16.)

13. Defendant Oakland Police Sergeant James Kelly had been a police officer with the OPD for fourteen years at the time of the incident. On that night, he was acting in a capacity as sergeant, and had been a sergeant for about seven years. (Trial Tr., Day 3, 69:3-13.)

14. On August 14, 2004, Sgt. Kelly was driving a marked City of Oakland police patrol car. (Trial Tr., Day 3, 14-16.)

15. Sgt. Kelly was also in the area trying to apprehend the auto thief suspect, although not as part of CRT. (Trial Tr., Day 3, 91:14-22.)

B. Details of the August 10, 2004 Incident

16. During his shift on the night of August 10, 2004, Plaintiff became aware that Mr. Fowler had left the facility unaccompanied, and he attempted to retrieve him. (Trial Tr., Day 3, 126:13-21; Trial Tr., Day 1, 52:13-14.)

17. Mr. Fowler was not authorized to leave the building that night. Anthony Hodges, owner of the Hodges Residential Facility, testified that he directed Plaintiff to follow Mr. Fowler and direct traffic so that he would not get hit by a car. (Trial Tr., Day 3, 209:18-210:15.)

18. Shortly after leaving the facility, Plaintiff found Mr. Fowler running in and out of the street, ignoring traffic. (Trial Tr., Day 3, 127:11-15.) Concerned for Mr. Fowler's safety, Plaintiff used his cell phone to dial "911" and contact the OPD dispatch to request police assistance. (Trial Tr., Day 3, 127:9-15.)

19. While on the phone with OPD dispatch, Plaintiff followed Mr. Fowler eastbound on Suter Street, informing dispatch of his location and giving pertinent information concerning Mr. Fowler's whereabouts. (Trial Tr., Day 3, 127:19-128:7.) This conversation was recorded by OPD dispatch. (CD.)

20. The relevant portion of the recorded dispatch conversation begins approximately 3 minutes and 25 seconds after Plaintiff placed the 911 call. In the recording, the dispatcher can be heard asking Plaintiff for Mr. Fowler's location and whether or not Mr. Fowler is armed, and then attempting to find a patrol car to assist Plaintiff with Mr. Fowler. (CD.)

21. Approximately eleven minutes and twenty-five seconds into the recording, the dispatcher asks, "What's he doing now?" Plaintiff responds, "He's just sitting on the pavement." The dispatcher then asks if Mr. Fowler is making suicidal threats and Plaintiff responds, "Yes, he says he wants to kill himself." (CD.)

22. Approximately twelve minutes and thirty seconds into the recording, Plaintiff informs the dispatcher that he and Mr. Fowler are at the intersection of 38th Avenue and Suter Street. He then tells Mr. Fowler, "You can't go into the street, Mike," and informs Mr. Fowler that he (Plaintiff) has the right to stop him from harming himself. (CD.) 23. Plaintiff testified that he understood he was authorized to restrain a client if they were about to harm themselves, and that he had been given such authorization at Hodges. (Trial Tr., Day 3, 171:21-172:1.)

24. Approximately thirteen minutes into the recording, Plaintiff tells Mr. Fowler that he can walk all he wants, but he cannot go into the street. Mr. Fowler asks why he can't walk in the street, and tells Plaintiff to move out of the way. (CD.)

25. At approximately thirteen minutes and forty seconds, Mr. Fowler tells Plaintiff, "You can't block me. You can't block me...." Plaintiff responds, "Come on, Mike, we don't have to do this tonight," and offers to take Mr. Fowler to the store to get some water and a soda for his stomach. (CD.)

26. At approximately fourteen minutes and three seconds, the dispatcher tells Plaintiff not to hang up, that she's going to put him on hold for a second. She returns approximately eleven seconds later and asks where Plaintiff and Mr. Fowler are. Plaintiff responds that they are at Suter and 38th. (CD.)

27. The dispatcher again asks what Mr. Fowler is doing, and Plaintiff calmly responds that he is "on someone's garage door." (CD.)

28. At this point, Plaintiff saw Sgt. Kelly's marked patrol car approach. (Trial Tr., Day 3, 130:14-17.)

29. Plaintiff stepped out to the street to try to flag down Sgt. Kelly, at which time Mr. Fowler attempted to run around Plaintiff and get to the street. (Trial Tr., Day 3, 130:7-23; 131:7-21; 132:15-21.)

30. Sgt. Kelly testified that he was driving eastbound on Suter Street towards 38th Avenue, when he saw Plaintiff and Mr. Fowler in the vicinity of a home at that intersection. (Trial Tr., Day 3, 69:22-70:25.)

31. Prior to arriving on Suter, Sgt. Kelly heard a radio transmission from OPD Dispatch concerning a possible "5150" in the area.1 Sgt. Kelly testified that the only OPD report that he has ever seen referencing a possible 5150 subject...

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