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Robinson v. City of St. Louis

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

April 6, 2018

CITY OF ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI, et al, Defendants.



         This matter is before the Court[1] on two motions for summary judgment: (1) a motion for partial summary judgment filed by Plaintiff Kayla Robinson (ECF No. 50); and (2) a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants[2] St. Louis City police officers Angela Hawkins and Kelli Swinton and the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Board of Police Commissioners and its individual members (collectively, “Board Defendants”) (ECF No. 53). For the following reasons, Plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment is denied and Defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part.

         On November 15, 2016, Plaintiff filed a petition in the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 asserting claims of unreasonable strip search, excessive force, municipal liability, and civil conspiracy following her arrest on October 19, 2012 in the City of St. Louis. (ECF No. 3). Plaintiff alleged that, during a traffic stop, Defendant Hawkins, a St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (SLMPD) officer, pushed Plaintiff against a tractor-trailer two times, lowered Plaintiff's pants and underwear, and placed her hand against Plaintiff's vagina, thus violating the Fourth Amendment's prohibition on unreasonable searches and use of excessive force (Counts I and II). Plaintiff further claimed that Defendants Hawkins and Defendant Swinton, another SLMPD officer, conspired to cover-up Defendant Hawkins' wrongdoing (Count VI).

         In her original petition, Plaintiff also alleged counts of municipal and supervisory liability against the City of St. Louis, claiming its customs and failure to train and supervise Defendant Hawkins led to the deprivation of Plaintiff's constitutional rights (Counts III, IV, V). Defendant City of St. Louis removed the case to federal court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441 and the Court's federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. (ECF No. 1). Plaintiff subsequently filed a first amended complaint replacing Defendant City of St. Louis with the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners and its individual members, Defendants Gray, Battle-Turner, Irwin, Switzer, and Slay, in their official capacities only. (ECF No. 18).

         Plaintiff's first amended complaint alleges the following claims under Section 1983: (1) unreasonable search and use of excessive force in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments against Defendant Hawkins in her individual and official capacities; (2) unconstitutional custom or policy permitting unreasonable searches and use of excessive force, failure to train, and failure to supervise resulting in the deprivation of rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments against the Board Defendants; and (3) civil conspiracy in furtherance of violations of the Fourth Amendment against Defendants Hawkins and Swinton in their individual and official capacities.

         Plaintiff moves for partial summary judgment against Defendant Hawkins on her claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for unreasonable search in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. (ECF No. 50). Defendants seek summary judgment on all six of Plaintiff's Section 1983 claims. (ECF No. 53).

         I. Legal Standard

         The standards applicable to summary judgment motions are well settled, and they do not change when both parties have moved for summary judgment. See Wermager v. Cormorant Twp. Bd., 716 F.2d 1211, 1214 (8th Cir. 1983); CitiMortgage, Inc. v. Equity Bank, N.A., 261 F.Supp.3d 942, 950 (E.D.Mo. 2017). Summary judgment is proper “if 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); Hill v. Walker, 737 F.3d 1209, 1216 (8th Cir. 2013). The movant “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion” and must identify “those portions of [the record]...which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the movant does so, the non-movant must respond by submitting evidentiary materials that set out “specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 324 (quotation marks omitted).

         “On a motion for summary judgment, ‘facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party only if there is a genuine dispute as to those facts.'” Ricci v. DeStefano, 557 U.S. 557, 586 (2009) (quoting Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007) (internal quotation marks omitted)). The court's function is not to weigh the evidence but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). “Credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge.” Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1042 (8th Cir. 2011) (quoting Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000)).

         Where parties file cross-motions for summary judgment, each motion should be reviewed in its own right, with each non-moving party “entitled to the benefit of all inferences favorable to them which might reasonably be drawn from the record[.]” Wermager, 716 F.2d at 1214; see also Canada v. Union Elec Co., 135 F.3d 1211, 1212-13 (8th Cir. 1998). “[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, 716 F.2d at 1214.

