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Harris v. City of Portland Police Department

United States District Court, D. Oregon

June 1, 2017

TERA HARRIS, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF PORTLAND POLICE DEPARTMENT, et al., Defendants.

          Tera Harris Pro Se Plaintiff

          David A. Landrum Rebeca Plaza Office of City Attorney Attorney for City Defendants

          Jacqueline Sadker Kamins Katherine Von Ter Stegge Assistant County Attorneys Attorneys for County Defendants

          FINDINGS OF FACT & CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

          MARCO A. HERNÁNDEZ United States District Judge

         This case arises out of Plaintiff Tera Harris's encounters with Portland and Multnomah County law enforcement officers. Plaintiff brings claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging Fourth Amendment violations against Portland Police Bureau (“PPB”) Officer Lawrence Keller and Multnomah County Sheriff's Deputies Wendy Muth and Chris Hudson (“County Defendants”).

         The Court conducted a four-day bench trial in April of 2017. The following are the Court's findings of fact and conclusions of law from that trial. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 52(a). As explained below, the Court finds in favor of Officer Keller and County Defendants on all of Plaintiff's claims. Therefore, Defendants are not liable to Plaintiff.

         BACKGROUND[1]

         Plaintiff's claims stem from two separate events, one involving Officer Keller and the other involving County Defendants.[2] First, on May 20, 2013, PPB officers were called to remove Plaintiff from a house in Northeast Portland from which she had been evicted. Plaintiff's former Case 3:15-cv-00853-HZ Document 189 Filed 06/01/17 Page 3 of 15 landlord informed Officers Keller and Chad Steiner that Plaintiff refused to leave the house despite having ample time to remove her belongings. Officers Steiner and Keller confronted Plaintiff on the porch of the house as she was loading her belonging into a U-Haul truck. Plaintiff refused the officers' requests that she leave. When Officer Keller told Plaintiff that she was subject to arrest for trespass, she attempted to flee back into the house. Each officer took one of Plaintiff's arms and a struggle ensued. The officers handcuffed Plaintiff and Officer Keller walked her to his patrol car. Plaintiff alleges that Officer Keller used excessive force on her, causing her serious shoulder injuries.

         Second, on July 14, 2014, Plaintiff was in the Multnomah County Detention Center (“MCDC”) because of her arrest for driving under the influence of intoxicants. Plaintiff had been awaiting release in the open booking area at MCDC for several hours and asked Deputy Muth multiple times when she would be released. Plaintiff became frustrated and loudly complained to Deputy Muth in the presence of other inmates. Deputies Muth and Hudson ordered Plaintiff to stand so that she could be brought to an isolation cell. Plaintiff refused to stand and she pulled away from the deputies as they stood her up. Plaintiff continued to struggle by bracing her feet onto the floor and pitching her weight backward as Deputy Hudson walked her toward an isolation cell. At some point, Deputy Hudson exclaimed that Plaintiff had spit in his face. In response, Deputy Hudson brought Plaintiff to the floor. Deputies Muth and Hudson pressed their knees onto Plaintiff's back, handcuffed her, and walked her to an isolation cell. Most of this incident was captured on two video recordings. Plaintiff alleges that County Defendants used excessive force on her when they transported her to an isolation cell and pressed their knees onto her back.

         3 - FINDINGS OF FACT & CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

         LEGAL STANDARDS

         The legal standards below are drawn from the Ninth Circuit Manual of Model Jury Instructions and modified to fit the issues and facts of this case. See Model Civ. Jury Instr. 9th Cir. (2007 Ed.) (last updated Mar. 2017).

         I. 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Claims Against Defendants in Their Individual Capacities - Elements and Burden of Proof[3]

         In order to prevail on her § 1983 claims against all Defendants, Plaintiff must prove each of the following elements by a preponderance of the evidence:

         1. Defendants acted under color of state law; and

         2. the acts of Defendants deprived Plaintiff of her particular rights under the United States Constitution.

         A person acts “under color of state law” when the person acts or purports to act in the performance of official duties under any state, county, or municipal law, ordinance or regulation.

         If the Court finds that Plaintiff proved each of these elements, and if the Court finds that Plaintiff has proven all the elements she is required to prove, then the Court should find for Plaintiff. If, on the other hand, the Court finds that Plaintiff failed to prove any one or more of these elements, the Court should find for Defendants.

         II. Particular Rights - Fourth Amendment - Unreasonable Seizure of Persons - Excessive Force[4]

         In general, a seizure of a person is unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment if a police officer uses excessive force in making a lawful arrest. Therefore, in order to prove an unreasonable seizure in this case, Plaintiff must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that Officer Keller used excessive force when he arrested Plaintiff on May 20, 2013.

         Under the Fourth Amendment, a police officer may only use such force as is “objectively reasonable” under all of the circumstances. The Court must judge the reasonableness of a particular use of force from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene and not with the 20/20 vision of hindsight. Although the facts known to the officer are relevant to the Court's inquiry, an officer's subjective intent or motive is not relevant to the inquiry.

         In determining whether the officer used excessive force in this case, courts consider all of the circumstances known to the officer on the scene, including:

1. the nature of the crime or other circumstances known to Officer Keller at the time force was applied;
2. whether Plaintiff posed an immediate threat to the safety of officers or to others;
3. whether Plaintiff was actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight;
4. the amount of time the officer had to determine the type and amount of force that reasonably appeared necessary, and any changing ...

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