United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northwestern Division
TIFFANY BECKMAN, as the personal representative of the estate of Mitchell Campbell, Plaintiff,
JOE HAMILTON, Defendant.
K. KALLON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Beckman, as the personal representative of the estate of
Mitchell Campbell, brings this action against Lauderdale
County Deputy Sheriff Joe Hamilton in his individual
capacity, alleging a violation of Campbell's Fourth and
Fourteenth Amendment rights for the alleged use of excessive
force, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See
generally doc. 1. The court has for consideration Deputy
Hamilton's motion for summary judgment, doc. 27, which is
fully briefed, docs. 28; 35; 38, and ripe for review. For the
reasons stated more fully below, in particular, all the
circumstances relevant to Deputy Hamilton's use of force
and because “it is reasonable, and therefore
constitutionally permissible, for an officer to use deadly
force when he has ‘probable cause to believe that his
own life is in peril, '” see Singletary v.
Vargas, 804 F.3d 1174, 1181 (11th Cir. 2015), the motion
is due to be granted.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a), summary judgment is proper “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.” To support a summary judgment motion,
the parties must cite to “particular parts of materials
in the record, including depositions, documents,
electronically stored information, affidavits or
declarations, stipulations, admissions, interrogatory
answers, or other materials.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c).
Moreover, “Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary
judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion,
against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to
establish the existence of an element essential to that
party's case, and on which that party will bear the
burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The moving party
bears the initial burden of proving the absence of a genuine
issue of material fact. Id. at 323. The burden then
shifts to the nonmoving party, who is required to “go
beyond the pleadings” to establish that there is a
“genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 324
(citation and internal quotation marks omitted). A dispute
about a material fact is genuine “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).
court must construe the evidence and all reasonable
inferences arising from it in the light most favorable to the
non-moving party. Adickes v. S. H. Kress & Co.,
398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970); see also Anderson, 477
U.S. at 255 (all justifiable inferences must be drawn in the
non-moving party's favor). Any factual disputes will be
resolved in the non-moving party's favor when sufficient
competent evidence supports the non-moving party's
version of the disputed facts. See Pace v.
Capobianco, 283 F.3d 1275, 1276 (11th Cir. 2002) (a
court is not required to resolve disputes in the non-moving
party's favor when that party's version of events is
supported by insufficient evidence). However, “mere
conclusions and unsupported factual allegations are legally
insufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion.”
Ellis v. England, 432 F.3d 1321, 1326 (11th Cir.
2005) (per curiam) (citing Bald Mountain Park, Ltd. v.
Oliver, 863 F.2d 1560, 1563 (11th Cir. 1989)).
Furthermore, “[a] mere ‘scintilla' of
evidence supporting the opposing party's position will
not suffice; there must be enough of a showing that the jury
could reasonably find for that party.” Walker v.
Darby, 911 F.2d 1573, 1577 (11th Cir. 1990) (citing
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252).
evening of August 10, 2013, a dispute erupted between
Mitchell Campbell and his neighbors - Andrea Whitaker, Hannah
Whitaker, and Justin Whitaker (“the Whitakers”).
Docs. 29-8; 29-9; 29-10; see also doc. 29-6 at 12
(Beckman, Campbell's common law wife, stating, “I
could hear yelling”). Apparently, the dispute began
with Campbell drinking whiskey and shooting his gun against a
“deer head” target Campbell had set up on his
boat, located in his front yard to the right of his porch and
facing away from the Whitakers' house. Doc. 29-6 at 9-12.
At some point, Campbell allegedly drove his car to the
Whitakers. See docs. 29-8 at 3-4; 29-9 at 3; 29-10
at 3. According to the Whitakers, Campbell was drunk, and had
a gun and a knife. Docs. 29-8 at 3; 29-9 at 3; 29-10 at 3.
Somehow, Campbell “threw” his keys and the
Whitakers helped him find them. Docs. 29-8 at 3; 29-10 at 3.
When Andrea Whitaker's boyfriend confronted Campbell
“about driving in his state of intoxication, ”
doc. 29-8 at 3, Campbell allegedly “became combative
and began cursing, ” stating, “You don't have
to drive on the fucking road then. I will do what I want.
This isn't your fucking driveway.” Docs. 29-8 at
3-4; 29-10 at 3.
then sped back to his property. Docs. 29-8 at 3-4; 29-10 at
3. Once Campbell returned to his mobile home, he began
shouting threats at the Whitakers and shooting at their
residence. See docs. 29-8 at 4 (“About five
minutes later, we heard Campbell screaming and cursing at us
from his porch. He then began firing a rifle . . . . He fired
numerous shots in our direction . . . I heard Campbell yell,
“I'm going to fucking kill all of you!”);
29-10 at 3 (“About five minutes later, we heard
Campbell screaming and cursing at us from his porch. He
yelled, ‘You faggot motherfuckers! I'm going to
kill you!' He then began firing a rifle . . . . He fired
numerous shots in our direction.”). At 8:57 p.m.,
Andrea Whitaker called 911, see docs. 29-9 at 3-4;
29-22 at 08.57.56.0p, and reported that Campbell was yelling
and screaming, actively shooting a rifle at her residence,
and verbally threating to kill her family. Docs. 29-1 at
17-18; 29-22 at 08.57.56.0p, 08.59.22.3p, 09.01.35.1p,
09.03.31.6p, 09.04.33.1p, 09.04.57.8p, 09.09.19.7p.
