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Malone v. Hinman

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

February 7, 2017

Jacobi P. Malone Plaintiff- Appellant
Robert Hinman, Individually and in his official capacities; City of Little Rock, a municipal corporation and public body corporate and politic; Stuart Thomas, individually and in his official capacity as Chief of Police, Little Rock Department Defendants-Appellees

          Submitted: September 20, 2016

         Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas - Little Rock

          Before RILEY, Chief Judge, MURPHY and SMITH, Circuit Judges.

          SMITH, Circuit Judge.

         Jacobi P. Malone appeals the district court's[1] grant of summary judgment to Little Rock Police Officer Robert Hinman, Little Rock Police Chief Stuart Thomas, and the City of Little Rock (collectively, "defendants") on Malone's various constitutional claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for Officer Hinman's alleged use of excessive force in shooting Malone. Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Malone and evaluating the reasonableness of Officer Hinman's actions "from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, " Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 396 (1989), we conclude that Officer Hinman is entitled to qualified immunity. Accordingly, we affirm the district court's grant of summary judgment to Officer Hinman, Chief Thomas, and the City of Little Rock.

         I. Background We recite the facts in the light most favorable to Malone as the non-moving party. See id. at 388.

         At approximately 2:00 a.m. on the morning of July 16, 2011, Jacobi Malone, then 18 years old, was walking back to his car parked in the Rivermarket area of downtown Little Rock, Arkansas. Malone approached a crowd of 40 or 50 people near his parked car. In the crowd, Malone saw a former schoolmate in the midst of an escalating disturbance. Malone's former schoolmate pulled out a pistol and pointed it at the crowd. Malone tried to "defuse the situation." He approached the young man with the "intention" to "push the gun down towards the ground, " but, unfortunately, the gun discharged. When the gun discharged the first time, Malone's hand was on the young man's arm. The gun then discharged "one or two more times" before Malone "snatched" the gun from the young man. Hearing the gunshots, the crowd scattered. Malone started running, too, with the pistol now in his hand.

         Meanwhile, Officer Hinman patrolled downtown Little Rock on his bicycle when he "heard what sounded like a disturbance and saw a large group of approximately forty to fifty people in the parking lot and on the sidewalk in front of the parking lot in the 200 block of East Markham." As Officer Hinman approached the crowd on his bike, he "heard one gunshot fired." Officer Hinman observed that once the first shot was fired, the crowd dispersed in all directions. He subsequently observed Malone fleeing on foot while holding the gun.

         Officer Hinman says that he yelled "stop" to Malone but that Malone continued to run. Malone, however, did not hear anyone yell at him to "stop." Malone was experiencing "an adrenaline rush, " and he did not "hear anything." Officer Hinman "knew that [Malone] was running toward where Officer [Steve] Montgomery and several other individuals were located." Officer Hinman drew his weapon and fired multiple rounds at Malone, striking Malone in the arm, back, leg, and neck. The bullet that hit Malone in the neck paralyzed him from the chest down. When Officer Hinman fired his gun, Malone was two to three feet from Officer Montgomery.

         Officer Montgomery and Officer Wade Neihouse, who were present at the time of the shooting, testified that three to five seconds elapsed between the first shot and shots fired by Officer Hinman at Malone. Officer Hinman estimated that "ten seconds elapsed from the time [he] heard the first shot until the time [he] fired [his] service weapon as Mr. Malone was fleeing."

         Malone filed suit against the defendants for violations of his federal and state constitutional rights. He sought relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution; the Arkansas Constitution; and the common-law tort of assault and battery. Specifically, he alleged excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment against Officer Hinman; maintenance of a widespread custom of permitting excessive force against Chief Thomas and the City of Little Rock; and assault and battery against Officer Hinman. The defendants moved for summary judgment.

         The district court granted the defendants' motion. The district court found that Officer Hinman was entitled to qualified immunity on Malone's constitutional claims because Officer Hinman's actions were objectively reasonable under the circumstances. The court cited the short period of time that elapsed-less than ten seconds-between when Officer Hinman heard the gunfire and when he shot Malone. The court emphasized that while Malone was running away from Officer Hinman at the time that Officer Hinman shot him, Malone was running toward Officer Montgomery. The court also noted the crowd's presence when the shots were fired and that Malone held a gun as he ran. Although the court found it "disconcerting" that Officer Hinman had given inconsistent testimony about whether Malone turned to fire at him and found it "unclear" whether Officer Hinman saw Malone shoot into the crowd, it concluded that such details did not "change the constitutional analysis because no genuine issues of material fact exist." The court also determined that Malone's claims against Chief Thomas and the City of Little Rock failed for lack of evidence because Malone did not rebut Chief Thomas's testimony that Officer Hinman was trained properly and that excessive-force incidents are properly investigated and handled. The court dismissed Malone's state-law claim without prejudice and dismissed the federal claims with prejudice.

         II. Discussion

         On appeal, Malone argues that the district court erred in (1) granting summary judgment based on qualified immunity to Officer Hinman on Malone's excessive-force claim, and (2) granting summary judgment to Chief Thomas and the City of ...

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