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Flood v. Alabama Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission

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

April 15, 2019

SHIRLEY MCBRAYER FLOOD, as Personal Representative of the Estate of David Daniel McBrayer, deceased, Plaintiff, ALABAMA PEACE OFFICERS STANDARDS AND TRAINING COMMISSION, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ANNEMARIE CARNEY AXON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the court on Defendant City of Jacksonville, Alabama's (“the City”) motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 76).

         In early November 2014, David Daniel McBrayer displayed symptoms of an undiagnosed mental illness. After being arrested for disorderly conduct, police officers noticed that Mr. McBrayer was acting strangely and called his father, telling him that Mr. McBrayer needed help for a mental illness. A few days after the police released Mr. McBrayer into his father's custody, a neighbor at Mr. McBrayer's apartment complex called the police to report that someone was shooting a BB gun into a car in the parking lot. When officers arrived, they found Mr. McBrayer in his apartment. As they started moving away, Mr. McBrayer left his apartment, went to his car, and began to return to his apartment holding a box cutter. As he approached the area near the officers, he brandished the box cutter and yelled that he felt threatened by the officers. The officers responded by drawing their weapons and repeatedly ordering him to drop the “knife.” Instead, he approached the officers, moving in the direction of his apartment, still holding out the box cutter, while yelling that he was going home. As the distance between Mr. McBrayer and one of the officers closed, the officer shot him five times, killing him almost instantly.

         Mr. McBrayer's estate, through Ms. Flood, filed this lawsuit, asserting that the City failed to adequately train its police officers “to provide reasonable accommodations for mentally disabled citizens.”[1] (Doc. 23 at 10-11). The City moves for summary judgment. (Doc. 76). The court WILL GRANT the motion for summary judgment and WILL ENTER SUMMARY JUDGMENT in favor of the City and against Ms. Flood because Ms. Flood has not presented evidence from which a reasonable jury could find that the officer who shot Mr. McBrayer violated his constitutional rights.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On a motion for summary judgment, the court “draw[s] all inferences and review[s] all evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.” Hamilton v. Southland Christian Sch., Inc., 680 F.3d 1316, 1318 (11th Cir. 2012) (quotation marks omitted).

         On November 8, 2014, Jacksonville Police Department Officers Gilbar and Lyons responded to a call about a possible attempt to break into a Dollar General and found Mr. McBrayer outside the store holding a hammer. (Doc. 76-3 at 14, 67). They arrested him for disorderly conduct and took him to the Jacksonville jail. (Id. at 14). Within six hours, Mr. McBrayer's strange behavior caused the jailors to suspect that he might have a mental illness. (Id. at 12, 16). As a result, a jailer named Jonathan Wilbanks called a county mental health officer, who was unable to report to the jail that night and recommended that Mr. Wilbanks call Mr. McBrayer's family. (Id. at 12).

         On November 10, 2014, Mr. Wilbanks called Mr. McBrayer's father, Bradford McBrayer, [2] to tell him that his son was at the jail and needed “mental help.” (Doc. 76-3 at 16; Doc. 80 at 20). Bradford McBrayer picked his son up from the jail late that night. (Doc. 80 at 20).

         In total, Mr. McBrayer was held in the Jacksonville County Jail for about two days. (See Doc. 76-3 at 14; Doc. 80 at 20). Officer Dale Edwards worked both days, meaning that he might have “walked through the jail” and fed the three inmates-including Mr. McBrayer-who were incarcerated on those days. (See Doc. 76-3 at 7, 33). Assistant Chief Gerald Wineman testified that “everybody in the jail” knew that Mr. McBrayer needed “mental help.” (Doc. 76-3 at 16).

