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Searcy v. Lynch

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division

October 23, 2019

DAVID E. SEARCY, Plaintiff,
v.
GARRETT LYNCH, et. al, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          GREG KAYS, JUDGE

         This civil rights action arises from Plaintiff David Searcy's allegations that Kansas City, Missouri Police Department Officer Garrett Lynch and Sergeant Jonathan Rivers (collectively, “Defendants”) arrested him without probable cause. Count I, the sole remaining count, [1] asserts a wrongful arrest claim in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         Now before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 20) on the remaining claim. The motion is GRANTED for two reasons: (1) Plaintiff sued Defendants in their official capacities only, and police officers sued in their official capacities are not “persons” capable of being sued under § 1983; and (2) qualified immunity bars Plaintiff's claim.

         Background

         On November 7, 2015, Defendants, along with Officer Bryce Rains, responded to a single-vehicle accident at East 43rd Street and Blue Ridge Cutoff in Kansas City, Missouri. Officer Rains parked his patrol car at the top of the hill and stayed there to block traffic, while Defendants were at the bottom of the hill investigating the accident scene.

         Aside from the investigating officers, the accident scene involved three people: the driver[2], the car owner[3], and the Plaintiff.

         The car involved in the accident was suspected to have been driven by Myron Berry (“the driver”), who was not the car's owner. Soon after the officers arrived, an individual claiming to be the car's owner arrived and confirmed that Berry had been driving. While Officer Lynch and Sergeant Rivers were interviewing the car's owner, the Plaintiff walked into the accident scene. At this time, Sergeant Rivers did not see Plaintiff walking around the scene.

         Around that same time, the driver admitted to Officer Rains that he had been driving the car when it crashed. Officer Rains, still located at the top of the hill out of sight from Defendant, radioed Sergeant Rivers that the driver was walking down the hill towards him. Sergeant Rivers relayed to Officer Lynch that the driver was on the scene. Then, Sergeant Rivers left the scene to tend to another, unrelated crime.

         Around the time Sergeant Rivers left the scene, the driver approached Officer Lynch's location. It is disputed whether Officer Lynch talked to the driver at this time. Regardless, at some point during Officer Lynch's investigation, the driver walked up the hill and away from the accident scene with Plaintiff.[4] Plaintiff returned after a few minutes, but the driver never did.

         Officer Lynch then requested that Sergeant Rivers return to the scene to assist in the investigation. Upon Sergeant Rivers' arrival, Officer Lynch told Sergeant Rivers that he saw Plaintiff run up to the driver during the investigation, heard Plaintiff tell the driver he needed to talk to him, and then watched Plaintiff and the driver walk away from the scene. Officer Lynch further informed Sergeant Rivers that he tried to get them to stop walking away but was unsuccessful, and that the driver had not returned.

         Based on this information, Sergeant Rivers questioned Plaintiff about what had happened. Sergeant Rivers' patrol car video recorded the following exchange between them:

Plaintiff: There seems to be some confusion here. This officer started yelling at me. First, I asked why he's yelling at me. He said, “Well, you let this gentleman go up the street.” I said, “This gentleman seemed to be confused. I asked him what the problem was, and he didn't know where he was at.” I said, “Were you driving the car?” He said, “No.” So I said, “Come with me up the street.” I came back down here and was talking to this young lady. I don't know whose name she gave that was driving the car. She said, “No, I didn't.” This officer tried to make her say that she said somebody was driving her car. I said, “Officer, that's not what he said...she said.” He said, “Step behind.” I backed up. He said, “No, I said ‘Step behind me.'” I said, “Officer, I am behind you.” And then he told me to go away. So I went away. (Unintelligible). I came over here. I said, “Are you finished with your investigation?” He told me, I was impeding the investigation. So I said, “Okay.” I was, “Are you through with the investigation?” “Yes.” He said, “Do you want a city tow?” She said, “No.”
Sgt. Rivers: Okay. Who did you take away from this scene?
Plaintiff: Some gentleman…I didn't take anyone…okay, wait a minute, first of all, I didn't take anybody away. I just started walking.
Sgt. Rivers: Okay. Who did you walk away?
Plaintiff: I have no idea who this gentleman was.
Sgt. Rivers: Okay.
Plaintiff: He never said he was a suspect. He never accused him of being a ...

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