Sweet v. City of Mesa

Decision Date04 February 2022
Docket NumberCV-17-00152-PHX-GMS
PartiesLaney Sweet, Plaintiff, v. City of Mesa, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Arizona

Laney Sweet, Plaintiff,
v.

City of Mesa, et al., Defendants.

No. CV-17-00152-PHX-GMS

United States District Court, D. Arizona

February 4, 2022


AMENDED ORDER

(Page 37, Judgment (sic) in Line 14; Page 38, Judgment (sic) in Line 3)

G. Murray Snow, Chief United States District Judge.

Pending before the Court are multiple Motions for Summary Judgment against Plaintiff Laney Sweet, on behalf of E.S., N.S., and the Estate of Daniel Shaver (“Plaintiff”). (Docs. 265, 271, 379.) Defendants City of Mesa, Bryan Cochran, Christopher Doane, Brian Elmore, and Richard Gomez (“the Mesa Defendants”) seek summary judgment on all remaining claims. (Doc. 265.) Defendant Charles Langley also seeks summary judgment on all remaining claims. (Doc. 271.) Defendants Philip and Corrine Brailsford also move for summary judgment on Plaintiff's Section 1983 claim. (Doc. 379.) Finally, Plaintiff moves to strike several arguments raised in Defendant Brailsford's reply brief. (Doc. 416.) In a prior order, (Doc. 339, ) this Court granted in part and denied in part the Mesa Defendants' and Defendant Langley's motions for summary judgment, but deferred ruling on other claims until additional discovery was taken. With discovery having closed, the parties submitted supplemental briefing on the outstanding issues. (Docs. 376, 384, 386, 606, 636, 637, 638, 639, 640.) For the following reasons, the Court grants in part and denies in part the motions.

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BACKGROUND

On January 18, 2016, Daniel Shaver, a resident of Texas, was visiting Arizona and staying at a La Quinta Inn & Suites in Mesa. Mr. Shaver worked as a pest eradication specialist and was in Arizona on business.[1] Mr. Shaver's job required him to carry pellet rifles.

That evening, hotel employee Leticia Jimenez was approached by two hotel guests. They informed her that they could see an individual holding what they thought was a rifle with a scope “pointed out towards the window.” (Doc. 297 at ¶¶ 1, 2.) The guests identified a room on the fifth floor, which hotel staff determined was Room 502, where Mr. Shaver was staying. Ms. Jimenez indicated that she knew that Mr. Shaver was staying in that room. She asked Jeremy Johnson, a La Quinta employee, to call the police, and then went upstairs to investigate. Mr. Johnson placed a 911 call at 9:13 p.m., reporting that “somebody's pointing a rifle outside one of the windows in our building.” (Doc. 266-5 at 3); (Doc. 266-12 at 2.) He also relayed some information about Mr. Shaver to the police, including his approximate age and physical features.

When Ms. Jimenez arrived at Room 502, the door was open, and she could see Mr. Shaver standing in the room with two other individuals: Monique Portillo and Luis Nunez. (Doc. 297 at ¶¶ 16, 73.) She saw Mr. Nunez and Mr. Shaver holding a rifle. (Doc. 266-4 at 8.) Mr. Nunez was telling Mr. Shaver how to put a scope on the rifle. Id. Mr. Shaver walked towards Ms. Jimenez, and as he did so, closed his rifle's case with his foot. (Doc. 297-1 at 22.) When he came to the door, Ms. Jimenez asked Mr. Shaver whether he had enjoyed the dinner he had ordered to his room. She later testified that Mr. Shaver appeared confused as to why she was asking him this question. (Doc. 297 at 6-7.) Mr. Shaver told Ms. Jimenez that everything was fine and closed the door, and she went back downstairs.

By 9:18 p.m., several Mesa Police Department (“MPD”) officers arrived on the scene. These officers included Sergeant Charles Langley; and Officers Philip Brailsford,

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Christopher Doane, Richard Gomez, Brian Elmore, and Bryan Cochran. Officer Gomez spoke with Ms. Jimenez and learned that she had seen the rifle in the room. (Doc. 297-12 at 47.) He did not ask, however, about what, if anything, the individuals in the room were doing with the rifle. Id.

Sergeant Langley was the commanding officer at the scene. Without speaking to the La Quinta employees, Sergeant Langley directed the MPD team to move up to Mr. Shaver's room. Before heading upstairs, the police officers secured Mr. Shaver's vehicle and established a perimeter around the hotel-depriving Mr. Shaver of any flight path. Officers Brailsford, Gomez, Cochran, Doane, and Elmore were all part of the team that went upstairs. Officer Brailsford was armed with an AR-15 and tasked with providing lethal coverage. Officers Doane and Elmore both had their weapons drawn initially, but Officer Doane switched to a taser when Mr. Shaver exited the room.

