Thomas v. Roach, Docket No. 98-7623

Decision Date07 January 1999
Docket NumberDocket No. 98-7623
Citation165 F.3d 137
PartiesTrevor THOMAS, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. John ROACH, William Bailey, Gerald Bonaventura, Santiago Llanos, David Riehl, Leonard Sattani, John Cueto, in their official capacities, and the City of Bridgeport, Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit

W. Martyn Philpot, Jr., New Haven, CT, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Barbara Brazzel-Massaro, Associate City Attorney, Bridgeport, Connecticut, for Defendants-Appellees.

Before OAKES and WALKER, Circuit Judges, and COTE, * District Judge.

OAKES, Senior Circuit Judge:


Bridgeport police officers shot Trevor Thomas while arresting him. Thomas sued the individual police officers and the City of Bridgeport under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on grounds that the officers violated his civil rights by using excessive force, and under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1985(3) and 1986 on grounds that they conspired to violate his civil rights. Thomas also alleged various state tort claims. The United States District Court for the District of Connecticut (Dominic Squatrito, Judge) granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment on the federal claims and dismissed the state law claims without prejudice.

We vacate in part and affirm in part. Because the parties disputed material facts, the district court should not have determined that the officers reasonably used force and thus enjoyed qualified immunity from the § 1983 claims. We therefore vacate the summary judgment on the § 1983 claims against the individual police officers. We affirm the dismissal of the § 1983 claim against the City of Bridgeport and the claims under §§ 1985(3) and 1986 against all defendants.


At approximately 8 p.m. on September 1, 1993, Addie Hunt of 81 Bell Street, Bridgeport, informed the Bridgeport Police Department that she had been threatened. Officer William Bailey responded to the call and went to Hunt's house. Hunt told Bailey that a man had threatened to set her house on fire. She then identified Thomas, who was standing in front of 111-113 Bell Street, as the man who had threatened her, and warned Bailey that Thomas was "crazy." Bailey first called out to and then approached Thomas. Thomas walked into the rear entrance of 111-113 Bell Street. Bailey called for back-up.

The back-up officers, including Thomas Roach, Santiago Llanos, Gerald Bonaventura, John Cueto, David Riehl, Leonard Sattani, and Ferdinand Ferrao (who was not a defendant below) arrived at 111-113 Bell Street and dispersed to cover potential exits. Sattani and Ferrao went to the front of the building, while the remaining officers approached the rear door.

When Bailey approached the rear door where he had seen Thomas enter, Bailey again called out to Thomas and said that he wanted to speak to him. Thomas told Bailey to leave him alone. Bailey responded that they were police officers and that they were entering the building. The officers then heard glass breaking directly above them. Roach, Bonaventura, Bailey and Llanos ascended the back stairs, and Riehl and Cueto joined the officers at the front door.

Carlene Forney, a third floor tenant, told the officers that a "crazy man" had just broken her window, run though her apartment, and exited the front door. According to Llanos, Forney also stated that the man was carrying a knife. The officers exited Forney's apartment through the front door and entered the third floor landing.

The stairwell was unlit, except for the illumination from flashlights held by Roach and Bailey. 1 Roach took the lead position as the officers descended the stairs between the third floor and the second floor landing. When Roach reached the second floor landing and approached the steps leading to the first floor, he encountered Thomas in the stairwell. The officers fired two rounds of shots at Thomas. Bailey, Llanos, and Bonaventura fired the first round of shots at Thomas from their positions behind Roach. Roach heard the first round of shots fired from behind him, and saw Thomas's recoil from the force of the bullets. Roach then fired the second round of three shots at Thomas.

Thomas and the officers offered different versions of the events surrounding the shooting. The officers contended that Thomas was a danger to Roach. According to Roach, Thomas held a knife in one hand and a rock in the other, and Thomas tried to stab Roach. The other officers claimed that they saw Thomas attempt to strike Roach or make a downward "stabbing motion" toward him. Roach justified the second round of shots as necessary because Thomas lunged forward after the first volley of shots and Roach feared that Thomas would stab him. Roach also claimed that he was at risk of being shot by the other officers and so he had to shoot Thomas in order to push him away.

