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Hinkley v. Salt Lake City Corp.

United States District Court, D. Utah

December 5, 2019

Matthew George Hinkley, Plaintiff,
Salt Lake City Corporation; and Officer Conrad Leong, in his individual capacity; Officer Jacob McLelland, in his individual capacity; Officer Chad Smith, in his individual capacity; Officer Nickolas Pearce, in his individual capacity; Officer Jason Simpson, in his individual capacity; Officer Wilson Silva, in his individual capacity; and Officer Moeilealoalo Tafisi, in his individual capacity, Defendants.


          Howard C. Nielson, Jr. United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Matthew George Hinkley has sued Salt Lake City Corporation and seven of its police officers, seeking damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Mr. Hinkley contends that the police officers violated his rights under the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution by using excessive force against him during an arrest and that both the officers and Salt Lake City are liable for the violation. Defendants have moved for summary judgment, arguing that the officers did not violate Mr. Hinkley's Fourth Amendment rights and are entitled to qualified immunity and that the City cannot be held liable absent any constitutional violation by the officers. For the following reasons, the court grants the motion for summary judgment.


         On November 30, 2016, Mr. Hinkley spent the afternoon at his friend's house, drinking beer and taking cocaine. See Dkt. No. 19 (“MSJ”) at 1.[1] In the evening, Mr. Hinkley attempted to break into a Salt Lake City barbershop, “using brass knuckles to break the locking mechanism on the front door.” Dkt. No. 2 (“Compl.”) at 6 ¶ 19; see also Dkt. No. 20-6 at 3 (correcting the date of the incident). Multiple officers were dispatched to the scene after a citizen called 911. See MSJ at 3 ¶ 2.

         Officer Leong was the first to arrive. See MSJ at 3 ¶ 3; Compl. at 7 ¶ 23. When he told Mr. Hinkley to keep his hands out of his pockets, Mr. Hinkley refused. See MSJ at 4 ¶ 7; Compl. at 7 ¶ 24. Instead, Mr. Hinkley approached Officer Leong, attempted to hit him with his brass-knuckled fist, and then began to run away. See MSJ at 4-5 ¶¶ 12-13; Compl. at 7 ¶¶ 25-26.

         At about this time, Officers Silva and McLelland arrived on scene and helped Officer Leong chase Mr. Hinkley. See MSJ at 5-6 ¶¶ 14-23; Compl. at 8 ¶ 28. During the chase, Officer Leong deployed his taser after warning Mr. Hinkley that he would do so. See MSJ at 6 ¶¶ 21-22; Compl. at 7 ¶ 26. “The taser appeared to be ineffective and did not have the usual and expected effect of temporarily locking up Mr. Hinkley's body and preventing any further movement.” MSJ at 6 ¶ 23. Mr. Hinkley nevertheless tripped over a bush, fell to the ground, and began flailing and kicking at the three officers with his arms and legs to prevent them from restraining him. See MSJ at 6 ¶¶ 24-25; Compl. at 7 ¶¶ 26-27. Officer Leong again deployed his taser in drive stun mode as a method of pain compliance. See MSJ at 6-7 ¶ 28 & n.42.

         Despite the taser and the officers' other attempts to restrain him, Mr. Hinkley was able to get back up, continue to flail his arms at the officers, and then attempt to flee again. See MSJ at 7 ¶ 30. Officer Leong tried to tackle Mr. Hinkley, and Officer Silva used his taser in drive stun mode. See Id. at 7 ¶ 31. After both Mr. Hinkley and Officer Leong fell to the ground, Mr. Hinkley got on top of Officer Leong and again tried to hit him with his brass-knuckled fist. See Id. at 8 ¶¶ 32-33. Officer Leong was able to avoid being hit by hitting Mr. Hinkley in the face with the butt of his taser. See Id. at 8 ¶ 34. Officer McLelland hit Mr. Hinkley in the upper back or shoulder area with his baton, knocking Mr. Hinkley off of Officer Leong. See Id. at 8 ¶¶ 35- 36. Throughout this encounter, the officers repeatedly commanded Mr. Hinkley to stop resisting and to get on the ground. See Id. at 6, 8-9 ¶¶ 26, 38.

