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Chivers v. Reaves

United States District Court, D. Utah

September 26, 2017

STACEE LYNN CHIVERS, Plaintiff,
v.
STEVE REAVES et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          JILL N. PARRISH UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         This action arises from an armed standoff between law enforcement and Plaintiff's fiancé, Aaron Collier, which concluded with Collier's death by a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Plaintiff's complaint presents nineteen causes of action under federal and state law against twenty-five defendants, including law enforcement officials from Ogden City, Weber County, and the State of Utah. While the complaint makes little effort to distinguish which claims are directed at which of the many defendants, the essence of Plaintiff's claims is this: During the standoff, police handcuffed her, detained her in a police cruiser, transported her to a police station for additional questioning, and breached her home without a warrant. All this, Plaintiff alleges, was done unlawfully.

         Now before the Court are the following motions: Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment Against Home Search Defendants (ECF No. 201), Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment Against False Arrest Defendants (ECF No. 206), Ogden City Defendants' Cross Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 238), Weber County Defendants' Cross Motions for Summary Judgment (ECF Nos. 235, 244), Defendants Bryce Weir and Armando Perez's Cross Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 245), State Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 220), and Weber County Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Takings Claims (ECF No. 227). For the reasons below, the Court denies Plaintiff's motions and grants Defendants' motions.

         I.BACKGROUND[1]

         In the freezing pre-dawn hours of November 11, 2012, Plaintiff Stacee Lynn Chivers returned to her Ogden home after a night of drinking. Accompanying her were her fiancé, Aaron Collier, and two friends, Michael Lansky and Dezi Martinez.

         Collier was severely intoxicated and behaving erratically. Once inside, he fought first with Lansky and then with Plaintiff when she intervened. Plaintiff attempted to call the police, but Collier took her phone and smashed it. When Plaintiff tried to retrieve her phone, Collier grabbed her and pushed her against a wall. Lansky and Martinez then distracted Collier, and Plaintiff managed to take Collier's phone, leave the home, and call 911. She told police dispatch that Collier was uncharacteristically aggressive-yelling and fighting. While Plaintiff was still on the line, Collier came up behind her and snatched the phone from her hand. The operator heard Plaintiff say “Leave me alone!” just before the call terminated. The time was 2:24 a.m.

         Six minutes later, Ogden Police Department Officers Bennett and Caygle (who are not named in the complaint) responded to Plaintiff's 911 call. Plaintiff let the officers into her home and told them Collier was in the basement. As the officers approached the stairs to the basement, they heard a gun racking. Moments later, Collier ran up the stairs, firing at the officers repeatedly with a .40 caliber handgun. The officers drew their weapons, returned fire, and retreated outside, where they set up a perimeter facing the front door. Plaintiff and the two unarmed guests also left the home. In the exchange, Collier fired seven rounds, and the officers fired approximately eight. Neither officer was injured. Collier, on the other hand, had been shot in the leg and remained inside.

         At 2:32 a.m., a notice of “SHOTS FIRED” went out over the dispatch radio system, requesting immediate assistance to the officers' location. Less than a minute later, the dispatch radio system alerted responding officers that there was “ONE GUNMAN IN THE BASEMENT.”

         Trooper Brandon Whitehead of the Utah Highway Patrol was on patrol in the area when he heard the “SHOTS FIRED” alert and the request for backup. He arrived on the scene around 2:34 a.m., retrieved a rifle from the trunk of his cruiser, and moved toward the house. Defendant Whitehead saw Plaintiff and Lansky kneeling or crouching near the front yard. Sergeant Steve Reaves of Ogden Police, who had since arrived on scene, shouted to Defendant Whitehead, “Get these people secured! I don't know what their involvement is!” Defendant Whitehead repeatedly instructed Plaintiff and Lansky to “get on the ground, both of you” and to go “face down.” Plaintiff did not comply with the order to go prone. Instead, she remained kneeling on the ground, sobbing. Defendant Whitehead approached Plaintiff and said “Put your hands behind your back, ma'am.” Defendant Whitehead then turned Plaintiff around, forced her face-down onto her stomach, and applied pressure to her back as he brought her hands behind her back and clicked the handcuffs on her wrists.[2] He then told her to “stand up for me, stand up, ” lifted her to her feet, and walked her to his cruiser. As Defendant Whitehead placed Plaintiff inside, she protested that she had not done anything wrong and asked “Is everyone OK?” Defendant Whitehead responded, “I have no idea.” Defendant Whitehead and another officer then secured Lansky in handcuffs and placed him in another cruiser. Leaving Plaintiff in the cruiser, Defendant Whitehead took up a position near the other officers outside Plaintiff's home. The time was approximately 2:36 a.m., and Plaintiff sat in the cruiser for the next twenty-four minutes, handcuffed and alone.