dispatcher who received the call relayed to the Sheriff's
deputies that Campbell was “very intoxicated,
” owned “several guns, ” and was
actively shooting a gun at the Whitakers' residence - one
bullet already purportedly having hit the Whitakers'
- from his front yard and yelling threats that he was
“coming to [the Whitakers'] residence and going to
kill them.” Docs. 29-4 at 7; 29-6 at 22; 29-8 at 4;
29-9 at 2-4; 29-10 at 2-5; 29-22 at 08.59.22.3p, 09.01.35.1p,
09.04.57.8p, 09.09.19.7p. Deputy Hamilton, the first of the
four officers who responded, heard a shot from Campbell's
property travel through the trees and leaves near the
Whitakers' house. Docs. 29-1 at 8, 11; 29-3 at 10; 34-5;
34-6; 34-7; 34-8. Based on this and other shots, Deputy
Hamilton confirmed the accuracy of the Whitakers' reports
to the dispatcher. Doc. 29-1 at 13. Also, two men hiding
behind vehicles warned the four responding officers to take
cover to avoid being shot by Campbell. See doc. 29-1
at 23 (Deputy Hamilton explained, “two male subjects .
. . [were] hiding behind the vehicles and told us to take
cover or we'd get shot”); see also doc.
29-10 at 2-5.
Whitakers relayed the evening's events to the deputies,
including that Campbell had threatened to kill them and
“had been shooting at their residence.” Doc. 29-2
at 5; see also docs. 29-8 at 4; 29-9 at 4; 29-10 at
4. While talking to the Whitakers, the deputies heard
sporadic shots fired through the trees nearby that
“sounded like bullets whizzing through the trees,
” and Campbell yelling and cursing. See docs.
29-1 at 13; 29-2 at 4-5; 29-4 at 3.
Hamilton, as the ranking officer, led the deputies
“under the cover of darkness” to Campbell's
residence. Docs. 29-1 at 14-16; 19; 29-2 at 16; 29-4 at 3, 6.
For their own safety, the deputies purposefully kept
themselves hidden from view as they approached Campbell's
home and took a path that caused them to lose sight of
Campbell “at times.” Docs. 29-1 at 19; 29-2 at 6,
9. The deputies hoped to get close enough to Campbell to
identify themselves as law enforcement before confronting and
arresting him. As they neared the halfway point, Campbell -
standing near the railing on his front porch, illuminated by
porch light, holding a rifle, and intermittently
“yell[ing] and scream[ing]” terms like
“MF-ers, I'll kill you, ” - fired
“eight or ten” successive shots with his rifle in
the direction of the Whitakers' house. Docs. 29-1 at
22-24; 29-2 at 5, 7-8, 10; 29-6 at 14. The officers
“hit the field [in response] and went up the weeds and
briars and everything, chiggers, rats and snakes.” Doc.
29-4 at 3; see also doc. 29-4 at 5, 8. In Deputy
Hamilton's opinion, Campbell “[a]ppeared to be
belligerent.” Doc. 29-1 at 23. Campbell was also
listening to loud music playing from a vehicle in his front
yard. Docs. 29-2 at 8; 29-3 at 4.
the officers reached Campbell's mobile home, Beckman
brought Campbell his .22 caliber rifle to replace the shotgun
and the .270 caliber gun Campbell had used up until that
point. Doc. 29-6 at 12, 14. During the exchange, although
Campbell was drinking whiskey, Beckman observed that Campbell
was not slurring his speech or walking with the unsteady gait
of an intoxicated person. Id. at 12.
the officers made it up Campbell's driveway and along the
side of his home, Deputy Hamilton observed Campbell
positioned outside the gate to his porch, toward the top of
the steps, and standing without a firearm. Docs. 29-1 at
19-20, 27-28; 29-2 at 15. As a result, Deputies Hamilton and
Brown stepped around the left side of the house, making
themselves visible to Campbell. Docs. 29-1 at 19; 29-2 at 14;
29-3 at 5; 29-4 at 3. Deputy Hamilton, who was dressed in
full uniform, verbally identified himself by announcing
“Sheriff's office” twice in succession while
simultaneously pointing his gun at Campbell. Docs. 29-1 at
19; 29-2 at 14; 29-3 at 5; 29-4 at 3. Campbell did not
verbally respond, but instead “turned and went back up
the steps, stumbled a little, ” and made it through the
gate onto the porch. Doc. 29-1 at 27-28, 31; 29-2 at 12-13.
Campbell from fleeing, Deputy Hamilton followed Campbell.
Doc. 29-1 at 52. As Deputy Hamilton ascended the steps, he
saw Campbell bend over and pick up his rifle, and spin back
around, pointing the rifle at Deputies Hamilton and Brown.
Id. at 31, 33, 52-54; doc. 29-2 at 13, 28. Deputy
Hamilton “saw the barrel come up and then fall, ”
and “thought [Campbell] was going to shoot
[him].” Doc. 29-1 at 31. Although Deputy Hamilton was
close enough to Campbell that “[he] could have grabbed
ahold of him, ” doc. 29-1 at 34, and was within three
feet according to the medical examiner, doc. 29-5 at 12,
Deputy Hamilton fired three shots in succession at Campbell,
hitting Campbell's arm, torso and chest. Docs. 29-1 at
29-36; 29-2 at 24-25; 29-3 at 4-5; 29-4 at 4, 10; 29-20 at
2-7. Deputy Hamilton then ascended the porch to assist
Campbell, as Campbell fell into a seated position in a nearby
chair. Docs. 29-1 at 40; 29-3 at 6. According to Deputy
Jones, Campbell stated “something to the effect [of],
You startled me, or You scared me, or Surprised me, or
something like ...