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Chappell v. Ezekiel

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

June 7, 2019

JERRY W. CHAPPELL, as Administrator of the Estate of Wendy Chappell Price, Plaintiff,
v.
ADAM EZEKIEL, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          GRAY M. BORDEN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Jerry W. Chappell filed this suit against Defendants Adam Ezekiel, Jessica Mims, and Jason Reeves asserting claims of Excessive Force in Violation of the Fourth Amendment and Wrongful Death. Doc. 1. This lawsuit arises from the fatal shooting of Wendy Chappell Price on June 17, 2015. Now before the court are the Motions for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants Adam Ezekiel (Doc. 77) and Jessica Mims and Jason Reeves (Doc. 78). Also pending before the court is a Motion to Exclude Testimony of Plaintiff's Expert. Doc. 82. After careful consideration of the parties' submissions, the applicable law, and the record as a whole, the court concludes that the Motions for Summary Judgment (Docs. 77 & 78) are due to be GRANTED, and that the Motion to Exclude Testimony (Doc. 82) is due to be DENIED.

         I. JURISDICTION AND VENUE

         The court has subject-matter jurisdiction over the claims in this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1367. The parties do not contest personal jurisdiction or venue, and the court finds adequate allegations to support both.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment is appropriate “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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “The purpose of summary judgement is to separate real, genuine issues from those which are formal or pretended.” Tippens v. Celotex Corp., 805 F.2d 949, 953 (11th Cir. 1986). “Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute of material fact is genuine only if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. at 248.

         The 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 [dispute] of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (internal quotation marks omitted). In responding to a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material fact.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Indeed, the nonmovant must “go beyond the pleadings” and submit admissible evidence demonstrating “specific facts showing that there is a genuine [dispute] for trial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324 (internal quotation marks omitted). If the evidence is “merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249 (citations omitted).

         When a district court considers a motion for summary judgment, it “must view all the evidence and all factual inferences reasonably drawn from the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and must resolve all reasonable doubts about the facts in favor of the nonmovant.” Rioux v. City of Atlanta, Ga., 520 F.3d 1269, 1274 (11th Cir. 2008) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). The court's role is not to “weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. “If a reasonable fact finder evaluating the evidence could draw more than one inference from the facts, and if that inference introduces a genuine issue of material fact, then the court should not grant summary judgment.” Allen v. Bd. of Pub. Ed. for Bibb Cnty., 495 F.3d 1306, 1315 (11th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). Importantly, if the nonmovant “fails to adduce evidence which would be sufficient . . . to support a jury finding for [the nonmovant], summary judgment may be granted.” Brooks v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Fla., Inc., 116 F.3d 1364, 1370 (11th Cir. 1997) (citation omitted).

         III. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Resolving all factual inferences in favor of Chappell, the nonmovant, the facts are as follows.

         On the night of June 17, 2015, Alabama State Trooper Christopher Nunn was working the construction zone detail at Exit 238 on the southbound side of Interstate 65 in Alabaster, Alabama when a man ran up to him and said, “My wife's crazy. She's got a gun and threatened to kill me.” Doc. 79-5 at 4-5. Nunn jumped out his patrol car, and asked the man to repeat himself. Doc. 79-5 at 5. “She's crazy. She's got a gun. She's threatened to kill me.” Doc. 79-5 at 5. The man pointed his wife's car out, a reddish Chevy Blazer, which was stuck in heavy traffic. Doc. 79-5. Nunn drove his patrol car behind her, activated his blue lights and siren, and attempted to pull her over. Doc. 79-5. Jon Brummitt, another state trooper working the construction zone, followed behind Nunn in his own vehicle. Doc. 79-5 at 6. Although they were driving slowly, the woman refused to stop until the group had traveled approximately ten miles. Doc. 79-5 at 5-6.

         While following the woman, Nunn explained on his radio that someone had told him that his wife was trying to kill him, and that Nunn was behind her vehicle, trying to get it stopped. Doc. 79-5 at 6. When the woman, Wendy Chappell Price, reached Exit 228, she stopped her car in middle of the interstate under the overpass. Doc. 79-5 at 6. She did not pull her car onto the shoulder or off the road, but remained in the right lane of traffic. Doc. 79-1. Other units from the Calera Police Department arrived to assist the troopers and blocked northbound traffic and the southbound on-ramp. Doc. 79-5 at 6. At least five police cars were present. Doc. 79-1. The cars were parked behind Price's Chevy Blazer with their lights and sirens activated. Doc. 79-1. A number of officers exited their vehicles and stood around Price's car. Doc. 79-1.