         While Plaintiff sat in the cruiser, Lieutenant Jeffrey Pledger, commander of the Ogden Metro SWAT Team, was alerted to the standoff brewing with Collier. Upon request from Lieutenant Will Cragun of Ogden City Police, who was already on the scene, Defendant Pledger activated the SWAT team members.

         Around 2:50 a.m., an officer retrieved Defendant Whitehead's keys, opened the door to his cruiser, and removed Plaintiff's handcuffs. He and Plaintiff had the following conversation:

Plaintiff: Help me, please! I didn't do anything wrong.

         Officer: I know, I know, Stacee. Stacee, right?

Plaintiff: Yes.

         Officer: OK, I'm gonna take these cuffs off of you, OK?

Plaintiff: These cuffs are killing me; I don't know why I'm locked up back here.

         Officer: OK, look, all we did it was [sic] we didn't know what was going on, OK?

Plaintiff: [whimpers]

         Officer: Now that everything's straightened out, we're gonna get you out of here, OK?

Plaintiff: I know, but do you have my dogs? Are my dogs OK?

         Officer: How many dogs do you have?

Plaintiff: Two little Shih Tzus; I just [inaudible] them running down the street.

         Officer: One Shih Tzu is sticking around, kay? I don't know where the other one went.

         Plaintiff responded with an inaudible phrase and some sobbing. The conversation paused for a moment and then resumed when the officer returned with one of Plaintiff's dogs:

Officer: Kay, Stacee? Here. I need you to calm down, OK? [inaudible]
just need to grab some information from you, OK? Kay, yeah, this is the one that I seen around [sic].
Plaintiff: His name is Willie.
Officer: Willie? C'mere, Willie, c'mon.
Plaintiff: Willie, can you come here?
Officer: C'mere, c'mere.

         The dog then joined Plaintiff in the back seat of the cruiser. The officer informed Plaintiff that all of her guests were safely outside the home but that Collier was still in the basement. He asked Plaintiff for basic information on Collier and whether there were any more weapons in the home.He then asked Plaintiff to draw a diagram of her home to orient officers once they entered.Plaintiff complied, and for several minutes, she explained to the officer the layout of her home, including the entrances and exits, the upstairs bedrooms, the bathrooms, the kitchen, the dining room, the basement, and “where the first shots went off.” When asked where Collier might be hiding, Plaintiff exclaimed, “I don't know why he'd hide! I don't even understand what's going on in his brain.” Plaintiff told the officer that Collier was behaving uncharacteristically and was intoxicated. As the conversation ended, the officer said “OK, just hang out here, OK?” Then he closed the door.

         Defendant Pledger, commander of the SWAT Team, arrived on-scene at approximately 3:23 a.m. and established tactical command. After speaking with officers already on the scene, Defendant Pledger learned that Collier was alone inside the home. He also learned that Collier had called a friend and said he “would commit suicide.” Defendant Pledger testified that, based on his initial understanding of the situation, he was concerned “that we had a person who was clearly intent on firing a weapon deliberately at police officers and may do so again.”

         Under Defendant Pledger's orders, arriving SWAT team members were deployed around the home. Defendant Pledger and his assistant, Corporal Troy Windsor, then set up a command post in the back of the SWAT team's equipment truck, which was parked outside of Plaintiff's home. From that location, Defendant Pledger and other officers monitored negotiations, discussed tactics, and oversaw on-scene conduct generally.

         At 3:24 a.m., just after Defendant Pledger arrived on scene, another officer, identifying himself as a negotiator, opened the cruiser door and spoke to Plaintiff. He asked for additional personal information about Collier. Plaintiff sobbed as she responded. The encounter concluded with these words from the officer: “OK, alright, uh, these officers here might have a couple more questions for you, OK? Just relax and tell ‘em what you know, OK?” Then he closed the door.