         Mr. Hinkley was now on the ground, and the officers began a struggle to put handcuffs on him, successfully securing his left wrist first. See Id. at 9 ¶ 39; Resp. at 4. This is the point at which Mr. Hinkley begins to dispute the facts as presented by Defendants in their motion for summary judgment. See Resp. at 4 (disputing “the extent [MSJ at 9 ¶ 39] suggests that Mr. Hinkley was resisting the Defendant Officers' effort to place him in handcuffs once they had him on the ground”). According to Mr. Hinkley, for instance, although “[a]n Officer can be heard saying ‘stop resisting'” on Officer Silva's body camera, “the video does not show that Mr. Hinkley is struggling at all” as the officers sought to put Mr. Hinkley in the right handcuff. Resp. at 4 (citing Dkt. No. 20-5 at 1:45-2:42).

         The court cannot, however, accept facts that are belied by the video evidence. For as the Supreme Court has explained, “[w]hen opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts for purposes of ruling on a motion for summary judgment.” Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007); see also infra Part II. It is clear from Officer Silva's body camera that Mr. Hinkley continually resisted the officers' attempt to handcuff both of his wrists by refusing to roll onto his stomach, twisting his body, and refusing to put his arms behind his back. See Dkt. No. 20-5 at 1:45-3:45; compare MSJ at 9-11 ¶¶ 39-52, with Resp. at 4-12 (repeatedly asserting that Mr. Hinkley “was unable to do anything, ” that he “was not actively resisting the Defendant Officers' attempts to roll him over, ” and other similar claims).[2]

         As they struggled to put on the right handcuff, the officers struck Mr. Hinkley several times and made other efforts to forcibly restrain him. See Resp. at 7-9; Dkt. No. 20-5 at 1:50- 3:35. Specifically, Officer Leong struck Mr. Hinkley's right arm with his fists several times. See MSJ at 9 ¶ 44; Resp. at 7. Officer Tafisi, who arrived around this time to provide backup, joined in the effort to handcuff Mr. Hinkley by punching Mr. Hinkley's left arm several times with his fists after yelling at Mr. Hinkley to put his hands behind his back. See MSJ at 10 ¶¶ 46-47, 49- 50. Officer Simpson, who had also just arrived, tried to stop Mr. Hinkley's resistance by holding his shoulders. See Dkt. No. 20-5 at 3:00-3:30; MSJ at 10 ¶ 46-47, 51. Officer McLelland may have struck Mr. Hinkley again with his baton, Resp. at 9, and one of the officers pressed the end of his baton into Mr. Hinkley's back to help pin him to the ground, Dkt. No. 20-5 at 3:20-3:30.[3] After an extended struggle, the officers were able to get the right handcuff on Mr. Hinkley by holding him to the ground on his stomach and forcing his arms behind his back. See MSJ at 10- 11 ¶ 52; Resp. at 11-12; Dkt. No. 20-5 at 3:00-3:45.

