Robinson v. Cnty. of Shasta

Decision Date01 May 2019
Docket NumberNo. 2:14-cv-02910-KJM-KJN,2:14-cv-02910-KJM-KJN
Citation384 F.Supp.3d 1137
Parties Katherine ROBINSON, and William Robinson; Plaintiffs, v. COUNTY OF SHASTA, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of California

Larry L. Baumbach, Law Offices of Larry L. Baumbach, Chico, CA, for Plaintiffs.

Gary Charles Brickwood, Brickwood Law Office, Redding, CA, for Defendants.

ORDER

Kimberly J. Mueller, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Matthew Robinson died after a violent police encounter in July 2014.2 Matthew's parents sue the City of Redding, the Redding Police Chief and Redding Police officers M. Woods, A. Hollemon, T. Renault and C. Smyrnos, alleging defendants violated their son's civil rights.3 Defendants move for summary judgment. Mot., ECF No. 66. Plaintiffs oppose, Opp'n, ECF No. 76, and defendants filed a reply, Reply, ECF No. 77. The court heard the motion on September 8, 2017. ECF No. 78. As explained below, after careful consideration in this difficult case, the court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part defendants' summary judgment motion.

I. BACKGROUND
A. Factual Disputes and Evidentiary Objections

Unless stated otherwise, the following facts are undisputed. Statement of Facts ("SUF"), ECF No. 66-1. Although plaintiffs have filed a separate statement of undisputed facts ("PF"), ECF No. 76-1, to maximize clarity the court cites to defendants' statement of facts, but references plaintiffs' responses when noting a genuine factual dispute. See Pls.' Response, ECF No. 76-2. Where genuine disputes exist, the court draws reasonable inferences in plaintiffs' favor. Tolan v. Cotton , 572 U.S. 650, 134 S. Ct. 1861, 1868, 188 L.Ed.2d 895 (2014).

B. Factual Background

In July 2014, Matthew Robinson experienced mental health issues that led to a violent encounter with Redding police officers. Matthew died one week later.

1. Matthew's Transfer to a Locked Facility

On July 19, 2014, Merit Medi-Trans driver Darren Schneider picked up 33-year-old Matthew from Enloe Hospital in Chico, California to take him to Restpadd Hospital, a locked mental health facility in Redding, California. SUF 1. Matthew was transported to Restpadd under California Welfare & Institutions Code § 5150, with " section 5150 patients" referring to individuals who are involuntary committed based on their mental health status. SUF 1; see also Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 5150(a) (authorizing temporary commitment "[w]hen a person, as a result of a mental health disorder, is a danger to others, or to himself or herself, or gravely disabled"). Schneider transported Matthew in a converted police car with a metal cage separating the backseat from the front. SUF 3.

Matthew was calm for the first part of the drive. Schneider Dep., Defs.' Ex. A(1), ECF No. 67, 41:2-7; Schneider Report, Pls.' Ex. 1, ECF No. 76-3,4 at 5. As Schneider neared Restpadd, Matthew became vocal and restless, telling Schneider to slow down because people were after them. SUF 7. Matthew was agitated when he and Schneider arrived a Restpadd, so rather than try to get Matthew into the facility himself, Schneider rang Restpadd's buzzer for assistance. SUF 9-10. Two Restpadd employees came to the car, unsuccessfully attempted to calm Matthew by speaking to him through the car's window, then refused to accept Matthew because of his agitated state. SUF 10-11. A Restpadd employee told Schneider that Matthew needed to sit unrestrained and cooperative for several hours before Restpadd would allow him to enter the facility. SUF 11. Matthew had taken his shirt off, smashed a light fixture in the car, torn a pillow apart, punched and kicked the cage between him and Schneider, and hit his seat belt against the back passenger's window. SUF 8.

2. Contacting Redding Police

Unable to deliver Matthew to Restpadd, Schneider called a crisis worker at Butte County Mental Health, who advised Schneider to call the Redding police to take Matthew to a hospital. SUF 12. Schneider called the Redding police and explained he had a Butte County § 5150 patient that Restpadd had refused and he had been told to call the police to pick up Matthew and take him to a hospital to be medicated or calmed down. SUF 15. Officer Woods responded to the call. SUF 16. Schneider told Woods that Matthew had broken a plastic light that could possibly use to hurt himself or others. SUF 16; Pls.' Resp. to SUF 16; Schneider Incident Report,5 ECF No. 67 at 160-202, at 190 (indicating he "wasn't terribly worried about [Matthew hurting himself] cause [sic] it was a piece of plastic").

