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Walker v. City of St. Louis

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

December 29, 2016

LEON WALKER, JR., et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI, CITY OF, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          CATHERINE D. PERRY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiffs bring this case under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that their constitutional rights were violated by a police search of their home pursuant to a search warrant and by a city building inspection conducted after that search. Defendants are detective Ronald Vaughan, who obtained the search warrant; building inspector Hershell Wallace, who conducted the home inspection; and the City of St. Louis, Missouri. Both sides have filed motions for summary judgment.

         The undisputed facts show that detective Vaughan is entitled to qualified immunity. Because liability under § 1983 is personal, Vaughan is not responsible for any alleged actions of the SWAT team. The counts against him will be dismissed. Plaintiffs fail to show the City has a policy of using SWAT to execute search warrants with no-knock entries whenever guns may be present. Even if such a policy existed, plaintiffs cannot prove injury. The City's motion will be granted on this count for injunctive relief. However, neither side will be granted summary judgment on the three counts pertaining to Project 87 building inspections because genuine disputes of fact exist.

         I. Summary Judgment Standard

         In determining whether to grant summary judgment, the court views the facts - and any inferences from those facts - in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). The movant bears the burden of establishing that (1) it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law and (2) there are no genuine issues of material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Once the movant has met this burden, however, the nonmoving party may not rest on the allegations in its pleadings but must, by affidavit and other evidence, set forth specific facts showing that a genuine issue of material fact exists. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1), (e). Where a factual record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue for trial. Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587.

         “[T]he filing of cross motions for summary judgment does not necessarily indicate that there is no dispute as to a material fact, or have the effect of submitting the cause to a plenary determination on the merits.” Wermager v. Cormorant Twp. Bd., 716 F.2d 1211, 1214 (8th Cir. 1983). Instead, each summary judgment motion must be evaluated separately on its own merits to determine whether a genuine issue of material fact exists and whether the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Husinga v. Federal-Mogul Ignition Co., 519 F.Supp.2d 929, 942 (S.D. Iowa 2007).

         II. Background[1]

         On March 4, 2016, defendant detective Michael Vaughan sought and obtained a state-court search warrant for 5406 Geraldine Avenue in the City of St. Louis, Missouri. His affidavit in support of the warrant attested to his belief that heroin and illegal firearms, along with other evidence of drug trafficking, were being kept there by Darron Ford and others. Vaughan personally appeared before a state-court judge, who issued the warrant to search “Darron Ford … and 5406 Geraldine Avenue” for the contraband.

         The narrative portion of the affidavit stated that Vaughan had obtained information from a reliable confidential informant (CI) whom he had used in more than ten previous investigations.[2] Vaughan recited that the CI said he had been inside the building on multiple occasions, including during the past 48 hours, and had observed persons known as “Mark” and “Roscoe” there, along with large quantities of crack cocaine, heroin, and multiple firearms. The CI indicated that the occupants had ties to a street gang that had been recently engaged in a shooting in the area.

         Vaughan's affidavit stated that a search warrant had been executed not long ago at the next door house, 5412 Geraldine, in which crack cocaine and firearms had been seized from Darron Ford. The description the CI gave of “Mark” matched that of Darron Ford, and the CI identified a photo of Ford as “Mark.” The affidavit related that Vaughan and his partner, detective Michael Kegel, conducted surveillance at 5406 Geraldine on March 3 and 4, for approximately two hours each day. Vaughan swore that during each period of surveillance, they observed approximately ten individuals coming and going from the residence, and staying for only brief periods of time. The affidavit stated that on both occasions the officers observed a subject matching the description of “Roscoe” in the rear yard of 5406 Geraldine.