         Less than a minute later, Officer Erick Gonnuscio of the Ogden Police Department opened the door and said, “Hi, I'm Officer Gonnuscio with the Ogden City Police. I just want to ask you a couple of questions. I know you've already talked to a bunch of people and everything.” Plaintiff responded with a tearful “OK.” Defendant Gonnuscio interviewed Plaintiff regarding Collier, their relationship, and the night's events. They discussed whether Collier might be on some sort of narcotic and what weapons he might have available to him in the home. As they discussed Collier's uncharacteristic behavior, Defendant Gonnuscio asked Plaintiff: “How likely is it that he would end up shooting himself if we went in the house? I know it's kinda hard to talk about, but is that a possibility?” Plaintiff responded that she could not rule it out because Collier was acting so strangely.

         After further discussion about Collier's weapons, Defendant Gonnuscio said he might come back to ask more questions. Plaintiff asked Defendant Gonnuscio to try to find her other dog inside the home. Defendant Gonnuscio explained that the officers were not planning to enter the home because Collier was armed and they wanted to avoid a shootout. He said the officers were trying to find a “peaceful resolution here, . . . we're trying to get him to surrender and come out.” When Plaintiff again expressed concern about her other dog, Defendant Gonnuscio said, “If I see it, I'll bring it to you, and then we can go from there.” Defendant Gonnuscio told Plaintiff to “sit tight” and closed the door.

         At 3:50 a.m., SWAT personnel surrounding the home reported that Collier had “peeked out the front door and window, then closed the door again.” Approximately four minutes later, Collier was seen at the rear door of the home, and officers yelled to him to surrender. It was not clear to the officers whether Collier still had his handgun. Collier then retreated back out of sight.Defendant Pledger testified that Collier “was seen to be moving through the home, closing doors, turning off lights, peeking through windows, and those kinds of things.” Defendant Pledger and other officers suspected that these actions were an attempt to “gain a tactical advantage over” the officers by obscuring Collier's position in the home. Defendant Pledger testified the following regarding the sightings of Collier:

         Q: Was there an opportunity to shoot Mr. Collier?

         A: Would it have been possible for them to do so? Yes.

         Q: Did you consider doing that?

         A: Not at those times it was possible to do so.

         Q: Why?

         A: He clearly wasn't a threat to someone other than himself. Now he might have remained a potential threat to his own life . . . but he was not a threat to any of my people or anyone other than himself at those points.

         Defendant Pledger testified that he could not recall any additional instances where his team reported a sighting of Collier until the SWAT shield team entered the home and found Collier's body. He also could not recall any instance during the standoff where Collier “threaten[ed] anyone” or “yelled out of the home at anyone.” Sometime before 4:00 a.m., Plaintiff's sister, Jaime, approached officers to tell them that Collier had been calling her cellphone. Defendant Pledger learned from Jamie that Collier was “heavily intoxicated.” Defendant Pledger connected Jaime with Defendant Weir, the chief negotiator on the scene, to obtain further information regarding Collier's current status and location in the home. Defendant Weir determined that Jamie was an appropriate candidate to act as a third-party intermediary who could facilitate negotiations between the SWAT team and Collier. From 4:00 a.m. onward, Jamie communicated intermittently with Collier under the direct supervision of negotiation staff. While Collier was occasionally willing to speak to Jaime, he would not agree to exit the home or otherwise surrender to officers.

         Just after 4:00 a.m., Officer Bryce Weir of the Roy City Police Department opened the cruiser door and spoke to Plaintiff. After introducing himself, he asked, “Are you doing OK?” He continued, “Hell of a night. Alright, these guys are gonna be here with you, OK? If you need something, please let them know. We appreciate your help.” Defendant Weir asked if Plaintiff might be able to draw another diagram of her home as needed. He then told her to keep warm in the car and thanked her again for her help. He also said that they planned to “get everybody safe . . . including Aaron [Collier].” Then he shut the door “to keep [Plaintiff] warm.”

