Powell v. Staycoff, File No. 17-cv-03018 (ECT/SER)

CourtUnited States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court of Minnesota
Writing for the CourtEric C. Tostrud United States District Court
PartiesJohn Fitzgerald Powell, Plaintiff, v. Officer Robert Staycoff, Officer Tony Heifort, Officer Steve Vargas, Officer Steve Holt, and Sergeant John Kaczmarek, individually and in their official capacities; the City of Robbinsdale; and the City of Brooklyn Center, Defendants.
Decision Date19 June 2019
Docket NumberFile No. 17-cv-03018 (ECT/SER)

John Fitzgerald Powell, Plaintiff,
Officer Robert Staycoff, Officer Tony Heifort,
Officer Steve Vargas, Officer Steve Holt, and Sergeant John Kaczmarek,
individually and in their official capacities;
the City of Robbinsdale; and
the City of Brooklyn Center, Defendants.

File No. 17-cv-03018 (ECT/SER)


June 19, 2019


Kenneth U. Udoibok, Kenneth Ubong Udoibok, P.A., Minneapolis, MN, for Plaintiff John Fitzgerald Powell.

Andrew A. Wolf and Jason M. Hiveley, Iverson Reuvers Condon, Bloomington, MN, for Defendants Robert Staycoff, Tony Heifort, Steve Vargas, John Kaczmarek, and the City of Robbinsdale.

Daniel P. Kurtz and Ryan M. Zipf, League of Minnesota Cities, St. Paul, MN, for Defendants Steve Holt and the City of Brooklyn Center.

Plaintiff John Fitzgerald Powell asserts several claims against five police officers and the two cities that employed them, including claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The police-officer defendants subjected Powell to an investigatory Terry stop as part of their search for a reported "man with a gun" near the North Memorial Hospital campus in Robbinsdale. The stop occurred on July 18, 2015, just after midnight and in the midst of a strong thunderstorm. The officers believed Powell might be the "man with a gun" because,

Page 2

among other reasons, Powell initiated the confrontation with them and remained combative and agitated throughout the stop. During the stop, officers drew their firearms, forced Powell to lie face down in the street, handcuffed him, and transported him to a hospital entrance where, at the direction of a medical doctor but while Powell remained in the back of a squad car, a paramedic injected Powell with the anesthetic ketamine without Powell's consent. Ultimately, Powell was cleared as a suspect and was not criminally charged for his conduct. Powell alleges that the officers violated his First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. He also brings a conspiracy claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1985 and claims for negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and intentional infliction of emotional distress under Minnesota law. Defendants seek summary judgment on qualified-immunity and official-immunity grounds. Those motions will be granted.


The background facts leading up to the interaction between Powell and the officers are undisputed. On July 17, 2015, just before midnight, nurse Katie Woods saw a man slumped over in his car inside a parking ramp at North Memorial. Wolf Aff. Ex. 1 ("Woods Statement") [ECF No. 60-1]. Because the man was unresponsive, Woods feared he was not alive; she went back inside the hospital to call security and to get help. Id. She returned to the man's vehicle with another North Memorial nurse, Carolyn Griggs. Id. The man awoke, and both women saw that he had a gun in his hands between his legs. Id. Griggs feared the man would kill himself, so she asked him for the gun. Wolf Aff. Ex. 2 ("Griggs Statement") [ECF No. 60-2]. Instead, the man began to load the gun and turn it toward her. Id. Woods and Griggs then ran inside to call 911. Id.

Page 3

It is now clear that the "man with a gun" was not Powell. At the time, though, relatively little information about the man was communicated to law enforcement. At approximately 11:59 p.m., police received a 911 call from Woods regarding a weapons threat at North Memorial Hospital. Wolf Aff. Ex. 4 ("CAD") at 1 [ECF No. 60-4].1 The dispatch call went out to five agencies that share a dispatch system, including the Cities of Brooklyn Center and Robbinsdale. Wolf Aff. Ex. 8 ("Holt Dep.") at 23 [ECF No. 60-8].2 At 12:01 a.m., dispatch stated that there was "no desc[ription] on male or gun." CAD at 2. Thirty seconds later, dispatch updated officers that the male was "possibly Hispanic." Id. Initially, dispatch stated only that the car was a "blue compact 4 door." Id. at 1. Ten minutes later, dispatch updated the officers that there was a "lone male with purple or blue sedan." Id. at 3.

Within twenty minutes of the 911 call, the five officers named as defendants in this case responded to dispatch that they were en route. Id. at 2-4. Officer Steve Holt was with the City of Brooklyn Center ("Brooklyn Center Defendants") and Officers Robert Staycoff,

Page 4

Tony Heifort, Steve Vargas, and Sergeant John Kaczmarek were with the City of Robbinsdale ("Robbinsdale Defendants"). They, along with other officers from several law enforcement agencies, searched North Memorial's two parking ramps but could not locate the suspect. See id.

