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Wheeler v. Graves County

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky

March 21, 2019

JOSEPH EARL WHEELER PLAINTIFF
v.
GRAVES COUNTY, KENTUCKY, et al. DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          Thomas B. Russell, Senior Judge United States District Court

         This matter comes before the Court upon Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants Graves County, Kentucky and Dewayne Redmon. (R. 28). Plaintiff Joseph Earl Wheeler has responded, (R. 41), and the Defendants have replied. (R. 44). This matter is ripe for adjudication and, for the following reasons, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Defendants' Motion, (R. 28), is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Joseph Earl Wheeler suffers from a seizure disorder. (R. 1). When he has suffered seizures in the past he has become disoriented and combative. (R. 33, Wheeler Depo., p. 30). Wheeler admits that when suffering a seizure, he is irrational, disoriented, and subject to harm if not medically treated. (Id. at p. 79.). Wheeler wears a medical alert necklace, which was tucked underneath his shirt during the events that follow. (Id. at pp. 21-22.)

         On March 12, 2016, while driving from Tupelo, Mississippi to Paducah, Kentucky, Wheeler stopped at a Minit-Mart on Highway 45 to use the restroom. (Id. at pp. 18, 20). Upon exiting the restroom, Wheeler had a seizure and collapsed. (R. 1, Wheeler's Compl., ¶ 12). The Minit-Mart attendant called the police to report that a man had fallen outside the restroom and may be dead. (R. 28, Def.s' Mot. for Summ. J, Exhibit A). The police and Emergency Medical Services were dispatched to the Minit-Mart.

         Graves County Sheriff's Deputy Phillip Burnett was the first on scene. (R. 35, Burnett Depo., pp. 10-11). Upon arrival, Burnett found Wheeler incoherent, sweaty, and nonresponsive to questions. (Id. at pp. 10-11, 16). According to Burnett, he believed “that it was something medical happening, ” and believed Wheeler to be an “ongoing danger to himself or someone else.” (Id. at p. 12.). While waiting for Emergency Medical Services, Deputy Burnett attempted to seat Wheeler inside a banquette and told him to relax. (R. 28, Exhibit B, Body-Camera Footage from Deputy Burnett). Wheeler would sit only for a few seconds, then get up and become combative. Id. Several times Wheeler attempted to push past Burnett and leave the Minit-Mart. (Id.; R. 35, Burnett Depo., pp. 11-13). Wheeler's behavior prompted Burnett to call for back up. (R. 35, Burnett Depo., pp.1314).

         Captain Prince, responding to Burnett's call for backup, was second on scene. (R. 34, Prince Depo., p. 10). As the two officers and Wheeler continued to wait for Emergency Medical Services, Wheeler continued to be combative. (R. 28, Exhibit B, Body-Camera Footage from Deputy Burnett; R. 28, Exhibit C, Body-Camera Footage from Captain Prince). He made several attempts to leave the Minit-Mart and continued to shove the officers and resist their attempts to gain control. (Id.; R. 34, Prince Depo., p. 15). Consequently, the officers called for additional backup. (R. 28, Exhibit B, Body-Camera Footage from Deputy Burnett; R. 28, Exhibit C, Body-Camera Footage from Captain Prince). The officers were attempting to keep Wheeler contained inside the Minit-Mart so that they could figure out what was wrong with him and keep him away from the highway and local elementary school, both of which were in close proximity to the Minit-Mart. (R. 34, Prince Depo., p. 15-16; R. 35, Burnett Depo., p. 17).

         Around the time that Emergency Medical Services were arriving on scene, the two officers had finally managed to pin Wheeler in the banquet. (R. 28, Exhibit B, Body-Camera Footage from Deputy Burnett; R. 28, Exhibit C, Body-Camera Footage from Captain Prince). Wheeler continued to resist, even beginning to kick at one point. (Id.). The officers' struggle was made worse by the fact that Wheeler's skin was slick with his own sweat and saliva (Wheeler began spitting during the struggle). (Id.). Wheeler had been mumbling throughout the struggle, but at this point can be heard saying things like “let me go” and “please.” (Id.). The officers can be continually heard saying things such as “we can't let you hurt yourself” and “calm down.” (Id.).

         While the officers struggled to keep Wheeler seated in the banquet, EMT's took a blood sugar reading from Wheeler to see if low blood sugar could be causing Wheeler's behavior. (R. 28, Def.s' Mot. for Summ. J., Exhibit G, EMS Report). The reading was normal. (Id.). Neither the EMT's nor the officers gave any indication that they suspected Wheeler had suffered a seizure. (R. 28, Exhibit B, Body-Camera Footage from Deputy Burnett; R. 28, Exhibit C, Body-Camera Footage from Captain Prince). Instead, after ruling out the possibility of a diabetic episode, the officers, along with the EMT's, began to suspect that Wheeler's behavior was induced by a drug over-dose and or the result of a brain bleed caused by the fall while coming out of the restroom. (R. 34, Prince Depo., p.22-23, 33-34, 60; R. 28, Exhibit B, Body-Camera Footage from Deputy Burnett).[1] Although Deputy Burnett attempted to check Wheeler's wallet for a medical card, no one checked Wheeler's necklace, which, other than the chain around the back part of Wheeler's neck, remained tucked beneath his shirt. (Exhibit B, Body-Camera Footage from Deputy Burnett; R. 34, Prince Depo., pp. 36-37; R. 35, Burnett Depo., pp. 39).

