Raguindin v. Yates, Civil Action No. 15-cv-00635-CMA-KLM

CourtUnited States District Courts. 10th Circuit. United States District Court of Colorado
Writing for the CourtENTERED BY MAGISTRATE JUDGE KRISTEN L. MIX
PartiesJOEL RAGUINDIN, and JENNA FOX, Plaintiffs, v. MICHAEL YATES, individually, JASON PHIPPS, individually, MIKE PARKOS, individually, PATRICK HAUGSE, individually, CHIEF OF POLICE RICK BRANDT, in his official capacity, WELD COUNTY SHERIFF STEVEN REAMS, individually and in his official capacity, and PAUL WOOD, individually, Defendants.
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 15-cv-00635-CMA-KLM
Decision Date29 February 2016

JOEL RAGUINDIN, and JENNA FOX, Plaintiffs,
v.
MICHAEL YATES, individually, JASON PHIPPS, individually,
MIKE PARKOS, individually, PATRICK HAUGSE, individually,
CHIEF OF POLICE RICK BRANDT, in his official capacity,
WELD COUNTY SHERIFF STEVEN REAMS, individually and in his official capacity, and
PAUL WOOD, individually, Defendants.

Civil Action No. 15-cv-00635-CMA-KLM

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLORADO

February 29, 2016


ORDER AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

ENTERED BY MAGISTRATE JUDGE KRISTEN L. MIX

This matter is before the Court on the Motion to Dismiss by the City of Evans Defendants1 [#32]2 (the "Evans Motion") and the Motion to Dismiss Asserting Qualified Immunity [#44] (the "Weld Motion" and collectively with the Evans Motion, the "Motions"))3 filed by Defendants Steven Reams and Paul Wood (collectively the "Weld Defendants").

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Plaintiffs filed a response in opposition to the Evans Motion [#43] (the "Evans Response") and a response in opposition to the Weld Motion [#55] (the "Weld Response" and collectively with the Evans Response, the "Responses"). The Evans Defendants filed a reply in further support of their motion [#46] (the "Evans Reply") and the Weld Defendants filed a reply in further support of their motion [#64] (the "Weld Reply" and collectively with the Evans Reply, the "Replies"). The Motions are thus ripe for review. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and D.C.COLO.LCivR 72.1(c)(3), the Motions are referred to the undersigned for recommendation regarding disposition [##33, 47]. Having reviewed the entire case file and being sufficiently advised, the Court RECOMMENDS that the Motions [##32, 44] be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part as discussed below.

I. Summary of the Case

A. Allegations

Plaintiffs assert constitutional and tort claims against Defendants relating to the alleged murder of Ashley Fallis by her husband, Tom Fallis. See generally Second Am. Compl. [#22]. Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants, employees of the Evans Police Department and the Weld County Sheriff's Department, covered-up the alleged murder of Ms. Fallis, their daughter, which led the Weld County Coroner's office to deem the death a suicide. Id. ¶¶ 4-5, 23. Plaintiffs seek compensatory damages, consequential damages, special damages, actual damages, punitive damages, interest, and attorneys' fees and costs. Id. at 38.

Defendants Yates, Phipps, Parkos, Haugse, and Wood are each sued in their individual capacities. Id. ¶¶ 24-27, 30. Defendant Brandt is sued in his official capacity as

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the Chief of Police of the Evans Police Department. Id. ¶ 28. Defendant Reams is sued both individually and in his official capacity as Sheriff of Weld County. Id. ¶ 29.

Plaintiffs explain that because they "lack access to documents which are in the exclusive control of Defendants" and their respective employers,"individual Defendants' exact actions cannot yet be more precisely identified by Plaintiffs prior to discovery . . . ." Id. ¶ 31. As a result, Plaintiffs offer the following facts4 as they understand them and make allegations as to all Defendants. Id.

On January 1, 2012, Ashley Fallis died from a gunshot wound to the head. Id. ¶ 2. On January 6, 2012, her death was pronounced a suicide by the Weld County Coroner's office. Id. ¶ 5. At all relevant times, "there was substantial evidence that Ashley Fallis was shot and killed by her husband, Tom Fallis." Id. ¶ 3. On March 1, 2012, Chief Brandt "formally closed the investigation and officially ratified the designation that Ms. Fallis' death was a suicide." Id. ¶ 135. Plaintiffs "repeatedly asked the Evans Police Department to not close the investigation, stating that they believed their suicide conclusion was premature." Id. ¶ 136.

After Ashley Fallis was shot,

[t]op-level officials including Sheriff Steven Reams, former Sheriff John Cooke and Commander/Sergeant Paul Wood and Jeff Rodriguez along with Deputies Chris Graves, Brian Spencer and Andrea Rusch, and/or other John Doe or Jane Doe persons from the Weld County Sheriff's Department

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became immediately involved with the Evans investigation following Ashley Fallis' death, visited the crime scene, participated in the early review of the same, and/or were jointly involved with obstruction including the suppression or destruction of evidence, including original evidence of the confession of Tom Fallis and/or with multiple instructions or case related actions on and after the day of the shooting.