Schneider testified that before other officers arrived, Woods appeared agitated and told Schneider this was "a Bunch of Butte County bullshit being dumped in our lap." Schneider Dep. 86:4-10; Schneider Report at 7;6 Woods Dep., Defs.' Ex. A(2), ECF No. 67-1, 78:6-22 (stating he does not remember making this statement but does not deny making it); see also Woods Dep. 139:9-22 (admitting he made statement indicating there was "patient dumping" in Redding and "they got this guy [referring to Matthew] that's a nut and they're just going to let him go and now we're going to have to deal with him"); Brindley Dep., Defs.' Ex. A(4), ECF No. 67-3, 22:14-21 ("[W]e had been called to [Restpadd's] facility in my mind more often than we should since they have a mental health facility, and I was frustrated that we were at their facility again, and my officers were put in a position where they had to struggle with somebody. And my perception at the time was that they were not doing enough to take care of their patients.").

Woods heard Matthew "banging around" in the back of Schneider's car. SUF 18. Woods leaned through the front passenger window of Schneider's car and told Matthew "to calm down or [Woods] was gonna bring a bunch of police officers over" to "kick [Matthew's] fucking ass." SUF 18-20; Woods Dep. 140:5-22 (admitting he made this statement), Schneider Dep. 83:7-84:9 (confirming he reviewed video capturing Woods telling Matthew words to the effect, "knock it off or I'm going to get a bunch of officers here and beat your ass," though he had not overheard that interaction on the scene). Matthew stopped "banging around." SUF 21.

Officer Hollemon arrived after Woods. SUF 22. Woods and Hollemon approached Schneider's car and Matthew again became agitated, at which point Woods showed Matthew his can of pepper spray and threatened to use it if Matthew did not calm down. SUF 24. Matthew responded by complying with the officers' commands to put his hands on his head and get out of the car. SUF 25. Woods and Hollemon each grabbed one of Matthew's wrists as he stepped out. SUF 26. Schneider indicated that Matthew did not appear to have the plastic from the broken light when he exited the car, as his hands were on his head and he had taken his pants off. Schneider Incident Report at 190. Matthew was initially cooperative, but as Woods started putting his pepper spray canister away, Matthew freed one of his hands. SUF 27. There is a factual dispute as to what happened next. Compare SUF 27 (citing Woods' deposition), with Pls.' Response to SUF 27 (citing Hollemon's deposition). Woods testified that Matthew freed his hand, pulled away from Hollemon, punched Hollemon in the face or upper body and began to lunge away from the car. Woods Dep. 96:12-18, 97:4-14, 98:9-13. Hollemon testified that Matthew broke from Woods' grip, used his free hand to slap Hollemon's elbow with an open hand, hard enough that Hollemon felt the impact but not hard enough to injure or move him, and Hollemon maintained his grip on Matthew until Woods placed him in a bear hug. Hollemon Dep., Defs.' Ex. A(3), ECF No. 67-2, 65:10-66:12, 78:16-79:13.

3. Use of Force

Seconds after Matthew slapped Hollemon, Woods put Matthew in a "bear hug[ ]" or "tackled him essentially," with Woods' chest to Matthew's back and Woods' arms around Matthew's upper arms; Woods and Matthew then went to the ground, with Woods landing on his back and Matthew restrained on top of him. SUF 28; Woods Dep. 98:10-16, 99:25-102:18. What happened next is contested. Woods testified he could "feel [Matthew] pulling on [his holstered gun]" as Matthew lay on top of him. SUF 29; Woods Dep. 107:4-19. Schneider testified he never saw Matthew reach for Woods' gun. Schneider Dep. 122:2-4. Hollemon testified he never saw Matthew's hands free or near Woods' gun, and "it would have been difficult for [Matthew to attempt to strike Woods] ... due to the fact that Woods had [Matthew's] upper arms in a bear hug." Hollemon Dep. 82:16-25, 102:25-103:5; see also Pls.' Resp. to SUF 29 (arguing "No disclosure has been made of any fingerprints or DNA evidence on Woods [sic] gun indicating Matthew had contact with it" and "Woods [sic] gun was on his right side and Matthew is left handed"). Woods then struck Matthew in the face three to five times "as hard and as [he] could" with his pepper spray canister. Woods Dep. 104:20-105:7; SUF 30 (describing Woods' strikes as "distraction strike[s]"). As Matthew put his hand to his face, Woods rolled out from underneath Matthew and pinned him to the ground by lying on top of him while Hollemon held Matthew's legs. SUF 31. As Woods called for backup, Matthew screamed and pushed against the ground. SUF 32.

When Officers Smyrnos and Renault arrived as backup, Woods, Hollemon, Smyrnos and Renault handcuffed Matthew's hands behind his back. SUF 33; Hollemon Dep. 56:19-22. Woods returned to his car. See SUF 34. Matthew continued to resist officers' attempts to restrain him. SUF 37. Those attempts included Hollemon trying to hold Matthew's legs in various positions with his hands and his expandable baton as Matthew tried to push Hollemon away with his legs, sometimes face down, sometimes on his side. SUF 37-38; Hollemon Dep. 57:6-17, 58:13-59:13. Another officer relieved Hollemon after eight minutes of attempting to restrain Matthew. SUF 39.

During this struggle, as Matthew yelled and screamed, Smyrnos noticed blood and saliva projecting from Matthew's...

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