         After several minutes, Defendant Weir returned and asked Plaintiff to draw a more detailed diagram of her home. He also informed Plaintiff that her sister was on-scene and assisting the officers to coax Collier out of the home and “get him any medical attention he needs.” Defendant Weir then left to get Plaintiff some tissues, again closing the door. He returned minutes later with tissues and offered Plaintiff a granola bar. After additional discussion regarding the layout of the home, Defendant Weir left Plaintiff in the patrol car.

         At 4:22 a.m., an officer, presumably Defendant Whitehead, entered the cruiser complaining of the cold outside. At about the same time, Defendant Pledger learned that Collier had reported to Jamie that “he was dying” and abruptly ended the phone call. Moments later, the negotiations staff reestablished contact with Collier, who reported to Jamie that he wanted a cigarette and that he had been shot twice-once in the stomach and once in the knee. Collier refused to elaborate on his purported wounds and refused to exit the home when promised both medical care and a cigarette. Further, he refused to tell Jamie or the officers where he was located in the home.

         At 4:24 a.m., Detective Rob Carpenter of the Weber County Attorney's Office approached the cruiser and spoke with Plaintiff. Their conversation follows:

Defendant Carpenter: This is Stacee? Hi, I'm Rob Carpenter, how are you? You
OK?
Plaintiff: [no response]
Defendant Carpenter: No?
Plaintiff: [sobbing]
Defendant Carpenter: All right, this officer is going to take you down to the police department right now, OK? And, uh, he'll let you call whoever you need to call, OK? And see to it that you get whatever you need to get. And we'll be in touch with you, OK? This officer will probably come down and interview you. Is that all right?
Plaintiff: [inaudible]
Defendant Carpenter: OK.
Plaintiff: I have my dog, but there's another one and I, I don't know if he's OK or if he's wandering around outside. I just want to make sure that he's all right.
Defendant Carpenter: What kind of dogs are they?
Plaintiff: Shih-Tzus [inaudible].
Defendant Carpenter: Just little dogs?
Plaintiff: [inaudible]
Defendant Carpenter: Oh, OK. Well, he's certainly not causing any trouble. All right.
Officer Kory Checketts (Ogden City Police Department)[3]: Is he the same color of dog?
Plaintiff: No, he's [inaudible].
Defendant Checketts: Black?
Defendant Carpenter: Blonde?
Plaintiff: Blonde, his name is Sugar.
Defendant Carpenter: What's his name?
Plaintiff: Sugar.
Defendant Carpenter: Sugar?
Defendant Checketts: Sugar.
Defendant Carpenter: OK. All right. He'll be down to talk to you. It's gonna be a long time, I won't kid you. But they'll make you as comfortable as they can.
Plaintiff: [inaudible][4]
Defendant Carpenter: OK? All right, I'll be down to talk to you.
Plaintiff: Did you want . . . here's the . . .
Defendant Carpenter: [inaudible conversation with Defendant Weir]
Defendant Weir: How's that drawing coming, there? Let me take a look and see what you got.

         At this point, Plaintiff continued to describe the layout of her home to Defendant Weir, who told her, “You're doing fantastic, thank you.” Plaintiff explained the location of various rooms in the house as well as the location of windows within those rooms. Defendant Weir again asked Plaintiff about Collier's weapon and then left the cruiser.

         After several minutes, officers standing outside the cruiser discussed the number of cars in the driveway of Plaintiff's home. Plaintiff volunteered without being asked that there were two cars in the driveway. Defendant Checketts then spoke with Plaintiff regarding the location and ownership of the cars. In the middle of Plaintiff's conversation with Defendant Checketts, Defendant Weir returned one final time to ask Plaintiff about the windows in the upstairs room of her home. Plaintiff and Defendant Weir then discussed the officers' plan to get Collier to exit the home and “get him medical attention.” Plaintiff said that she did not want her home “destroyed.” Defendant Weir assured Plaintiff that the officers were not there to “hurt [Collier]” or “to destroy property” and indicated that the onus was on Collier to comply with requests to exit the home and surrender. Defendant Weir indicated that Collier was still extremely intoxicated and “not thinking straight.”