Outside Room 502, Sergeant Langley announced the presence of the MPD team and ordered “the female” to step out into the hallway. (Doc. 266-21 at 8:15-17.) After receiving no response, he repeated his instructions. At this time, Officer Cochran suggested that MPD try calling Room 502 from the front desk. Sergeant Langley sent Officers Cochran and Gomez downstairs, and instructed Officer Gomez to return with a key card. Downstairs, Officer Cochran called Room 502 and told the occupants to exit the room into the hallway. Like Sergeant Langley, he informed the occupants of Room 502 that the female was to exit first, followed by Mr. Shaver. (Doc. 297 at ¶ 67.) At 9:38 p.m., Ms. Portillo exited the room, followed by Mr. Shaver.[2] (Doc. 266-12 at 4.) Mr. Shaver was wearing a t-shirt and loose-fitting basketball shorts.

Sergeant Langley shouted to both Mr. Shaver and Ms. Portillo to “lay down on the ground, ” since “apparently we have a failure for you to comprehend simple instructions.” (Doc. 266-21 at 12:11-13.) He then said, “Alright, if you make another mistake, there's a very severe possibility you're both going to get shot.” (Doc. 266-21 at 12:17-19.) When Mr. Shaver attempted to speak, Sergeant Langley said “This is--shut up. I'm not here to

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be tactful and diplomatic with you. You listen, you obey.” (Doc. 266-21 at 12-13.) Sergeant Langley then asked Mr. Shaver to place his hands on the back of his head and interlace his fingers. Mr. Shaver did so. Next, Sergeant Langley instructed Mr. Shaver to cross his left foot over his right foot. Mr. Shaver did so. Sergeant Langley told Mr. Shaver, “If you move, we're going to consider that a threat and we are going to deal with it and you may not survive it.” (Doc. 266-21 at 14:11-13.) Sergeant Langley then instructed Ms. Portillo to kneel with her hands in the air, and to crawl towards the officers. While Sergeant Langley issued directions to Ms. Portillo, Mr. Shaver lay on the ground with his low riding shorts exposing the bare skin between his shirt and his shorts, revealing his entire lower back and the tops of his buttocks. There was no weapon there. As Ms. Portillo was taken into custody, Officer Brailsford's weapon and his body camera remained focused on the prone Mr. Shaver. Once Ms. Portillo was in custody, Officer Doane's camera also plainly reveals Mr. Shaver on the hallway floor with the top of both buttocks exposed from his low-riding shorts. A few minutes later, after Ms. Portillo was handcuffed, Sergeant Langley instructed Mr. Shaver to rise to a kneeling position while keeping his legs crossed. As Mr. Shaver rose, his legs uncrossed. Sergeant Langley shouted at him not to uncross his legs. While Mr. Shaver was re-crossing his legs. he moved his arms behind his back.[3]In response, Sergeant Langley loudly commanded Shaver to keep his hands in the air, and told him, “You do that again and we're shooting you.” (Doc. 266-21 at 16:17-18.) Then, the following exchange took place:

Mr. Shaver: No, please do not shoot me. I'm - -
Sergeant Langley: Then listen to my instruction - -
Mr. Shaver: Okay. I'm just trying to do what you - -
Sergeant Langley: Don't talk, listen. Hands straight up in the air. Do not put your hands down for any reason. If you think you are going to fall, you're going to fall on your face. If your
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hands go back into the small of your back or down, we are going to shoot you. Do you understand me?
Mr. Shaver: Yes, sir
Sergeant Langley: Crawl towards me

(Doc. 266-21 at 16-17.) During this exchange, Mr. Shaver was sobbing. Mr. Shaver began to crawl towards the officers on his hands and knees. As he did so, he moved his hand towards his back waistband, which he seemed to be correcting when Sergeant Langley shouted “Don't.” At Shaver's initial movement, however, Officer Brailsford fired five shots from his AR-15 and killed Mr. Shaver at approximately 9:43 p.m.

After the incident, Officer Brailsford was terminated from the MPD, and Sergeant Langley took an early retirement. Officers Cochran, Doane, Elmore, and Gomez remain employed by MPD.

DISCUSSION

I. Legal Standard

The purpose of summary judgment is “to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). Summary judgment is appropriate if the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, shows “that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit will preclude the entry of summary judgment, and the disputed evidence must be “such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

“[A] party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. Parties opposing summary judgment are required to “cit[e] to particular parts of materials in the record” establishing a genuine dispute or “show[] that

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the materials cited do not establish the absence . . . of a genuine dispute.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). A district court has no independent duty “to scour the record in search of a genuine...

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