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Covington v. Boone County

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Northern Division

June 7, 2018





         This action is brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged Fourth Amendment excessive force and false arrest violations. Melissa and Donald Covington Jr. (“Melissa”, “Covington Jr.”, or collectively “Plaintiffs”) allege that Boone County deputy Jonathan Ball (“Ball”) failed to intervene to protect Plaintiffs' constitutional rights when fellow deputies Wesley Mackey (“Mackey”) and Tyler Brockman (“Brockman”) arrested them for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest for protesting Donald Covington III (“Covington III”)'s arrest on two outstanding bench warrants. The matter is before this Court on Defendants' summary judgment motion solely related to Ball's actions. Having previously heard oral argument on this motion, the Court now issues the following memorandum opinion and order.


         On February 26, 2016 at approximately 11:15 PM, Boone County deputies Ball, Mackey, and Brockman were preparing to serve two bench warrants for unpaid fines on Covington III at Plaintiffs' Florence, Kentucky residence. (Doc. 29, PageID# 117; Doc. 31, PageID# 193; Doc. 34, PageID# 298; Doc. 38-1, PageID# 411.) Typically, Boone County only requires two deputies to serve a warrant, but Ball had requested that Brockman accompany them with a canine unit. (Doc. 31 at 193.) Ball explained to Mackey that he had been involved in a prior 2015 arrest involving Covington III where he had attempted to flee the crime scene on foot before capture. (Doc. 32 at 229; Doc. 38-2, PageID# 415-16.) The canine's presence would ensure that a similar flight would not occur in this instance. (Doc. 33 at 265.)

         With all law enforcement parties present, the deputies departed their staging area and arrived at Plaintiffs' home one block away. (Doc. 31 at 193.) The deputies' plan involved Ball and Mackey directly engaging Covington III at the home's entrance while Brockman took up position along the side of the residence closer to its rear. (Doc. 33 at 265.) Ball then proceeded to knock on Plaintiffs' door with Mackey positioned directly next to him. (Doc. 31 at 196.)

         The knock alerted Melissa and Covington III to the deputies' presence. (Doc. 29 at 134; Doc. 34 at 296.) Melissa answered and asked Ball for clarification regarding which “Donald Covington” they sought. (Doc. 29 at 136.) Ball improperly responded that the warrants concerned Covington Jr. (Doc. 34 at 297.) Melissa indicated to both deputies that their information did not make sense as Covington Jr. had no pending charges against him, but she insisted on waking her husband for clarification and returned inside the residence. (Doc. 29 at 136, 138.) The deputies then proceeded to clarify that the subject of both warrants was Covington III.[1]

         Melissa pressed both deputies to show her the actual warrants and asked about the specific charges leveled against Covington Jr., but they declined. (Id. at 136.) An unspecified deputy further responded that both warrants were for fleeing arrest and assault to which Melissa argued again that a mistake had occurred since Covington III had already completed his sentence for those crimes. (Id.) Hearing the exchange between Melissa and the deputies and being visually identified by Brockman, Covington III exited the residence and approached Ball moving away from the front porch. (Doc. 34 at 297.) Ball remained facing the front of the house as Covington III neared. (Doc. 31 at 200.)

         At this point, Ball and Covington III exchanged pleasantries and Ball asked if Covington III had a license for identification purposes and began confirming the warrants with dispatch via radio. (Doc. 31 at 198; Doc. 34 at 302.) While awaiting confirmation, Covington III allegedly began to yell and scream for his neighbor, David Dehner (“Dehner”), to come outside and videotape the deputies' conduct towards Melissa and Covington Jr., who had joined his wife by their front door. (Doc. 31 at 198; Doc. 38-4, PageID# 428.) Ball allegedly warned Covington III to stop yelling and screaming or he would face a disorderly conduct charge and be placed under arrest. When Covington III refused to comply, Ball placed him under arrest in handcuffs. (Doc. 31 at 198; Doc. 34 at 305.)

         At the front door, Plaintiffs continued to seek clarity from Mackey regarding the unfolding situation. Melissa allegedly became agitated over the sight of Covington III in handcuffs and was warned by Mackey to return fully inside the house. (Doc. 32 at 231.) Melissa declined to do so and allegedly began to violate Mackey's “personal space” inching closer to him in the doorway. (Id.) At this juncture, Mackey glanced at Brockman, who had repositioned himself at the front of the house, for further guidance. (Id.) Brockman advised Mackey to arrest Melissa on the rationale that she was about to interfere with Covington III's arrest. (Doc. 32 at 231; Doc. 33 at 266.) As Melissa stepped out of the doorway, Mackey allegedly grabbed her by the arm and twisted it before or while applying handcuffs. (Doc. 29 at 142.)

         Melissa's arrest catalyzed Covington Jr. to continue to ask why Brockman and Mackey were now arresting his wife. (Doc. 30, PageID# 172.) Covington Jr. began to question Brockman and Mackey's maturity which led Mackey to attempt to grab him while he was still positioned in his house. (Id.) Covington Jr. moved backwards in response. (Id.) His reaction caused Mackey to reach for his gun while Covington Jr. allegedly asked Mackey if Mackey was going to shoot him in his own home. (Id.) Mackey then pulled Covington Jr. out of his home and placed him in handcuffs. (Id.)

         According to the record, Ball's position during these events remained static with him facing the front of Plaintiffs' home with Covington III in handcuffs. (Doc. 31 at 200.) He does not recall Plaintiffs' positioning relative to Brockman and Mackey or the substance of their conversations. (Id. at 201.) He only testifies to the fact that throughout Plaintiffs' exchange with Mackey and Brockman, Covington III continued to yell at a neighbor to videotape the events and for Mackey and Brockman to leave his parents alone. (Doc. 31 at 202; Doc. 34 at 305.) From Ball's perspective, the entire situation unfolded in minutes. (Doc. 31 at 203.)

         The deputies then began to move Plaintiffs and Covington III to their respective cruisers. Ball placed Covington III in his cruiser as Dehner continued to record the event, but Ball does not recall which deputy transported Plaintiffs in theirs. (Doc. 31 at 202.) Covington III then proceeded to ask Ball to speak to the deputies' superior. (Doc. 34 at 307.) As the officer-in-charge, Brockman approached Ball's cruiser, but was rebuffed by Covington III who desired to speak to a lieutenant or other higher ranking officer. (Id.)

         Ball transported Covington III to the police station and began composing his citation. (Doc. 31 at 203.) Ultimately, Covington III was charged with second-degree disorderly conduct. (Id. at 206.) While Ball composed Covington III's citation, Plaintiffs spoke to Lieutenant Christopher Hall (“Hall”) and tried to explain to him that a mistake had been made concerning their arrests, but Hall ultimately decided not to overturn the arrests. (Doc. 29 at 148.) ...

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