United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER
B. Russell, Senior Judge United States District Court
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.
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.)
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.
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).
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).
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.”
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). 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).
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).
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” 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.).
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).
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
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).
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