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Cleveland v. Louisville Metro Government

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville

April 21, 2017



          Charles R. Simpson III, Senior Judge

         I. Introduction

         This matter is before the Court on the joint motion of Defendants Taylor Banks, Beau Gadegaard, and Brian Smith (“the Officers”) seeking partial dismissal of the claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), ECF No. 32. The Officers also jointly moved for a more definite statement of one of the claims under Rule 12(e), ECF No. 33. Plaintiffs Danielle Cleveland and Dominique Wicker (collectively, “Plaintiffs”), as co-administrators of the estate of Darnell Wicker, addressed both motions in a single response, ECF No. 35. The Officers jointly replied, ECF No. 36.

         Because these motions involve the same facts and similar issues, the Court will address them together in a single memorandum opinion and order. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant the Officers' Rule 12(b)(6) motion for partial dismissal and will deny their Rule 12(e) motion for a more definite statement.

         II. Allegations in the Amended Complaint

         Plaintiffs assert that Darnell Wicker was an African American landscaper and handyman. Compl. ¶¶ 11, 14, ECF No. 30. He “could often be found in his neighborhood riding his bicycle down the street, dragging his lawnmower behind, and carting a bucket of hand tools.” Id. Wicker apparently had difficulty with his hearing. Id. ¶ 13. He could only understand people if they stood close to him and spoke “very loudly.” Id. And when he watched television, he turned the volume up so loudly that other people left the room. Id.

         Wicker lived with his girlfriend, Anita Jones, at an apartment located at 4509 Broadleaf Drive in Louisville, Kentucky. Id. ¶ 15. Wicker's relationship with Jones was volatile. Id. ¶ 16. During the time relevant to the complaint, Wicker had been staying out late, which frustrated Jones. Id. ¶ 17.

         On August 7, 2016, Jones and Wicker spent the evening away from their apartment. Id. ¶ 18. Late that night, Wicker returned to their apartment. Id. ¶ 19. He arrived before Jones. Id. He began cooking French fries. Id. ¶ 20. He was still cooking French fries when Jones returned. Id. Jones asked Wicker to leave the apartment. Id. ¶ 21. Jones then walked outside of the apartment to talk to her adult daughter, Denita, in the apartment's parking lot. Id.

         While in the parking lot, Denita called 911 and reported that Wicker had kicked in the apartment door and was walking around the area with knives and a saw. Id. ¶ 22. Two police cruisers were accordingly dispatched to the apartment complex. Id. ¶ 25. Neither Denita nor Jones told Wicker that the police had been called. Id. ¶ 24. Wicker carried some of his possessions out of the apartment and set them outside of the apartment's door. Id. ¶ 26. He then went back into the apartment. Id.

         At approximately 1:45 A.M., Officer Smith, who is white, arrived at the apartment complex. Id. ¶¶ 7, 27. Officer Smith was wearing a black uniform. Id. He did not activate his light bar or siren on his police cruiser. Id. The apartment complex's parking lot was dark. Id.

         Officer Smith began talking in the parking lot to Jones and Denita about the situation. Id. ¶ 28. As Officer Smith was speaking to Jones and Denita, the door to the apartment opened. Id. ¶ 29. Officer Smith began to approach the apartment. Id. He walked between two parked cars, came around a stairwell, and stopped more than 20 feet from the apartment door, where Wicker was exiting the apartment. Id. ¶ 30. Officer Smith shined his high-powered flashlight directly at Wicker. Id. ¶ 31.

         At that point, Wicker's bucket of hand tools was directly outside the apartment door. Id. ¶ 32. Wicker was holding a pruning saw by the handle in his left hand, which was at his side. Id. The pruning saw was pointed towards the ground. Id. Wicker stepped onto the welcome mat with his left foot. Id. ¶ 33.

         As Wicker began stepping onto the welcome mat with his left foot, Officer Smith commanded him to “drop it, ” referring to the pruning saw. Id. ¶ 34. Wicker then placed his right foot also onto the welcome mat, in the direction of his tool bucket, outside the apartment door. Id. ¶ 35. Plaintiffs assert that Wicker intended to put the pruning saw in the tool bucket. Id.

         Moments before Officer Smith began issuing commands to Wicker, Officers Banks and Gadegaard, who are both white, arrived at the apartment complex in their police cruiser. Id. ¶¶ 5, 6, 36. Officers Banks and Gadegaard had been disproportionately arresting, citing, and using force against black citizens. Id. ¶ 62. Like Officer Smith, they had not activated their light bar or siren on their police cruiser. Id. They also were wearing black uniforms. Id. Officers Banks and Gadegaard ...

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