Id. ¶ 69. Plaintiffs discuss the investigation conducted by a news reporter, Justin Joseph, regarding Ms. Fallis' death and maintain that

until the aforementioned reporting in April 2014, and with respect to the Weld County related Defendants until April 2015, Plaintiffs had no way of knowing that the suicide designation was the result of a corrupt investigation that was intentionally incomplete and based on what was internally known to the involved Defendants to be a highly inaccurate version of the key facts about the incident, which these individual Defendants and others fraudulently concealed from Plaintiffs and the public, making the doctrines of equitable tolling and fraudulent concealment applicable to the accrual and filing of these claims.

Id. ¶ 137.

Plaintiffs offer specific allegations as to each Defendant, which the Court discusses as part of its analysis of Plaintiffs' claims. As the Evans Defendants succinctly put it: "[t]he parties do not materially disagree on the allegations, to wit, Plaintiffs generally allege that the Evans officers covered up the fact that Plaintiffs' daughter did not commit suicide but, rather, that her husband allegedly murdered her." Evans Reply [#46] at 1. However, some examples of Plaintiffs' allegations are included below to help explain the level of involvement Plaintiffs allege on the part of Defendants with regard to the alleged cover-up of what they maintain was the murder of Ms. Fallis by her husband.5

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Defendant Paul Wood, acting, on information and belief, at the instruction of Sheriff Reams who was supervising, gave multiple orders at the scene to Weld County deputies, including justice obstructing orders not to write reports regarding what they saw, heard or learned and when to leave the residence.

. . .

A neighbor and witness, Nick Glover, was interviewed by Officer Yates and told him that he overheard Tom Fallis confess to his parents that he murdered his wife, as reported by Fox31 News in April 2014.

Nick Glover reportedly told Defendant Yates that he distinctly heard him say, "I shot her."

More specifically, during his interview with Officer Yates, shared, on information and belief, with the other individual defendants, Mr. Glover reported that he heard the following incriminating exchange immediately after the shooting between Mr. Fallis and his parents that Officer Yates is believed to have written down:
• Mr. Fallis: "Oh my God, I can't believe I did it. Oh my God, what have I done. What have I done."
• Mr. Fallis' parents: "What. What are you saying."
• Mr. Fallis: "I shot her."

Outrageously, Officer Yates and/or other involved Defendants or Evans police officers consciously decided to not include this highly incriminating confession witnessed by Mr. Glover or that a confession by Tom Fallis was also heard by other officers in their official reports.

Officer Yates, on information and belief, supported and/or supervised by the other individual defendants, additionally altered/destroyed another witness's original reporting of the shooting, changing her report from a highly incriminating account into a manufactured suicide account.

Thus, Mr. Glover's mother, Kathy Glover, reported to Officer Yates that she received a phone call from neighbor Chelsea Arrigo immediately after the shooting.

She reported that Ms. Arrigo told her: "Call police, your neighbor just shot his wife." (Emphasis supplied).

Officer Yates, on information and belief, with the knowledge or support of the other individual defendants, however, deliberately altered and/ or destroyed this phone conversation in his official report, falsely characterizing Ms. Arrigo's original statement to Ms. Glover as: "[P]lease tell me you called the cops . . . your neighbor just shot herself." (Emphasis Supplied).

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Upon learning that their accounts had been altered, Nick Glover and Kathy Glover reportedly prepared sworn affidavits describing their original accounts to the police, and have also stated that they were shocked to learn of the omissions and misstatements in the police reports that were prepared.

When confronted about his conduct as described by these witnesses, Defendant Yates reportedly did not deny the claims and referred the reporter to Chief Brandt.

. . .

Weld County Deputy Sheriff, Chris Graves, was "instructed" by Evans police to watch Tom Fallis at the scene.

While doing so, Deputy Graves heard Tom Fallis confess to killing his wife.

Several law enforcement officers were also then present in a position to hear Tom Fallis so state and confess.

On information and belief, the Evans Police Department related Defendants or some of them and/or other Evans police officers also heard and/or were otherwise aware of this confession by Tom Fallis but, as afore alleged, did not include it in any of their reports or arrest and charge Tom Fallis.

Defendant Commander Wood, acting, on information and belief, at the instruction of Defendant Sheriff Reams, told multiple deputies responding to the scene, including Chris Graves and Andrea Rusch directly and/or in response to inquiries, that they were not to write reports concerning this matter.

Recently to further divert from his own liability, Defendant Reams has falsely stated that the explanation for no reports was not these outrageous command instructions but rather resides "in the power of laziness" by the former deputy.

On information and belief, Defendant Wood and Defendant Reams, in taking these and related actions together
...

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