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Thompson v. Monticello, Arkansas

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

July 6, 2018

Sheldon Thompson Plaintiff- Appellee
Monticello, Arkansas, City of, A Public Body Corporate and Politic; Robert Rosegrant, In his Official Capacity as Chief of Police Defendants Ray Singleton, In his Individual and Official Capacity as Police Officer for the City of Monticello AR Defendant-Appellant Eddie Deaton, In his Official Capacity as Chief of Police for the City of Monticello, Arkansas Defendant

          Submitted: January 11, 2018

          Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas - Pine Bluff

          Before LOKEN, GRUENDER, and KELLY, Circuit Judges.


         Former City of Monticello, Arkansas, police officer Ray Singleton appeals after the district court[1] denied his request for qualified immunity at summary judgment in this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action alleging he used excessive force against Sheldon Thompson.

         I. Background

         The following facts are undisputed. In the early morning hours of December 12, 2010, Thompson was walking to his home in Monticello, Arkansas. He was drunk, but he was accompanied by another adult male, Carl Tyson, Jr., as well as his teenaged nephew, Tajah Hicks. Singleton saw Thompson, Tyson, and Hicks from his police cruiser, and ordered them to stop. Tyson and Hicks stopped, but Thompson continued walking. Singleton exited his cruiser and walked in front of Thompson, taking a semi-circular route so as to position Thompson between himself and his cruiser. He drew his taser on Thompson, who then stopped walking. After pulling his taser, Singleton twice ordered Thompson to walk back to the cruiser. At first, he did not comply, and simply stood still. Then, Singleton ordered, "let me see your hands." After Thompson showed his hands, Singleton again directed him to walk back to his cruiser. Thompson dropped his arms to his sides, placed his hands behind his back but underneath his coat, turned around, and started walking toward the cruiser. After taking approximately five steps, he turned back around to face Singleton, raised his left arm to point toward a nearby residence, and said, "You know what? That's my house right over there." At that point, Singleton tased Thompson, who fell to the ground. Thompson's head struck the pavement, rendering him unconscious. When another officer arrived on the scene shortly thereafter, Singleton said, "He [was] refusing to go back and do what I told him to do[. T]ased him and I think he hit his head when he fell."

         Singleton's taser recorded these events from the moment it was unholstered, and the parties offer divergent descriptions of what that video depicts. In Singleton's view, the video shows that Thompson failed to fully comply with his order that he show his hands, was being belligerent, demonstrated resistance, and turned around in an "aggressive manner," causing Singleton to justifiably fear for the safety of both men. According to Thompson, the video shows that he fully complied with Singleton's order that he show his hands, started to walk back to the cruiser in accordance with Singleton's order that he do so, and innocently turned around to tell Singleton he lived nearby and to point at his house. Thompson does not remember the incident, but denies being aggressive. He admits he was intoxicated and being disagreeable.

         Recognizing its obligation to take the taser video and all other facts in the light most favorable to Thompson, the district court summarized the facts as follows:

Officer Singleton initiated a stop of three men who were walking on the side of the road at night. Mr. Thompson was suspected of committing a minor, nonviolent crime late at night. After the stop was initiated, two of the men obeyed Officer Singleton's commands to stop. One man, Mr. Thompson, did not obey Officer Singleton's first command. Officer Singleton then pulled out his taser, and Mr. Thompson stopped walking. Mr. Thompson then complied with Officer Singleton's commands by extending his arms, showing his palms, and walking towards Officer Singleton's patrol car as directed. At this point, Officer Singleton knew that Mr. Thompson did not have a weapon in his hands.
Mr. Thompson then placed his hands under or inside his coat while he was walking. Officer Singleton did not instruct Mr. Thompson to take his hands out of his coat or to otherwise show his hands a second time. Mr. Thompson then turned towards Officer Singleton with both hands visible and outside of his coat-a disputed fact the court must resolve in favor of Mr. Thompson at this stage-and raised one arm to point towards his house. Officer Singleton then utilized his taser without warning and without providing any additional instructions to Mr. Thompson.

         The district court reasoned that, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Thompson, "Officer Singleton intentionally tasered, without warning, an individual who was stopped for a nonviolent misdemeanor offense and who was not resisting or fleeing arrest while the individual's hands were visible." The district court then explained that, because there remained genuine issues of material fact, it could not conclude that Singleton's use of the taser was objectively reasonable as a matter of law, and denied his request for qualified immunity. Singleton appeals.

         II. Discussion

         "Ordinarily, we lack jurisdiction to review the denial of a motion for summary judgment, because it does not constitute a final order. However, under the collateral order doctrine, we may conduct a limited interlocutory review of a district court's order denying summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity." Edwards v. Byrd, 750 F.3d 728, 731 (8th Cir. 2014) (internal citations omitted); see also Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 530 (1985). Our jurisdiction "extends only to abstract issues of law, not to determinations that the evidence is sufficient to permit a particular finding of fact after trial." Edwards, 750 F.3d at 731 (quoting White v. Smith, 686 F.3d 740, 753 (8th Cir. 2012)). "More precisely, we have jurisdiction to consider the 'purely legal' issue of whether the facts, taken in the light most favorable to [Thompson], support a finding that [Singleton] violated [Thompson's] clearly established constitutional rights." Langford v. Norris, 614 F.3d 445, 455 (8th Cir. 2010). Our review is thus "limited to determining whether all of the conduct that the district court deemed sufficiently supported for purposes of summary judgment violated the plaintiff's clearly established federal rights." Edwards, 750 F.3d at 731 (quoting White, 686 F.3d at 753). "Accordingly, we accept as true the facts that the district court found were adequately ...

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