         II. Background

         a. Stop and Search

         On the evening of October 19, 2012, St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (SLMPD) officers, including Defendant Hawkins, Capt. Joseph Spiess, and Sgt. Mark McMurry, were conducting a police checkpoint to “look for guns, drugs, and violent offenders.” At approximately 10:30 p.m., Plaintiff's boyfriend, Ronnell Jenkins, was driving Plaintiff's car, and Plaintiff was a front-seat passenger. Mr. Jenkins' brother, Richard Jones, was a passenger in the back seat of the vehicle. Defendant Hawkins and Capt. Spiess observed Plaintiff's vehicle make an illegal u-turn to avoid the checkpoint. In response, they activated the roof lights and siren of their unmarked police car and pulled over Plaintiff's vehicle. Defendant Hawkins and Captain Spiess stopped Plaintiff's vehicle to determine if Plaintiff, Mr. Jenkins, and Mr. Jones were “purposely attempting to avoid police contact at the checkpoint” and to “look for drugs and guns.”

         Defendant Hawkins, wearing street attire and a black vest that said “Police, ” approached Plaintiff's vehicle. As Defendant Hawkins neared the rear, passenger side of the vehicle, she observed Mr. Jenkins “hand something” to Plaintiff. Defendant Hawkins continued walking toward the passenger-side door and saw Plaintiff “taking her hands out of the front of her waistband.” Defendant Hawkins reached the passenger-side door and observed Mr. Jenkins and Plaintiff complete their exchange within “a second or two.” Defendant Hawkins had “a hunch” that Plaintiff and Mr. Jenkins had exchanged drugs or a weapon.

         Defendant Hawkins instructed Plaintiff to show her hands and exit the vehicle. Plaintiff complied. Defendant Hawkins handcuffed Plaintiff's hands together behind her back and performed a standard pat-down search.[3] Defendant Hawkins found no weapons or contraband on Plaintiff's person as a result of that search.

         After the pat-down search, Defendant Hawkins asked Plaintiff what she had placed in her waistband, and Plaintiff admitted, “I have some marijuana.” When Defendant Hawkins instructed Plaintiff to retrieve the marijuana, Plaintiff asked Defendant Hawkins to transport her to the police station and allow her to retrieve the marijuana there. Defendant Hawkins refused, explaining that “. . . it was an officer safety issue and that wasn't . . . possible.”

         Because Plaintiff did not want “to retrieve [the marijuana] in front of the male officers, ” Defendant Hawkins walked her around a building to “a nearby parking lot, ” stopping behind a tractor-trailer. Plaintiff did not resist but “begged” Defendant Hawkins to conduct the search “back at the station.”

         Prior to conducting the strip search, Defendant Hawkins requested rubber gloves over the radio. Another SLMPD officer, Sgt. Mark McMurry, drove his patrol car “alongside the trailer, ” handed Defendant Hawkins a pair of gloves, and “walked away.”

         At this point, Plaintiff's and Defendants' versions of events diverge significantly. According to Defendant Hawkins' deposition testimony, she unfastened Plaintiff's belt because Plaintiff's hands remained cuffed behind her back. Defendant Hawkins stated that unfastening Plaintiff's belt loosened Plaintiff's jeans “quite substantially” so that Plaintiff was able to lower them to about mid-thigh and retrieve the marijuana from her underwear. According to Defendant Hawkins' account, when Plaintiff retrieved the marijuana, she also withdrew a small baggie of what appeared to be crack, which Plaintiff attempted to shove down her pants leg and hide under her foot. Defendant Hawkins ordered Plaintiff to move her foot and collected the baggie. Defendant Hawkins stated that Plaintiff pulled her pants back up in the same manner that she pulled them down, and Defendant Hawkins refastened her belt.

