Sommers v. City of Santa Clara

Citation516 F.Supp.3d 967
Decision Date01 February 2021
Docket NumberCase No. 17-cv-04469-BLF
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of California
Parties Amanda SOMMERS, et al., Plaintiffs, v. CITY OF SANTA CLARA, et al., Defendants.

Matthew Daniel Haley, Haley Law Offices, Fulvio Francisco Cajina, Law Office of Fulvio F. Cajina, Oakland, CA, for Plaintiffs.

Jon Allen Heaberlin, Rankin | Stock | Heaberlin | Oneal, San Jose, CA, for Defendants.


[Re: ECF 41]

BETH LABSON FREEMAN, United States District Judge On March 9, 2017, 24-year-old Jesus Geney Montes, who was unarmed, was shot and killed by Defendant police officer Colin Stewart. Out of this tragedy comes this litigation. Plaintiffs Amanda Sommers and Richard Sommers, Mr. Geney Montes's mother and stepfather, respectively, are suing Officer Stewart and the City of Santa Clara ("the City") for using excessive and unreasonable force against their son, who was in the throes of a mental health breakdown, and for acting with deliberate indifference to Mr. Geney Montes's constitutional rights. Mr. and Ms. Sommers also bring claims under California state law and accuse Defendants of discriminating against Mr. Geney Montes on the basis of a mental health disability.

Defendants have brought a summary judgment motion seeking the dismissal of all claims and assert a defense of qualified immunity for Defendant Stewart on the excessive force claim. See Mot., ECF 41. Mr. and Ms. Sommers oppose this motion. See Opp'n, ECF 51-1. After considering the parties’ briefing and oral arguments at the January 7, 2021 hearing, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART Defendantsmotion for summary judgment.


Mr. Geney Montes was born on July 20, 1992, in Colombia. Decl. of Amanda Sommers ("Sommers Decl.") ¶ 1, ECF 44-1. He moved to Santa Clara with his mother in 2005. Id. After arriving in the United States, Ms. Sommers met and married her husband, Mr. Sommers. Id. ¶ 2. The three of them lived together in an apartment in the City. Id. Mr. Geney Montes had no contact with his biological father, so Mr. Sommers was the only farther he knew. Id.

Mr. Geney Montes initially transitioned well to the United States. Sommers Decl. ¶ 3. However, beginning in his late teens, his mother noticed a change in him. Id. ¶ 4. He was treated for anxiety when he was 21, but his condition did not approve. Id. Between 2016 and 2017, Mr. Geney Montes began suffering from paranoia, believing that third parties were actively trying to harm him. Id. At the end of his life, he would go days without sleeping. Id. Since Mr. Geney Montes was legally an adult, his mother could not get information about his condition from his doctors. Id.

In February 2017, Ms. Sommers planned to take her son to Colombia for mental health treatment. Sommers Decl. ¶ 5. They flew from California to Houston, but while in Houston waiting for their connecting flight, Mr. Geney Montes began to panic. Id. ¶ 6. Ms. Sommers and Mr. Geney Montes returned to California. Id. When they arrived in San Francisco, Mr. Geney Montes began to act erratically. Id. ¶ 6. Ms. Sommers and a friend drove Mr. Geney Montes to the Santa Clara Police Department, where officers determined Mr. Geney Montes was suffering from a mental breakdown. Id. The officers placed him on a 5150 hold and took Mr. Geney Montes to Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. Id. Mr. Geney Montes was involuntarily admitted for a psychiatric assessment but was released shortly thereafter. Id.

Leading up to Mr. Geney Montes's final day on March 9, 2017, he was not sleeping. Sommers Decl. ¶ 7. On the morning of March 9, Mr. Geney Montes refused to come out of his room to eat breakfast. Id. Ms. Sommers grew concerned called the Santa Clara police. Id.

A. First Call

Ms. Sommers called the Santa Clara police through 911 around approximately 8:05 a.m. Decl. of Jake Malae ("Malae Decl.") ¶ 3, ECF 41-4. She reported that her son had not slept in four days and needed to see a psychologist. Id. Officers went to the residence but did not see Mr. Geney Montes because he would not leave his bedroom. Id. The officers determined they did not have cause to force entry and left shortly after their arrival. Malae Decl. ¶ 3; Sommers Dec. ¶ 10. Ms. Sommers maintains that she had a document from Santa Clara Valley Medical Center stating that Mr. Geney Montes suffered from a disorder. Sommers Dec. ¶ 9. According to her, she showed this document to at least one of the officers that came to the house. Id.

B. Second Call

At approximately 9:28 a.m., Ms. Sommers called the Santa Clara police again. Malae Decl. ¶ 4. She feared that Mr. Geney Montes was suicidal. Sommers Decl. ¶ 11. Mrs. Sommers told the police that Mr. Geney Montes was threatening to choke himself with his hands. Sommers Decl. ¶ 11; Malae Decl. ¶ 4. Ms. Sommers also reported that her son was calling her the devil. Sommers Decl. ¶ 11; Malae Decl. ¶ 4. The police spoke to Mr. Geney Montes through his bedroom door, but he yelled at them to not enter the room. Malae Decl. ¶ 5. The supervising officer on the scene decided they would not be forcing entry into the room because he was not committing a crime. Id. One crisis-intervention trained officer spoke with Mr. Geney Montes, and Mr. Geney Montes told him that he did not want to hurt himself or anyone else and wanted to be left alone. Malae Decl. ¶ 6. The officers left the residence again.