Meanwhile, a large crowd was gathering at the North Memorial emergency-room entrance and lobby. See id. at 5. Around 12:32 a.m., North Memorial security requested police assistance with crowd control. Id. Plaintiff Powell was part of this crowd. Wolf Aff. Ex. 3 ("Powell Dep.") at 13 [ECF No. 60-3]. He had been at the hospital visiting a family member who had been shot. Id. After officers told the crowd to disperse, Powell left to retrieve his car. Id. at 14.

Around that same time, just before 12:40 a.m., two officers, Heifort and Holt, parked on the street behind the hospital near where Powell's car was parked. See CAD at 5. Heifort and Holt were "clearing cars" parked on Lowry Avenue, which is adjacent to a parking ramp that had been cleared already. Holt Dep. at 30-31; Wolf Aff. Ex. 9 ("Heifort Dep.") at 18-19 [ECF No. 60-9]; Brooklyn Center Defs.' Mem. in Supp. ("B.C. Mem. in Supp.") at 4 [ECF No. 67] (describing the area as "the last place to be cleared"); Robbinsdale Defs.' Mem. in Supp. ("R. Mem. in Supp.") at 6 [ECF No. 63] (same). Both officers had their firearms unholstered "based on the high level of threat" presented by a suspect with a gun. Holt. Dep. at 36; see also Heifort Dep. at 24. And it is here where Defendants' interaction with Powell would begin. To avoid repetition, a detailed description of the facts will occur in conjunction with the analysis of each of Powell's claims for relief.

Page 5


Summary judgment is warranted "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A fact is "material" only if its resolution might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute over a fact is "genuine" only if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. "The evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Id. at 255 (citation omitted). "There is, however, an added wrinkle in this case: existence in the record of a videotape capturing the events in question." Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007). The facts will be viewed in the light depicted by the videotape, setting aside versions of the facts that are "blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it." Id. at 380; see, e.g., Ransom v. Grisafe, 790 F.3d 804, 807 (8th Cir. 2015).


Powell brings several § 1983 claims against the five individual defendant police officers. His operative complaint states that he brings claims for "First, Fourth, [and] Fourteenth Amendment Violations," as well as "False Arrest, Detention, Assault, Battery and Use of Excessive Force." Am. Compl. ¶¶ 40-48 [ECF No. 33]. But to be clear, his § 1983 claims are limited to violations of the United States Constitution and do not encompass any alleged violations of Minnesota state law (assault, battery, and any Minnesota Constitution provisions against false arrest, detention, and excessive force). See

Page 6

Wax 'n Works v. City of St. Paul, 213 F.3d 1016, 1019 (8th Cir. 2000); see also Guite v. Wright, 976 F. Supp. 866, 871 (D. Minn. 1997) ("[T]here is no private cause of action for violations of the Minnesota Constitution."), aff'd on other grounds, 147 F.3d 747 (8th Cir. 1998).

Powell's amended complaint and summary-judgment brief do not clearly identify his theories of which actions by which officers violated which of his federal constitutional rights.3 (While this is more understandable at the time of pleading, it is less so at the summary-judgment stage, when the record is so fully developed.) But the Court has, to the best of its ability, parsed out alleged § 1983 violations based on the specific constitutional right at issue, the specific police conduct at issue, and the specific police officer involved. See Handt v. Lynch, 681 F.3d 939, 941, 944-45 (8th Cir. 2012) (remanding for "the district court to engage in a full qualified immunity analysis" because the district court had previously "failed . . . to undertake the qualified immunity analysis as to each of the constitutional claims" and did not consider "the individual defendants' actions with respect to each of the constitutional claims"). Here, it makes sense to analyze Powell's § 1983 claims temporally: (1) those relating to the initial stop (Fourth Amendment); (2) those arising out of his continued detention for a show-up (Fourth Amendment); (3) those stemming from his involuntary injection with ketamine (Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments); and (4) those based on alleged retaliation for his verbal complaints (First Amendment).

Page 7

Defendants assert that they are entitled to qualified immunity on all of Powell's claims. In determining whether the individual officers have qualified immunity, the Court asks: "(1) whether the facts shown by the plaintiff make out a violation of a constitutional . . . right, and (2) whether that right was clearly established at the time of the defendant's alleged misconduct." Brown v. City of Golden Valley, 574 F.3d 491, 496 (8th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted). Courts, in their sound discretion, may consider the questions in either order. Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236 (2009). As the party asserting immunity, Defendants have the...

To continue reading

Request your trial

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