         Plaintiff, on the other hand, alleges that, when she asked Defendant Hawkins to search her at the police station, Defendant Hawkins said, “Bitch, no, we're doing this right now” and “was just yelling and in [Plaintiff's] face continuously.” In her deposition, Plaintiff testified that Defendant Hawkins “drug [her] without shoes to a vacant lot where a male officer waited in his cruiser, ” and Plaintiff handed Defendant Hawkins the marijuana. Defendant Hawkins said, “Bitch, this isn't all that you have. You're not freaking out over a bag of marijuana, ” grabbed Plaintiff by the arms, and pushed her face-forward into the trailer. Defendant Hawkins then “flung [Plaintiff] around” and pushed her backward into the trailer. A picture of the jacket Plaintiff wore on October 19, 2012 shows what appears to be oil stains on the hood and left side.

         According to Plaintiff, Defendant Hawkins unfastened Plaintiff's pants, pulled her underwear down, and placed her entire hand in Plaintiff's “underwear right there while [the male cop] was there.” Defendant Hawkins touched Plaintiff's vagina and “behind” and she felt Defendant Hawkins' “fingers on the inside of [her] vagina lips.” Shortly thereafter, Defendant Hawkins placed a small baggie on the ground in front of Plaintiff and “said it was dope.”

         A surveillance video shows that, during the time Defendant Hawkins was strip searching Plaintiff behind the tractor-trailer, a male officer walked “. . . into view and [walked] in the area that [Defendant Hawkins] had taken [Plaintiff]” and is later seen “walking back to the area of the other suspects and the patrol car.” In addition, surveillance video shows Defendant Hawkins and another male officer escort Plaintiff back to her vehicle “a couple minutes later.” Defendant Hawkins does not dispute that there were at least two male officers in the parking lot while she searched Plaintiff.

         Shortly after Defendant Hawkins walked Plaintiff to the patrol car, Defendant Swinton arrived at the scene. Defendant Swinton described Plaintiff as “hysterical, ” as though she was “having a panic attack.” Defendant Swinton informed Plaintiff she was under arrest, and she and another officer transported Plaintiff to the police station.

         At the police station, Defendant Swinton offered Plaintiff the opportunity to provide a written statement. Plaintiff wrote a statement, in which she complained that Defendant Hawkins “used unnecessary force and conducted some form of a strip search . . . in front of males, and she was uncomfortable with it.”[4] Although Defendant Swinton observed Plaintiff handwrite the statement, she did not include Plaintiff's statement in the final incident report. The Circuit Attorney did not charge Plaintiff with any crime.

         b. Incident Report

         Defendant Swinton completed the incident report even though she did not “witness any part of the incident” involving Plaintiff's encounter with Defendant Hawkins. Defendant Swinton based the report on information that Defendant Hawkins orally provided her at the police station after Plaintiff's arrest.

         The incident report stated that, on October 19, 2012, Defendant Hawkins and Det. Michael Betz observed Plaintiff's vehicle make an illegal u-turn, “curb[ed] the vehicle, ” and “conducted a voluntary field interview with the occupants of the car[.]” (ECF No.51-1, Pl.'s Ex. 1). Defendant Hawkins observed Plaintiff and Mr. Jenkins complete “a hand to hand transaction” and Plaintiff “removing her hands from her waistband, as if she was concealing an object[.]” (Id.). The incident report continued:

[Plaintiff] was instructed to retrieve the items she placed in her waistband. [Plaintiff] voluntarily retrieved an individually wrapped bag of a green vegetable like substance from inside her pants within her undergarment (panties). She complied; as she removed the plastic bag containing green vegetable like substance from her pants, another plastic bag containing a white rock like substance fell to the ground out of the left pants leg of [Plaintiff]. Plaintiff immediately placed her left foot on top of the bag in an attempt to conceal the item.

(Id.). The incident report stated that Plaintiff “was offered the opportunity to reduce a statement to writing however she declined.” (Id.).