By contrast, Thomas contended that he did not threaten or attempt to harm any of the officers. He argued that he was never on the second floor landing with Roach. Rather, he claimed that the officers shot him from the second floor landing while he was on the small intermediate landing between the second and first floors, noting that the spent bullets and casings were found on the second floor landing and bloodstains were found on the intermediate landing. Thomas also argued that he could not have made a downward stabbing motion when he was located below Officer Roach, and that neither the rock nor the knife that he allegedly held came into contact with any of the officers. Although Thomas conceded in state court proceedings related to this incident that he had a knife in his hand while in the house, he did not indicate whether he held the knife while in Forney's apartment or while in the stairwell. Thomas argued in an affidavit to the district court and continues to argue on appeal that he did not have a knife while in the stairwell.

In any event, the officers fired a total of twelve bullets at Thomas. Thomas received multiple gun shot wounds and fell down the stairs. The four officers walked down the stairs, exited the building, and were not involved in the investigation that followed at the scene. The crime scene investigators found a large rock and a knife. Neither object was found to have Thomas's fingerprints on it.

Thomas was indicted on various state charges for events arising out of the incident, including assault on a peace officer based on his alleged attempt to stab Officer Roach, and trespass in the second degree based on his breaking of the window and subsequent excursion through Forney's apartment. Thomas pled nolo contendre to the state charges. (Notably, as mentioned above, Thomas answered "yes" to the question "Did you ever have a knife in your hand?" during a state court proceeding before he pled to the charges. He later contradicted this statement in his affidavit to the district court.)

The shooting rendered Thomas a paraplegic. In August 1995, Thomas sued the individual police officers and the City of Bridgeport under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the shooting constituted unreasonable force in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and that the City maintained and condoned a custom of depriving individuals of their constitutional rights by the traditions, policies and ordinances promulgated by its Department of Police Services. He also brought claims under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1985(3) and 1986, arguing that the officers' acts and omissions before, during and after the shooting constituted a conspiracy against him. Thomas also alleged state tort claims of assault, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent infliction of emotional distress arising from the shooting.

The United States District Court for the District of Connecticut (Squatrito, Judge) granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants on all the federal claims and dismissed the pendent state law claims without prejudice. Judgment was entered March 24, 1998.

Thomas appeals.


A. Standard of Review

We review the district court's grant of summary judgment de novo. See Hemphill v. Schott, 141 F.3d 412, 415 (2d Cir.1998). To prevail on a motion for summary judgment, the moving party must show that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to that judgment as a matter of law. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). In deciding such a motion, the district court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in its favor. See Hemphill, 141 F.3d at 415 (citing Giano v. Senkowski, 54 F.3d 1050, 1052 (2d Cir.1995)).

B. Claims Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983

Section 1983 provides a civil claim for damages against any person who, acting under color of state law, deprives another of a right, privilege or immunity secured by the Constitution or the laws of the United States. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983; Sykes v. James, 13 F.3d 515, 519 (2d Cir.1993). Section 1983 itself creates no substantive rights; it provides only a procedure for redress for the deprivation of rights established elsewhere. See City of Oklahoma City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808, 816, 105 S.Ct. 2427, 85 L.Ed.2d 791 (1985); Sykes, 13 F.3d at 519. To prevail on a § 1983 claim, a plaintiff must establish that a person acting under color of state law deprived him of a federal right. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983; Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 640, 100 S.Ct. 1920, 64 L.Ed.2d 572 (1980); Sykes, 13 F.3d at 519.

Thomas sought damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on grounds that the defendants violated his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights under the United States Constitution. The defendant police officers and City of Bridgeport argued that the officers' use of deadly force in response to the perceived threat to Officer Roach was objectively reasonable and that the officers were therefore entitled to qualified...

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