         On November 12, two days after Mr. McBrayer's release from jail, one of Mr. McBrayer's neighbors, Lyssa Scott, called the police to report that Mr. McBrayer had shot another neighbor's car with a BB gun. (Doc. 80 at 7). The officers who responded told her that Mr. McBrayer “was mentally unstable and advised if he came back around to call the police.”[3] (Id.). The parties dispute whether Officer Edwards was one of those officers, as Ms. Scott did not name them in the report. (See Doc. 81 at 8-9; Doc. 85 at 7-8). The court finds Ms. Flood has presented sufficient evidence from which a reasonable juror could infer that Officer Edwards was one of the officers who spoke with Ms. Scott. In his deposition, Officer Edwards testified that he went to the apartment complex twice that night. (See Doc. 76-2 at 12) (testifying that no one identified Mr. McBrayer “the first time, but we were called back a second time”). It is reasonable to infer that the first time was in response to Ms. Scott's call, and that Officer Edwards was one of the officers who advised Ms. Scott that Mr. McBrayer was mentally unstable.

         Following the officers' instructions, Ms. Scott called the police back when Mr. McBrayer returned later that night. (Doc. 80 at 7). This time, Officer Edwards, Officer Dan Tomlinson, and Corporal Howard Bishop went to the apartment complex to investigate. (Doc. 76-2 at 7, 12). Officer Edwards and Corporal Bishop knocked on Mr. McBrayer's door while Officer Tomlinson went around the back, but although Officer Tomlinson could see Mr. McBrayer inside, Mr. McBrayer did not answer the door. (Id. at 6-7). Corporal Bishop ordered the officers to return to “service, ” but as they were leaving, Officer Tomlinson reported that Mr. McBrayer had left his apartment. (Id. at 12-13). Officer Edwards and Officer Tomlinson approached Mr. McBrayer, who was by that time rummaging through the trunk of his car. (Id.).

         Around this time, Officers Tomlinson and Edwards turned on their body cameras. The first thirty seconds of each recording is silent, but Officer Edwards has testified about what was said during that time and Ms. Flood does not dispute Officer Edwards' testimony on that point. (See Doc. 91; see also Doc. 76-2 at 8; Doc. 81 at 2-3 ¶ 7). The videos show that as Mr. McBrayer walked back toward his apartment carrying a box cutter in his right hand, the officers approached him with Officer Tomlinson to the left and Officer Edwards to the right. (Doc. 76-2 at 7-8; Doc. 76-1 (Edwards Video) 00:00-00:26). When the officers got within a few feet of Mr. McBrayer, he “scream[ed] . . . ‘I feel threatened'” and raised the box cutter in Officer Tomlinson's direction. (Doc. 76-2 at 8; see Doc. 76-1 (Tomlinson Video) at 00:13-00:30). He quickly became agitated, brandishing the box cutter and yelling that he was going home, to which the officers told him, “No, you're not.” (Doc. 76-1 (Tomlinson Video) at 00:15-00:33; Doc. 76-1 (Edwards Video) at 00:22-00:28).

         The officers, who pulled their guns when he raised the box cutter, repeatedly shouted for Mr. McBrayer to drop “the knife.” (Doc. 76-1 (Tomlinson Video) at 00:33-00:41; Doc 76-1 (Edwards Video) at 00:23-00:50). Mr. McBrayer, pointing the knife at Officer Edwards, told him to get out of the way and said “I'm going home.” (Doc. 76-1 (Edwards Video) at 00:38-00:42). Meanwhile, the officers continued to repeat their commands for Mr. McBrayer to drop the knife, and he continued to ignore those commands. (Doc. 76-1 (Tomlinson Video) at 00:35-00:41; Doc. 76-1 (Edwards Video) at 00:38-00:50).

         Mr. McBrayer continued moving in the direction of his apartment, and Officer Edwards backed up as Mr. McBrayer got closer to him. (Doc. 76-1 (Tomlinson Video) at 00:33-00:41; (Doc. 76-1 (Edwards Video) at 00:23-00:50). As Mr. McBrayer moved toward Officer Edwards, Officer Edwards fired his gun five times, hitting Mr. McBrayer in the chest. (Doc. 76-1 (Tomlinson Video) at 00:41-00:50; Doc. 76-1 (Edwards Video) at 00:50-00:55). After Mr. McBrayer fell to the ground, ...


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