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Brown v. Battle Creek Police Department

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

December 19, 2016

Mark Brown; Cheryl Brown, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
Battle Creek Police Department, et al., Defendants, Jeffrey Case; City Of Battle Creek; Christof Klein, Damon Young, Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued: December 1, 2016

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan at Grand Rapids. No. 1:15-cv-00283-Robert J. Jonker, Chief District Judge.


          Brian T. Keck, MORGAN & MEYERS, PLC, Dearborn, Michigan, for Appellants.

          Saura J. Sahu, CITY ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Battle Creek, Michigan, for Appellees.

         ON BRIEF:

          Brian T. Keck, Courtney E. Morgan, Jr., MORGAN & MEYERS, PLC, Dearborn, Michigan, for Appellants.

          Saura J. Sahu, CITY ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Battle Creek, Michigan, for Appellees.

          Before: MOORE and CLAY, Circuit Judges; HOOD, District Judge. [*]


          CLAY, Circuit Judge.

         In this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action, Plaintiffs Mark Brown and Cheryl Brown (collectively, "Plaintiffs") seek to hold Officers Christof Klein, Damon Young, and Jeffrey Case (collectively, "Individual Officers" or "officers") of the City of Battle Creek Police Department ("BCPD") and the City of Battle Creek ("City") (collectively, "Defendants") liable for unlawfully seizing their property in violation of the Fourth Amendment when the officers shot and killed their two dogs while executing a search warrant. The district court granted Defendants' motion for summary judgment and entered judgment in favor of Defendants. Plaintiffs appeal the judgment.

         For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we AFFIRM the district court's judgment.


         A. Factual Background

         i. Trash Pull, Warrant, and Briefing Prior to Raid

         On April 16, 2013, the BCPD conducted a trash pull at the residence of Danielle Nesbitt ("residence"). The trash pull recovered baggies with residue of marijuana and cocaine, a small amount of loose marijuana, and mail addressed to Plaintiffs and Vincent Jones, the father of Ms. Nesbitt's child.

         On April 17, 2013, the BCPD obtained a warrant to search the residence. The evidence recovered from the trash pull and information from a confidential informant were the bases for the search warrant. The affiant stated that he had received information indicating that Vincent Jones lived at the residence and was distributing controlled substances from inside the residence. Ms. Nesbitt, the daughter of Cheryl Brown, owned the home and allowed her mother and Mark Brown to stay in the basement of the residence.

         That same day, the officers executed the search warrant. Prior to execution of the warrant, the officers and members of the City's Emergency Response Team ("ERT") met to discuss the details related to the case, including Jones' criminal history, Jones' known gang affiliations and gang associates, whether there were children or dogs present at the residence, and any other issues or concerns they may have had prior to the search. Defendants decided to involve the ERT for this search because of the threat the subject, Vincent Jones, posed given his criminal history, known gang affiliations, possession and use of firearms, and possible possession of cocaine and heroin he was alleged to be distributing out of the residence. Officer Case testified that Vincent Jones was a member of the north side gang in Battle Creek, and that this gang was one of the reasons why the BCPD created the gang unit. He stated that "Vincent Jones, many of [the officers] kn[e]w him very, very well, his gang history, his drug history, his gun history, the foot chases, the car chases, the shootings. He [was] a bad guy. Very rarely [wa]s he alone." (R. 61-5, Officer Jeffrey Case Dep., PageID# 53-54.)

         Officer Case went on to state that "Vincent Jones was a primary target when the gang unit started because of many of the activities that we're talking about, and that gang . . . was fairly large, very tight. Many of them carried guns, shot people, sold drugs. So any time Vincent was associated with something, it was highly likely that there would be others involved or close." (Id. at 54-55.) He then testified that, "whether [Vincent Jones] got stopped or not, the risk [that others were in the residence] would still be high." (Id. at 55-56.) The officers were informed during the briefing that Vincent Jones had just been released from prison after maxing out his time at state prison a month prior to the raid. During the briefing, the officers and ERT had no information about whether there were dogs in the residence.

         After the briefing, the officers and the ERT headed to the residence. On the way to the residence, the officers, including Officers Klein and Young, received information that Vincent Jones had left the residence and had been detained by police with heroin on his person. They were also informed that there was a dog in the backyard and another subject in the residence, later identified as Mark Brown. Mark Brown testified that he came to the residence during his lunch break that day to let the dogs out around 1:00 p.m., and was on his way out of the residence around 2:00 p.m. to go back to work when he was detained by Officer Sutherland.

         Mark Brown was walking on the front lawn of the residence toward his car, which was parked on the street, when Officer Sutherland pulled up behind Mark Brown's car. Officer Sutherland placed Mark Brown in handcuffs and informed him that officers would soon be executing a search warrant for the residence. Mark Brown was standing behind his car with a view of the residence's front door and front window.

