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Aranda v. City of McMinnville

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

April 29, 2013

HIPOLITO ARANDA, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF McMINNVILLE, YAMHILL COUNTY, TIMOTHY HEIDT, personally, C. DESMOND, personally, DEPUTY BROYLES, personally, RON NOBLE, both individually and in his official capacity as police chief, and JACK CRABTREE, both individually and in his official capacity as Sheriff, Defendants.

Leonard R. Berman, Portland, OR, Attorney for Plaintiff.

Carl R. Rodrigues, Lehner & Rodrigues, PC, Portland, OR, Attorney for Defendants Yamhill County, Deputy Broyles, and Jack Crabtree.

OPINION AND ORDER

MICHAEL H. SIMON, District Judge.

Early in the morning of February 13, 2010, the McMinnville police stopped a car in which Hipolito Aranda was a passenger. About thirty minutes into the stop, a McMinnville police officer approached Aranda, forced him to the ground, and repeatedly punched Aranda in the face and back while attempting to place him in handcuffs. A Yamhill County deputy sheriff also struck Aranda repeatedly with his fist and knee, and another McMinnville police officer tased Aranda multiple times in the legs. The incident left Aranda with two broken ribs, a broken elbow, and abrasions and bruises on his face and body. Although Aranda was charged with resisting arrest, interfering with a peace officer, and assault in the fourth degree, a jury acquitted him on all counts. In this civil lawsuit, Aranda brings claims against the two police officers and the deputy sheriff, as well as the city, the county, the city's police chief, and the county's sheriff, alleging violations of his constitutional rights and various torts under state law. Defendants Yamhill County ("County"), Sheriff Jack Crabtree, and Deputy Sheriff Richard Broyles (collectively, "County Defendants") have moved for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

BACKGROUND[1]

At around 2:43 a.m. on the morning of February 13, 2010, McMinnville police officer James[2] stopped a car driven by Colleen Chastain due to a traffic infraction.[3] McMinnville police sergeant Timothy Heidt arrived shortly thereafter to provide cover for James. Aranda, a forty-eight-year-old Hispanic male, remained in the passenger seat of the car while James and Heidt talked with Chastain on the street. When McMinnville police sergeant Desmond[4] arrived at the scene, Heidt left to respond to another call. Desmond and James eventually concluded that Chastain was driving under the influence and attempted to take her into custody, but she resisted and a struggle ensued. By this time, more than twenty minutes into the stop, Chastain's daughter had arrived at the scene, and she and Aranda got out of their respective cars at about the same time and approached the struggle.

Desmond ordered them both back into their cars; Chastain's daughter complied, and Aranda returned to the stopped vehicle but did not get back inside. Meanwhile, Desmond requested additional cover over the radio. When Heidt responded that he was returning, James radioed for Heidt to "step it up." Desmond then clarified over the radio, "Five, I just need you to watch the male that's not doing what I ask him to do." Heidt arrived at the traffic stop just as Aranda was returning to stand by Chastain's car.

The following encounter was video-recorded by the police. Heidt approached Aranda and told him to take his hands out of his pockets. Aranda complied, and Heidt then pushed Aranda's arms over his head in order to frisk him. When Aranda tried to lower his arms, Heidt grabbed Aranda's left arm, spun him around, and forced him to the ground so quickly that Aranda bounced upon hitting the pavement.[5] This entire sequence of events took six seconds.

Heidt then struck Aranda in the left side, trying to draw Aranda's arms behind him. Broyles, who had heard the radio call to "step it up, " arrived at the scene in time to see Heidt take Aranda to the ground. Five seconds later, Broyles joined Heidt on Aranda's right side and tried to gain control of Aranda's right arm. Almost immediately, Broyles and Heidt started punching Aranda repeatedly and rapidly in the head. Broyles also used his knee to strike Aranda in the face and shoulder. Both officers shouted commands at Aranda to stop resisting and to put his hands behind his back.[6] Aranda instead kept his hands near his head, at times attempting to deflect the blows to his face. Although the video quality is poor, it does not appear that Aranda reached for his waistline or made other combative movements. Broyles also did not hear Aranda make any threatening statements.

Twenty seconds into the encounter, Desmond approached and tased Aranda in the legs, after which Broyles struck Aranda several more times with his knee. Within a minute of Heidt's initial approach, the officers had Aranda in handcuffs and under control. The police then searched Aranda for weapons and found a pocket knife. Aranda was treated at a hospital for fractured ribs on his left side, a fractured left elbow, and abrasions and contusions. He then spent the next five days in jail. Although Aranda was eventually prosecuted for resisting arrest and related charges stemming from the struggle with Heidt, Broyles, and Desmond, a jury acquitted him on all counts.

SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

On a defendant's motion for summary judgment, the Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Clicks Billiards Inc. v. Sixshooters Inc., 251 F.3d 1252, 1257 (9th Cir. 2001). A party is entitled to 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). The moving party has the burden of establishing the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Although "[c]redibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge... ruling on a motion for summary judgment, " the "mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position [is] insufficient...." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252, 255 (1986). "Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue for trial." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (quotations and citation omitted).

DISCUSSION

I. County Defendants' Motion to Strike

As a preliminary matter, County Defendants have moved to strike the McMinnville Police Department's Use of Force Review ("Use of Force Review"), dated February 14, 2013. See Dkt. 26. This document was the result of a secondary review conducted by the police department "based on the discovery of a video recording that had not been utilized or available for the initial use of force review" and that depicts the entirety of the interaction between Heidt and Aranda. Dkt. 24-2 at 1. The later review describes in detail the video footage of the incident, the dispatch audio tape, and Heidt's own account, and it analyzes each stage of the encounter between the officers and Aranda. The reviewers conclude that Heidt violated McMinnville Police Department policy by using more force than reasonably necessary, by using force without probable cause to effect arrest, and by using force when other reasonable alternatives were available. Id. at 5. The evaluators also expressed concern about Heidt's credibility based on discrepancies between his account of the events and the newly discovered video footage. See id. at 6.

County Defendants object to the admissibility of the Use of Force Review on several grounds. First, they argue under Federal Rule of Evidence 401 that the review is not relevant to the claims against County Defendants because, inter alia, it does not address the behavior of Broyles or Crabtree. The Court does not agree. In particular, the evaluators concluded that, based on Aranda's "defensive posture and non-aggressive actions, " "there does not appear to be a valid basis for administering this level of force, particularly to the head" and that "[t]he head strikes administered by Sgt Heidt and Deputy Boyles appeared counterproductive to affecting [sic] the arrest as they intensified [Aranda's] efforts to pull his arms and hands into a defensive position around his head." Dkt. 24-2 at 5 (emphasis added). This is sufficient to satisfy the low threshold for relevancy under Rule 401.[7]

Second, County Defendants argue that the Use of Force Review is unduly prejudicial. See Fed.R.Evid. 403. The Court does not agree that the review's probative value is "substantially outweighed" by the danger of unfair prejudice, id., particularly as the review is focused on ...


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