         Police executed the search warrant around 8:15 a.m. on March 5. A SWAT team knocked and yelled “police” and then very shortly thereafter struck the door several times with a battering ram. When the door failed to open, they broke a window, which shattered at the same time that the door gave way. They threw a “flash bang” device into the front room. Plaintiffs Leon Walker, Wanda Jean Millbrook, Correll Taylor Millbrook, and Victor Wayne Millbrooks[3] lived at 5406 Geraldine. Leon Walker had already left for work, but Wanda, Correll, and Victor (referred to as “Millbrook plaintiffs”) were home when the SWAT team entered. They were handcuffed and brought to the front room. Once SWAT cleared the house, detective Vaughan entered the residence. The search of the plaintiffs' residence by Vaughan and other officers yielded marijuana, drug paraphernalia, and three firearms.[4]

         After making the entry at 5406, the SWAT team then went to 5412 Geraldine (the two residences are separated by a vacant lot), and made entry for execution of a separate search warrant there. That warrant had been acquired by Vaughan's partner Kegel, also on the previous day. Kegel had appeared before the same state-court judge to obtain that warrant an hour or two after Vaughan had obtained his warrant. Neither affidavit mentioned that warrants were being sought for both houses at the same time. Vaughan and Kegel testified that they believed that target suspect Darron Ford was using both residences to sell drugs.

         Following the searches of both residences, the officers requested building inspections as part of the City of St. Louis' Project 87 Program. Under City Ordinances, Project 87 building inspections have been conducted of nuisance and problem properties since the mid-1990s. It is police department policy that police officers contact dispatch for a Project 87 building inspection after executing a search warrant. Defendant building inspector Hershell Wallace arrived at 5406 Geraldine Avenue, and asked plaintiff Victor Millbrooks to consent to an inspection of the premises. Wallace provided Victor with a City Inspection Consent Form, which Victor signed. Wallace and Victor have slightly different versions of their interaction: Wallace testified that Victor was not handcuffed and that he told him that if consent was not provided, “we would probably - it would be condemned anyway until an inspection can be obtained.” Victor testified that he was uncuffed just to sign the form and then again placed back on the couch, and that Wallace “demanded” he sign the form, explaining: “Well, what I mean by demanded is basically you sign this or else. Basically if you don't sign this, I guess the house - forecloses or something was going to happen with the house. We would get put out, something like that.” Before entering the house, the only building code violation that Wallace noticed was the broken front window through which the police had thrown the “flash bang.” Wallace found nothing unsafe about the building, but the Building Department later sent the plaintiffs a letter listing some interior items that needed to be fixed, which Wallace characterized as not serious.

         III. Police Search and Seizure

          Five counts of the amended complaint relate to the police search. Count I is brought by all four plaintiffs against defendant Vaughan for unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment.[5] Counts II through IV are brought by the Millbrook plaintiffs against Vaughan for unreasonable initial seizure, continued seizure, and excessive force. Count VII is brought against the City of St. Louis and seeks an injunction prohibiting the City from engaging in SWAT team “no knock” full tactical raids on drug houses without particularized concern beyond the presence of guns.

         A. Unreasonable Search and Seizure

          Detective Vaughan asserts that he is entitled to qualified immunity on all claims brought against him. “Qualified immunity protects a government official from liability in a section 1983 action unless the official's conduct violated a clearly established constitutional or statutory right of which a reasonable person would have known.” Henderson v. Munn, 439 F.3d 497, 501 (8th Cir. 2006) (citing Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)). “To overcome the defense of qualified immunity, a plaintiff must show: (1) the facts, viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, demonstrate the deprivation of a constitutional or statutory right; and (2) the right was clearly established at the time of the deprivation.” Howard v. Kansas City Police Dep't., 570 F.3d 984, 988 (8th Cir. 2009). The court may address either prong first. Id. (citing Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236 (2009)).

         It is clearly established that the Fourth Amendment requires a truthful factual showing of probable cause before a warrant can issue. Moody v. St. Charles Cty., 23 F.3d 1410, 1412 (8th Cir. 1994) (citing Burk v. Beene, 948 F.2d 489, 494 (8th Cir. 1991)). Therefore I must consider whether the facts demonstrate a violation of this clearly-established constitutional right.

         Plaintiffs assert that Vaughan is not entitled to qualified immunity because he made false statements and omitted material facts in the search warrant application. They allege that Vaughan lied in the affidavit when he said he had surveilled the residence and saw multiple people who came and left after a short period of time. As evidence to support this argument, plaintiffs cite only to their own deposition testimony where they deny ever ...


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