         After this exchange, Defendant Checketts asked a few more questions about Plaintiff's home, and Plaintiff explained the layout of her backyard. Plaintiff described the situation as a “nightmare” and again expressed her confusion at Collier's behavior, explaining that he had “his life together.” Soon, Defendant Weir returned and spoke briefly with Defendant Checketts:

Defendant Weir: Hey Kory.
Defendant Checketts: Yeah?
Defendant Weir: I think we're good for the moment, so whatever you guys gotta do. I'll call you if we have any questions.
Defendant Weir: [to Plaintiff] Thank you so much, I appreciate your help, OK? This is a good guy, he'll take good care of you, OK? If you have questions, let him know. Appreciate all your help. You can hold onto that box of Kleenex if you need to, OK? Thank you. And I got information on the dog as well-I'll let them know to keep an eye on the dog, OK?
Plaintiff: OK.
Defendant Weir: We'll get that squared away.

(Id. at 4:41:00-4:41:50). Defendant Weir and Defendant Checketts then left Plaintiff alone in the cruiser with her dog and Defendant Whitehead. After a few minutes of silence, Plaintiff spoke to Defendant Whitehead:

Plaintiff: Hey, do you know why I need to go, just, they wanna talk to me or why? Why?
Defendant Whitehead: Just because of the incident. They want to talk to you, debrief from you [sic].
Plaintiff: Am I in trouble or something?
Defendant Whitehead: No, no.
Plaintiff: I just wanna know why they handcuffed me.
Defendant Whitehead: Well, that's because we get here and we don't have any idea what's going on, we don't know who's who. Something this serious, everybody gets handcuffed ‘till we can figure it out.

         At 4:50 a.m., Defendant Pledger learned that Collier had called another friend and told him he “just wanted to end it.” Defendant Weir, acting as chief negotiator, concluded that Collier “was not making any apparent efforts toward any particular outcome” and was becoming “less willing to speak with negotiators, to the point of hanging up on both negotiators and [Jamie] and then refusing to answer the phone.”[5] Defendant Weir told Defendant Pledger and other officers at the command post that Collier's cooperation with negotiators was deteriorating, that he was still highly intoxicated, and that he “was not responding to positive negotiation efforts.” Furthermore, because Collier had been seen at various points in the home, Defendant Pledger was concerned that the report of injuries was an attempt “to lure officers back inside under the ruse that he was injure[d] and dying so that he could ambush them outright again, or force officers into killing him.”

         At 4:51 a.m., an officer walked up to Defendant Whitehead's cruiser and instructed him to drop Plaintiff off in the back parking lot of the police station where another officer would be waiting. As Defendant Whitehead pulled away from the curb, Plaintiff asked if he knew “by chance, how [her sister] came to be here?” Defendant Whitehead responded that he had “no idea.” Plaintiff then said, “OK, I just wondered, because she had left.” Plaintiff and Defendant Whitehead then departed the scene and drove to the police station.

         At 5:00 a.m., Plaintiff and Defendant Whitehead arrived at the police station, where another officer was waiting to meet them. Defendant Whitehead exited the vehicle and circled to the rear passenger door, where he opened the door and said, “All right, grab all your stuff. [Let's] get you inside and get you warm.” Plaintiff then exited the vehicle with her dog in her arms and followed the other officer into the station. Approximately forty-five minutes passed before Plaintiff actually entered the interview room. There is little evidence of what occurred during that time period, but Plaintiff testified that she was led through hallways at the station until she encountered either Lansky or Martinez. Subsequently, one of these men offered to hold Plaintiff's dog while she was being interviewed. At 5:46 a.m., Plaintiff entered the interview room with Defendant Goff. Plaintiff testified that she entered the interview room “voluntarily” to answer questions in hopes of resolving the situation. Defendant Goff gathered basic information from Plaintiff about her name, phone number, and occupation, and then had the following exchange:

Defendant Goff: You understand-I just want you to understand that you're here voluntarily to explain to me what happened tonight. It's gonna be a voluntary statement. There's no duress here, I'm not making you do anything. Everything you say is gonna be true and accurate to the best of your knowledge-you're not gonna lie about what happened. Uh, the information you give may be used in a preliminary hearing that a judge could hear. Um, and I just want you to understand that it's voluntary and-you're good with that?
Plaintiff: OK.
Defendant Goff: You ...

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