United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
OWEN BOWDRE, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
§ 1983 matter is before the court on Plaintiff Major
Stephens's “Motion For Summary Judgment Against
Defendant Justin Willis” (doc. 56) and the
Defendants' “Motion for Summary Judgment (doc. 55).
The parties have filed cross motions for summary judgment as
to Defendant Justin Willis's liability. The other
defendants-the City of Tarrant, Chief of Police Dennis Reno,
and Lieutenant Larry Rice (the “supervisory
defendants”)-also move for summary judgment in their
favor on their liability. The court will DENY the cross
motions for summary judgment as to Officer Willis's
liability. The court will GRANT the supervisory
defendants' motion for summary judgment in their favor.
Stephens also brings state-law assault and battery claims
against Officer Willis, but concedes them and consents to
their dismissal. Accordingly, the court will DISMISS Mr.
Stephens's assault and battery claims against Officer
Willis WITH PREJUDICE.
court additionally has before it Mr. Stephens's
“Motion to Strike” (doc. 60) the Defendants'
brief in support of their motion for summary judgment. The
court will DENY Mr. Stephens's “Motion to
judgment is an integral part of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure. Summary judgment allows a trial court to decide
cases when no genuine issues of material fact are present and
the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. When a district court
reviews a motion for summary judgment, it must determine two
things: (1) whether any genuine issues of material fact
exist; and if not, (2) whether the moving party is entitled
to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c).
moving party “always bears the initial responsibility
of informing the district court of the basis for its motion,
and identifying those portions of ‘the pleadings,
depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on
file, together with the affidavits, if any, ' which it
believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of
material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477
U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56). The moving
party can meet this burden by offering evidence showing no
dispute of material fact or by showing that the non-moving
party's evidence fails to prove an essential element of
its case on which it bears the ultimate burden of proof.
Id. at 322-23.
the moving party meets its burden of showing the district
court that no genuine issues of material fact exist, the
burden then shifts to the non-moving party “to
demonstrate that there is indeed a material issue of fact
that precludes summary judgment.” Clark v. Coats
& Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991).
In reviewing the evidence submitted, the court must
“view the evidence presented through the prism of the
substantive evidentiary burden, ” to determine whether
the nonmoving party presented sufficient evidence on which a
jury could reasonably find for the nonmoving party.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 254
(1986); Cottle v. Storer Commc'n, Inc., 849 F.2d
570, 575 (11th Cir. 1988). Furthermore, all evidence and
inferences drawn from the underlying facts must be viewed in
the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Graham
v. State Farm Mut. Ins. Co., 193 F.3d 1274, 1282 (11th
Mr. Stephens's Arrest
30, 2015, Tarrant police officers, including Defendant Justin
Willis, responded to a call from Birmingham police requesting
assistance in recovering a carjacked vehicle. Although
Officer Willis maintains that dispatch told him the suspect
in the carjacking was armed, the dispatch audio recording
indicates only that dispatch told Officer Willis that the
situation involved a possible carjacking. A written account
of the dispatch call log states that a firearm was
“involved.” (Doc. 65-5 at 2).
Willis arrived at an apartment complex and was the first
police officer on the scene; Mr. Stephens had arrived
earlier. Upon arriving, Officer Willis saw a car and verified
that it was the same car that had been reported stolen.
Officer Willis saw Mr. Stephens bending over inside the front
driver's side of the car. Mr. Stephens then
“pop[ped] out of” the car.
Stephens had “objects” in his hand, but dropped
them and started walking away from the car. Officer Willis
reported to dispatch his belief that Mr. Stephens intended to
Willis exited his car and commanded Mr. Stephens to stop. Mr.
Stephens heard a few officers tell him to put his hands up.
(Doc. 55-4 at 9). Mr. Stephens did not comply with any of
these requests, choosing to run instead. Officer Willis
followed in pursuit.
that foot chase, another officer tried to block Mr.
Stephens's path with his patrol car, but the officer
failed to do so successfully. Although the car hit Mr.
Stephens in the leg, Mr. Stephens went around or over the
car. (Doc. 55-2 at 89). The other officer also briefly joined
in Officer Willis's pursuit of Mr. Stephens, but got back
into his car. (Id. at 89-90. 101-102). Officer
Willis estimated that he was more than 30 feet behind Mr.
Stephens during most of the chase. (Id. at 108).
Stephens continued to run, crossing a street and jumping a
fence, then going around a house and coming back around the
front side. The parties' versions of the events after Mr.
Stephens came back around the front side of the house differ
Officer Willis's Version
Willis says that he commanded Mr. Stephens to stop and that
Mr. Stephens did so and turned to face him. Officer Willis
could not see Mr. Stephens's hands. Officer Willis
surmised that he would have seen Mr. Stephens's hands if
Mr. Stephens had positioned them wide of or away from his
body. (Doc. 55-2 at 113). Officer Willis thus perceived Mr.
Stephens's turn to be “aggressive” because he
could not see Mr. Stephens's hands. (Id. at
109). To Officer Willis, Mr. Stephens did not look like he
was giving up-he did not put his hands up in the air, a
“common” response in this situation.
(Id. at 111).
split-second and “out of instinct, ” Officer
Willis fired his Taser at Mr. Stephens from approximately 15
to 20 feet away. Officer Willis aimed the Taser at Mr.
Stephens's belt line. Upon being hit by the Taser, Mr.
Stephens fell to his stomach. Officer Willis closed the
distance between them and handcuffed Mr. Stephens. After
Officer Willis patted down Mr. Stephens for weapons, he
discovered that one of the Taser's prongs hit Mr.
Stephens in the eye. Officer Willis immediately called for
Mr. Stephens's Version
Stephens describes the events differently. After he returned
to the front side of the house, Mr. Stephens “lost all
wind” and “collapsed.” (Doc. 55-4 at 9).
Mr. Stephens then told Officer Willis three times that he was
“down” and that he gave up. (Id. at
9-10). Mr. Stephens fell with his stomach on the ground, but
with his head turned in the direction of Officer Willis as he
was approaching. Officer Willis walked toward him, crouched
down with his Taser. Officer Willis then fired his Taser from
a distance of eight feet, hitting Mr. Stephens in the eye.
parties agree about the consequences of the parties'
actions on May 30, 2015. Mr. Stephens lost use of his eye.
Law enforcement officers discovered a gun in the side
floorboard of the stolen car. Mr. Stephens plead guilty to
“First Degree ...