         A few minutes after Mark Brown was detained, the officers, including Officers Case, Klein, and Young, and the ERT pulled up to the residence. Officers Klein and Case testified that this was when they first saw the "Beware of Dog" sign outside the residence. (Case Dep. at 44; R. 61-2, Officer Christof Klein Dep., PageID# 104.) The officers, with the exception of Officer Case, proceeded directly to the front door. Mark Brown testified that when the officers and ERT arrived, he told Officer Sutherland that he had a key to the front door, that there was no one else in the residence, and that his two dogs were in the residence. Officer Sutherland tried telling the officers this information before they breached the front door. Officer Klein testified that he did not hear about Mark Brown's comments to Officer Sutherland prior to breaching the front door.

         ii. Execution of the Search Warrant

         1. Forced Entry Through Front Door

         Officer Klein led the group of officers and ERT to the front door, where he saw two dogs through the front window standing on a couch. Officer Klein testified that as the officers approached the front door, he could see the dogs barking aggressively, "digging and pawing, " and "jumping" at the window. (Klein Dep. at 79.) The first dog was a large, brown pit bull, weighing about 97 pounds, and the second dog was a smaller white pit bull, weighing about 53 pounds. Officer Klein knocked on the front door, announced their presence, and "less than fifteen seconds" later, breached the door with a ram, which is a large metal object used by law enforcement to open doors. (Klein Dep. at 70-71.) After the door was breached, Officer Klein was the first of the search warrant team to enter the residence.

         Mark Brown testified that he was able to see the two dogs in the window standing on the couch before the door was breached. Mark Brown testified that, as the officers were approaching the residence, the dogs were not barking. Mark Brown also stated that the second dog did not bark at all, and that he had the second dog almost a year at that point and "she [had] never barked a day in her life." (R. 61-8, Mark Brown Dep., PageID# 54.)

         2. Entryway and Kitchen Sweep

         Officer Klein testified that when he entered the house, the first dog jumped off the couch, was aggressively barking at the officers, and lunged at him. He also noted that when the officers entered the residence, the second pit bull jumped off the couch, went through the kitchen and down into the basement. He further testified that when the first pit bull lunged at him in the entryway, he fired his first shot. Officer Klein explained that the first pit bull "had only moved a few inches" between the time when he entered the residence and when he shot her, and that this movement was what he considered to be a "lunge." (See Klein Dep. at 73-75, 77.) Klein testified that he "hit" the first dog with a non-lethal shot, but that he was "aiming at its head." (Id. at 80.)

         3. Basement Sweep

         Officer Klein stated that after he struck the first pit bull in the entryway, the dog moved away from the officers and towards the kitchen, then down the stairs and into the basement. Officer Klein noted that this first dog was not running, as it "look[ed]" injured. (Id. at 82.) As the officers were descending the stairs to clear the basement, they noted that the first pit bull was at the bottom of the stairs. Klein testified that the first pit bull obstructed the path to the basement, and that he "did not feel [the officers] could safely clear the basement with those dogs down there." (Id. at 95-96.) The officers' "priority w[as] [ ] to secure the basement if there w[ere] any people down there." (Id. at 97.) When the officers were halfway down the stairs, the first dog, who was at the bottom of the staircase, turned towards them and started barking again. From the staircase, Officer Klein fired two fatal rounds at the first pit bull. (Id.)

         When the officers got down to the basement, they noted that the "basement was loaded. You've gotta look under beds, you've gotta do everything, and [the dogs] basically prevented us from doing that, and they were protecting that basement." (Case Dep. at 86.)

         Officer Klein testified that after he shot and killed the first dog, he noticed the second dog standing about halfway across the basement. The second dog was not moving towards the officers when they discovered her in the basement, but rather she was "just standing there, " barking and was turned sideways to the officers. (Klein Dep. at 87.) Klein then fired the first two rounds at the second dog.

         After being shot by Officer Klein, the second dog ran to the back corner of the basement. The second pit bull was in this corner when Officer Young, who was also clearing the basement, shot her because she was "moving" out of the corner and in his direction. (Id. at 92.) After being shot by Officers Klein and Young, the second pit bull ran to the back of the furnace in the back corner of the basement. Officer Case saw that "[t]here was blood coming out of numerous holes in the dog, and . . . [Officer Case] didn't want to see it suffer" so he put her out of her misery and fired the last shot. (Id. at 93-94; Case Dep. at 79.)

         iii. City of Battle Creek Police Department's Relevant Policy

         The BCPD has the following policies with regard to the use of firearms when responding to resistance in ...

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