         After securing the right handcuff, Officers Silva and McLelland asked Mr. Hinkley if he was “done fighting” and warned him that he would be taken back to the ground “if he did anything stupid.” MSJ at 11 ¶ 56. Officers Silva and McLelland then brought Mr. Hinkley to his feet and demanded that he give up his brass knuckles. See Id. at 11 ¶¶ 58-59. But, as the video clearly shows, Mr. Hinkley resisted the officers' attempts to remove the brass knuckles by twisting his upper body. See Dkt. No. 20-5 at 5:10-5:40; Dkt. No. 30-45; compare MSJ at 11-12 ¶ 60, with Resp. at 14. Officer McLelland responded by tackling Mr. Hinkley back to the ground. See Dkt. No. 20-5 at 5:10-5:40. The other officers on scene, including Officer Pearce, who had arrived while Mr. Hinkley was on the ground and in handcuffs, gathered around Mr. Hinkley to help restrain him as he twisted his body and kicked his legs. See Dkt. No. 20-5 at 5:20-5:40; Dkt. No. 30-46; Dkt. No. 30-47; MSJ at 12 ¶ 62. While trying to pin Mr. Hinkley to the ground, one of the officers pushed snow into Mr. Hinkley's face; Mr. Hinkley turned his head to the other side. See Dkt. No. 20-5 at 5:40-6:20. Officer Smith retrieved a rip hobble to restrain Mr. Hinkley's legs and assisted in putting it on Mr. Hinkley while the other officers kept Mr. Hinkley pinned to the ground. MSJ at 13 ¶ 70.[4] After placing Mr. Hinkley in the rip hobble, the officers carried Mr. Hinkley out of the snow, placed him on his side on the sidewalk, and waited around him for medical personnel to arrive. See Dkt. No. 20-5 at 6:00-15:30. Mr. Hinkley alleges that he suffered “three broken ribs and injuries to the soft tissues in his chest, soft tissue hematoma on his right forehead/scalp for which he received seven staples, a fracture to his right rib, a fracture to his hand, nasal bone fractures, a serious injury to his spine, a concussion, and . . . lacerations and bruising” as a result of the officers' various actions. Resp. at 19.

         Mr. Hinkley was charged with three counts of assault on a police officer-including one felony count-one count of burglary, and counts relating to failing to comply with an officer, interfering with arrest, and intoxication. See MSJ at 13-14 ¶ 75. Mr. Hinkley entered a guilty plea to two counts of misdemeanor assault on a police officer and the other counts were dropped. See Id. at 14 ¶ 76. Mr. Hinkley subsequently brought this suit and Defendants moved for summary judgment.


         “The court shall grant summary judgment 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). “[S]ummary judgment will not lie if the dispute about a material fact is ‘genuine,' that is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). “[C]ourts are required to view the facts and draw reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the party opposing the summary judgment motion.” Scott, 550 U.S. at 378 (citations, internal quotation marks, and brackets omitted).

         “In qualified immunity cases, this usually means adopting . . . the plaintiff's version of the facts.” Id. But uncontroverted video evidence can limit such wholesale deference to the plaintiff. Id. at 379-81. Because “facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party only if there is a ‘genuine' dispute as to those facts, ” the court may use such video evidence to determine whether there is a genuine dispute. Id. (emphasis added). In Scott, for example, the Supreme Court reversed a lower court for relying on a plaintiff's version of the facts that was “so utterly discredited by the record that no reasonable jury could have believed him.” Id. The Court held that the lower court “should not have relied on such visible fiction.” Id. Instead, “it should have viewed the facts in the light depicted by the videotape.” Id.

         But the existence of video evidence does not mean that courts should completely ignore the plaintiff's version of the facts. Courts should only reject a plaintiff's statement of the facts when that statement is “blatantly contradicted” by the video evidence. See York v. City of Las Cruces, 523 F.3d 1205, 1210 (10th Cir. 2008). Thus, for example, facts alleged by the plaintiff that are outside of what can be determined by the video still must be taken as true. See Ross v. Burlington Northern, 528 Fed.Appx. 960, 963-65 (10th Cir. 2013).


         The court first addresses the argument that the individual Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity. “In resolving questions of qualified immunity at summary judgment, courts engage in a two-pronged inquiry.” Tolan v. Cotton, 572 U.S. 650, 655 (2014). “The first asks whether the facts, taken in the light most favorable to the party asserting the injury, . . . show the officer's conduct violated a federal right.” Id. at 655-56 (citation, quotation marks, and brackets omitted). “The second . . . asks whether the right in question was clearly established at the time of the violation.” Id. at 656 (quotation marks omitted). As explained below, the court holds that the ...

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