C. Third Call

At approximately 1:58 p.m., Ms. Sommers called the Santa Clara police for a third time. Malae Decl. ¶ 7; Sommers Decl. ¶ 12. Ms. Sommers reported that Mr. Geney Montes had told her that he had a knife and was going to kill himself. Sommers Decl. ¶ 12. None of the officers entered the residence on this trip. Malae Decl. ¶ 7. The same crisis-intervention trained officer spoke with Mr. Geney Montes via telephone. Malae Decl. ¶ 7. Mr. Geney Montes denied telling his mother that he was going to kill himself, and he told the officer he did not presently feel that way. Malae Decl. ¶ 7. Mr. Geney Montes also adamantly refused to come out of his room. Id. One officer on the scene noted that Mr. Geney Montes was displaying symptoms of an individual going through a mental health crisis. Dep. of Mark Shimada 76:21-23, ECF 45. The police left, again. Malae Decl. ¶ 7.

D. Fourth Call

Ms. Sommers called the Santa Clara police for a fourth time that day. Sommers Decl. ¶ 13; Malae Decl. ¶ 8. The call was made at approximately 3:11 p.m. Malae Decl. ¶ 8. Ms. Sommers told dispatch that Mr. Geney Montes said he had a gun. Sommers Decl. ¶ 13; Malae Decl. ¶ 8. Approximately one hour earlier, Mr. Sommers had returned home and unsuccessfully attempted to open and gain entrance to Mr. Geney Montes's room. Sommers Decl. ¶ 13; Malae Decl. ¶ 8. Mr. Geney Montes had threatened Mr. Sommers with a knife, and Mr. Sommers had retreated without being injured. Sommers Decl. ¶ 13; Malae Decl. ¶ 8. Many police officers responded this time, and they closed the street and evacuated nearby apartments. Sommers Decl. ¶ 13; Malae Decl. ¶ 9. Mr. Sommers told Officer Jake Malae that he did not want Mr. Geney Montes arrested for any crime involving the knife or threatening him. Malae Decl. ¶ 8. According to Officer Malae, Mr. Geney Montes yelled threats and said he had a gun and would shoot any police officer if they made entry. Id.

The police spoke to Mr. Geney Montes for about an hour. Sommers Decl. ¶ 14; Malae Decl. ¶ 12. The police officers made the decision not to force a confrontation with Mr. Geney Montes and left the scene. Malae Decl. ¶ 12. As the officers were leaving, Mr. Geney Montes told Ms. Sommers that he had stabbed himself, and she communicated this to Officer Chris Pilger, who was still talking with Mr. Sommers outside the residence. Sommers Decl. ¶ 15; Dep. of Chris Pilger ("Pilger Dep.") 71:4-9, ECF 45. Officer Pilger, though, was told by another officer that the decision had been made to clear the call, so no officer went back inside to check on Mr. Geney Montes. Sommers Decl. ¶ 15; Pilger Dep. 72:1-17. Officer Pilger's report from this call notes that Mr. and Ms. Sommers "both know that Geney has mental health problems." Pilger Dep. 65:11-25.

E. Fifth Call

Ms. Sommers called the Santa Clara police one last time. Sommers Decl. ¶ 13. The parties agree that the call came shortly after the officers had left the scene—Ms. Sommers estimated she called 5-10 minutes after the officers had left. Sommers Decl. ¶ 13; Decl. of Colin Stewart ("Stewart Decl.") ¶ 8, ECF 41-2. Ms. Sommers reported that Mr. Geney Montes had stabbed himself in the chest, climbed out the bedroom window, and run away with the knife. Sommers Decl. ¶ 16; Stewart Decl. ¶ 8. The police found Mr. Geney Montes outside nearby, standing on top of a 10-to-15-foot cement retaining wall. Stewart Decl. ¶ 9. The wall was situated on a hill on the west side of the Scott Boulevard overpass. Id. At the bottom of the hill was a dirt pathway. Id. The path dead-ended at the Caltrain railroad track right-of-way. Id. Barbed wire prevented anyone from entering the tracks. Dep. of Nick Nguyen ("Nguyen Dep.") 112:3-9, ECF 45. Dense, overgrown shrubs and foliage also limited a person's ability to stray from the path. Id. 112:13-22. In front of the pathway was a chain-link fence, with vertical wooden slats threaded into the fence. Stewart Decl. ¶¶ 9, 11 The chain-link fence was between the police and Mr. Geney Montes. Id. The chain-link fence transitioned into a concrete wall as it approached the CalTrain area. Id. ¶ 9.

Defendant Stewart was wearing a body-worn camera ("BodyCam"), and he turned it on as he and the other officers found Mr. Geney Montes standing on the concrete retaining wall. Stewart Decl. ¶ 10; Ex. A BodyCam recording, ECF 41-3. Mr. Geney Montes, standing on the wall, was approximately 10 feet above the officers, and Defendant Stewart estimates that he was approximately 25 feet away from Mr. Geney Montes. Stewart Decl. ¶ 11. Mr....

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