         The officers then transitioned Wheeler from the banquet to the floor to hand cuff him for transport to the hospital. (R. 28, Exhibit B, Body-Camera Footage from Deputy Burnett; R. 28, Exhibit C, Body-Camera Footage from Captain Prince). On the way to the floor, and once there, Wheeler continued to resist. (Id.). Wheeler and the officers landed in a relatively tight area between the banquet and a store display. (Id.). Wheeler came to the ground face-down with his hands underneath him. (Id.). Once on the ground, Wheeler refused to place his hands behind his back to be cuffed. (Id.). At some point after Wheeler and the officers went to the ground, Sheriff Redmon arrived. (R. 32, Redmon Depo., p. 15; R. 34, Prince Depo., p. 19; R. 35, Burnett Depo., p. 23). Redmon positioned himself at Wheeler's head and attempted to assist the other deputies in controlling Wheeler's hands and arms. (R. 28, Exhibit B, Body-Camera Footage from Deputy Burnett; R. 28, Exhibit C, Body-Camera Footage from Captain Prince).

         On the ground, the officers continued to tell Wheeler to “stop resisting, ” to “relax, ” and to “stop fighting.” But Wheeler remained noncompliant. (Id.). Finally, Captain Prince warned Wheeler that he was going to Tase him. (Id.). Wheeler continued to fight, and Captain Prince deployed his taser in “drive-stun”[2] mode against Wheeler. (Id.; R. 34, Prince Depo., p. 22). There was no change in Wheeler's behavior after the first drive-stun, so Captain Prince attempted to drive-stun Wheeler again. (Id.). But again, Wheeler continued to resist. (R. 28, Exhibit B, Body-Camera Footage from Deputy Burnett). After the second attempted drive-stun, Captain Prince placed his taser on the banquet seat and continued to assist Deputy Burnett and Sheriff Redmon in trying to handcuff Wheeler. (R. 34, Prince Depo., pp. 22-23). At this point, more officers had arrived on scene. (R. 28, Exhibit B, Body-Camera Footage from Deputy Burnett). As Deputy Burnett, Captain Prince, and Sheriff Redmon continued to struggle with Wheeler's arms, one of the other officers to have arrived on scene picked up Captain Prince's Taser and attempted a third, and final, drive-stun, at which point the officers were finally able to position Wheeler's arms behind his back. (R. 34, Prince Depo., p. 23; R. 28, Exhibit B, Body-Camera Footage from Deputy Burnett). After some further struggle, Wheeler was finally cuffed, strapped on the stretcher, and placed inside an ambulance for transport to the hospital. (Id.).

         At the hospital, it was determined that Wheeler had suffered a seizure. (R. 34, Prince Depo. p. 30). The hospital staff was told that Wheeler was drive-stunned three times. (R. 28, Exhibit D, Body-Camera Footage from Officer Mason). However, Wheeler does not recall being treated for any injuries caused by the Taser. (R. 33, Wheeler Depo., p.116). Once it was determined that Wheeler's behavior was caused by a seizure, Sheriff Redmon decided not charge Wheeler with a crime. (R. 32, Redmon Depo., pp. 50-51).

         Captain Prince's Taser report indicates that the Taser was used three times during the incident and that each time it was deployed for around five seconds. (R. 28, Exhibit I, Taser Report). However, there is no way to determine whether the Taser maintained contact with the subject for the entirety of the five seconds. (R. 28, Exhibit H, Vike Report). In fact, it is unclear whether the Taser ever successfully made contact with Wheeler's skin during any of the attempted drive-stuns.[3]

         Wheeler filed the instant suit on March 14, 2017, bringing § 1983 excessive force claims against John Doe, and Sheriff Redmon, for their use of force against Wheeler inside the Minit-Mart. (R. 1). Wheeler also brought Fourth Amendment claims against Graves County, the Graves County Sheriff's Department, and Sheriff Redmon for failure to properly train their law enforcement officers. (Id.). Finally, Wheeler brought Title II disability discrimination claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) against Graves County and the Graves County Sheriff's Department, alleging that Graves County and the Graves County Sheriff's Department failed to implement policies, practices, and procedures and failed to train John Doe in this regard. (Id.). Wheeler further claims that Graves County and the Graves County Sheriff's Department are vicariously liable for the acts and omissions of John Doe, which violated the ADA. (Id.). The Graves County Sheriff's Department was dismissed from this action on April 6, 2017 by Agreed Order. (R. 7). The remaining Defendants now move for summary judgment on Wheeler's claims. (R. 28).

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate where “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, a court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against the moving party. See ...


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