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Knox v. City of Tuscaloosa

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Western Division

May 8, 2017

RONALD KNOX, Plaintiff,
CITY OF TUSCALOOSA, et al., Defendants.


          L. Scott Coogler United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Ronald Knox (“Knox”) brings this action against Defendants the City of Tuscaloosa (“the City”); Steven D. Anderson (“Anderson”), individually and in his official capacity as the City's Chief of Police; Brad Mason (“Mason”), individually and in his official capacity as Head of Internal Affairs of the City's police department; and Gregory A. Pimm (“Pimm”), individually and in his official capacity as a police officer for the City. Knox's claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Alabama state law arise out of his arrest on September 20, 2014, and his subsequent prosecution. Before this Court are motions to dismiss filed by the City (Doc. 6), Anderson and Mason (Doc. 5), and Pimm (Doc. 8). For the reasons explained more fully herein, the motions are due to be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Background[1]

         A. Knox's Arrest

         On September 20, 2014, Knox was traveling east on Skyland Boulevard in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. According to Pimm, who was patrolling Skyland Boulevard in his police cruiser, Knox's vehicle was traveling behind the cruiser at such a close distance that Pimm was unable to see Knox's front bumper. When Pimm changed lanes, Knox also changed lanes behind him and continued to weave in and out of traffic and trail other vehicles at an unsafe distance. Pimm pulled Knox over and informed Knox that he had been driving too closely to other vehicles.

         Knox asserts that his vehicle began to smoke after Pimm had returned to the police cruiser. Knox got out of his vehicle to investigate the smoke. He maintains that Pimm had not told him to remain in his vehicle. Seeing that Knox had gotten out of his car, Pimm exited his cruiser, drew his weapon, and pointed it at Knox, yelling for Knox to return to his car. Knox alleges that he was “somewhat confused” by Pimm's behavior and repeatedly asked Pimm to stop pointing the weapon at him. Knox then returned to the driver's seat of his vehicle.

         Pimm, who was returning to his cruiser, decided that Knox needed to be detained because he had “violated officer safety” by exiting his vehicle. Pimm placed his weapon in its holster, removed his handcuffs, and approached Knox's vehicle. Because Knox's left arm was partially outside the vehicle, resting on the car door through the open window, Pimm placed one of the handcuffs on it. Although the complaint is unclear on this point, Knox appears to contend that Pimm then used the handcuffs to pull Knox out of the car through the open window. According to Knox, Pimm never informed him that he was under arrest. Pimm twisted Knox's arms behind his back and placed his forearm on Knox's back to force him to the ground. Knox alleges that during the encounter, he continually informed Pimm that he had undergone shoulder surgery and that he was in severe pain.

         At some point, Pimm called for backup using the radio attached to his uniform. When other officers arrived, Knox was handcuffed, “face[-]down in a ditch, ” with Pimm's “knees in his back.” Knox refused medical treatment on the scene because he says he feared “having the officers take him for treatment.” Knox was then transported to jail. The entire encounter was, according to Knox, captured by the dashboard video camera of Pimm's cruiser.

         Knox was charged with following too closely, reckless driving, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest. After being released on bail, Knox received medical treatment for his injuries.

         B. Knox's Prosecution

         A hearing on the charges was initially set to take place on October 8, 2014, in Tuscaloosa Municipal Court. Knox requested the video recording of his arrest prior to the October 8 hearing but did not receive it. During a hearing on October 28, 2014, Knox and his counsel were informed that the video had been requested but was “not available.” According to Knox, they were told that the recording had “made it to Internal Affairs.”

         When Knox appealed his case to the Circuit Court of Tuscaloosa County, his counsel again requested a copy of the video recording. On March 23, 2015, Associate City Attorney Scott Holmes (“Holmes”) forwarded Knox's counsel an email that stated, according to Knox, “[A]ttached is the radio recording from Mr. Knox[‘s] arrest[;] I will provide you a copy of the video when I receive it.” Knox filed a discovery motion on August 28, 2015, seeking the video recording.

         After being continued several times, Knox's trial began on September 6, 2016. Knox alleges that Holmes informed Knox's counsel prior to the start of the trial that the video recording “would not be available.” According to Knox, Pimm testified at the trial that he “had requested the video be sent to the proper parties for investigation” and that he did not know what had happened to the recording. Knox testified that he knew the dashboard video camera was working during his arrest because “he could see the lights” on the camera. Pimm testified that “he had no reason to believe that the video recorder was not on” at the time of the arrest.

         Knox moved for judgment of acquittal after the City rested its case, which was granted as to the resisting arrest charge. The remaining charges were sent to the jury. Knox was found not guilty of reckless driving, not guilty of disorderly conduct, but guilty of following too closely.

         II. Standard of Review

         In general, a pleading must include “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). However, in order to withstand a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), a complaint “must plead enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ray v. Spirit Airlines, Inc., 836 F.3d 1340, 1347-48 (11th Cir. 2016) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)) (internal quotation marks omitted). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Stated another way, the factual allegations in the complaint must be sufficient to “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Edwards v. Prime, Inc., 602 F.3d 1276, 1291 (11th Cir. 2010). A complaint that “succeeds in identifying ...

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