         As previously stated, Defendant Swinton did not include Plaintiff's handwritten statement in the final incident report. In that statement, Plaintiff wrote that Mr. Jenkins was driving her car when officers from the SLMPD pulled them over. (ECF No. 66-5, Pl.'s Ex. 8). Mr. Jenkins handed Plaintiff “marijuana in a bag and [she] put it in [her] pants.” (Id.). Plaintiff described the stop, pat-down search, and strip search as follows:

A female officer immediately pulled me from the vehicle and cuffed me. She drug me w/o shoes to a vacant dark lot where a male officer waited in his cruiser. She searched me by my vehicle and again in the lot. I told her I had weed she said I needed to pull my pants down. She unfastened my pants and pulled my underwear and pants down. I begged her to take me to the station and search me she said no. All of this took place in front of a male officer who gave her a rubber glove. Once I pulled the weed from my pants she pushed me hard against the empty trailers getting black grease all over my jacket and shirt. She was very aggressive. I proceeded to tell her over and over I was having a panic attack. The male officer made me feel very uncomfortable with being undressed in an empty dark lot where no one could help me. The female officer had been given the weed, pushed me into the trailer all while I was cuffed. She then was behind my back and put a small bag in front of me later and said it was dope. I told her weed isn't dope. She said it was in the rocks somewhere but I had already been searched, stripped and shoeless. The weed was not mine[.] I have never touched dope in my life. I would like to file a report on the officer who made me pull my pants down.


         At her deposition, Defendant Swinton acknowledged that the incident report contained many inaccuracies. For example, the report stated that Defendant Hawkins was riding with Det. Betz on October 19, 2012 and it mentioned neither Capt. Spiess nor Sgt. McMurry, who were present during Plaintiff's arrest. (ECF Nos. 51-1, Pl.'s Ex. 1). In addition, the incident report incorrectly stated that Defendant Hawkins and Det. Betz conducted “a voluntary field interview with the occupants of the car, ” when, in fact, the vehicle's occupants were not free to leave. (ECF No. 51-1, Pl.'s Ex. 1). The incident report contained no mention of: the pat-down search; Defendant Hawkins' request for rubber gloves; the strip search or the parking lot where it was conducted; Plaintiff's request that Defendant Hawkins conduct the strip search at the police station; the unfastening of Plaintiff's belt lowering of her pants; or Plaintiff's distress. (ECF No. 51-1, Pl.'s Ex. 1).

         According to Defendant Swinton's deposition testimony, she did not include Plaintiff's written statement in the incident report because Plaintiff did not sign it. However, SLMPD policy does not require that a suspect sign a statement to include it in an officer's incident report.

         c. Special Order 8-03

         At the time of the incident, SLMPD's Special Order 8-03 governed, among other things, strip and body cavity searches. According to Section V(A)(2) of Special Order 8-03, a strip search is “the removal or rearrangement of some or all of the clothing of a person so as to permit a visual or manual inspection of the genitals, buttocks, anus, breasts, or undergarments of such person[.]” (ECF No. 66-3, Pl.'s Ex. 3). Under the policy, an officer could conduct a strip search only if “all of the following conditions” were satisfied:

(a) The Watch Commander responsible for either the investigation or the custody of the prisoner has given written approval for the search. Written approval will be recorded on the “Prisoner Search Form. . . .
(b) By an officer and in the presence of officers of the same sex as the person to be searched. Only those persons necessary for the security and safety of the officer and prisoner will be present. . . .
(c) Under sanitary conditions and in a place where the search cannot be viewed by persons other than those necessary for the security and safety of the prisoner and officers.


         At her deposition, Defendant Hawkins admitted that, under the terms of Special Order 8-03, the search she conducted of Plaintiff on October 19, 2012 constituted a “strip search” and she conducted the strip search without a commanding officer's prior written approval. (Hawkins' Dep. at 225). Defendant Hawkins explained that, from the time of Plaintiff's strip search until shortly before her October 2017 deposition, Defendant Hawkins did not believe that the policy applied when an officer ordered a suspect to remove his or her own clothes.

         d. IAD ...

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