         Nunn used his public address system to give Price commands, instructing her to roll down her window and show her hands. Doc. 79-5 at 7. Price rolled her window down slightly, but she refused to open her door or roll the window down completely. Doc. 79-1 at 15:32. Nunn could hear that she was yelling, but he could not make out what she was saying.[1] Price blew her horn repeatedly, and for an extended duration, during the stop at Exit 228. Doc. 79-1. She also yelled continually. Doc. 79-1. At one point, Brummitt began to walk towards her vehicle from behind. Doc. 79-1 at 16:36. She then flashed her revolver at him. Doc 79-1 at 16:50. Brummitt called out, “Whoa, she's got a gun, ” and “She flashed her revolver at me.” Doc. 79-1 at 16:50-17:03. Nunn did not personally see the weapon, but he heard Brummitt's statements and told dispatch that Brummitt had seen the weapon. Doc. 79-1 at 16:50-17:04. Price remained in her vehicle for another 18 minutes. Doc. 79-1. She continued to yell and blow her car horn. Doc. 79-1. Then, without warning, she drove off again. Doc. 79-1 at 35:10. In total, Price was stopped at Exit 228 for over 30 minutes. Doc. 79-1 at 2:04-35:10.

         After Price drove off, law enforcement followed behind her at a speed of around 90 miles per hour. Doc. 79-5 at 7. Brummitt drove ahead of Price and deployed spike strips in an effort to stop Price's car. Docs. 79-4 at 11 & 79-5 at 8. At least one of Price's tires was punctured by the spike strips, but she continued to drive around 80 miles per hour. Doc. 79-5 at 8. Eventually her speed decreased to about 50 miles per hour. Doc. 79-1 at 44:41. As the group approached a rest stop at Exit 219, one of her tires blew out. Doc. 79-1 at 45:57. She continued to drive until she reached Exit 212. Doc. 79-1 at 47:25. Individual accounts of the car chase follow.

         During the high-speed pursuit, dispatch contacted Jessica Mims of the Chilton County Sherriff's Department and requested that she help to stop traffic because a woman was barricaded in her car at Exit 228. Doc. 79-3 at 7. Dispatch also told Mims that they needed a negotiator. Doc. 79-3 at 7. Mims drove to the county line and blocked traffic on the interstate. Doc. 79-3 at 7. After about 15 minutes, she deployed her tire spikes across the southbound lanes of travel on I-65. Doc. 79-3 at 8. Mims saw the Chevy Blazer drive by her followed by law enforcement vehicles. Doc. 79-3 at 8. The spikes did not stop Price's vehicle, so Mims picked them up, put them back in her car, and joined the pursuit. Doc. 79-3 at 8.

         Meanwhile, Alabama State Trooper Adam Ezekiel was headed home from Clanton, Alabama and, as he usually does, he took Exit 228 off the northbound lanes of Interstate 65. Doc. 79-4 at 7. He noticed several police cars stationed underneath the interstate overpass, and stopped to ask if he could assist. Doc. 79-9 at 8. A Calera police officer informed Ezekiel that a state trooper had been involved in a chase with an armed woman. Doc. 79-4 at 8. Ezekiel notified dispatch that he would be assisting at the scene, grabbed his patrol rifle, and took a position on the overpass. Doc. 79-4 at 8. It was dark outside, but a police spotlight lit the scene. Doc. 79-4 at 9. Ezekiel could see an SUV underneath the overpass, and he claims that he saw a woman stick her arm out of the SUV's window several times while holding a firearm. Doc. 79-4 at 9. He also heard her blow the car horn repeatedly. Doc. 79-4 at 9. Ezekiel could not see inside the vehicle. Doc. 79-4 at 9. After he had been on the scene for eight to ten minutes, the woman put her car back in gear, steered around a set of spike strips, and drove away. Doc. 79-4 at 10. Ezekiel then joined in the pursuit. Doc. 79-4 at 11. As Ezekiel approached Exit 212, his rear tires were hit by spike strips.

         Earlier that day, Jason Reeves of the Chilton County Sherriff's Department was at the local courthouse working on reports and catching calls. Doc. 79-2 at 6. He could hear radio traffic, and overheard that Mims had driven to Exit 228 to put out spike strips. Doc. 79-2 at 6. He then heard that the female suspect was mobile again and possibly had two guns. Doc. 79-2 at 6. When he heard that the group had passed the county line, he thought the suspect might get off the interstate at Exit 219. Doc. 79-2 at 6. He told dispatch that he was going to see if he could help, then got in his car and drove to the rest area near Exit 219. Doc. 79-2 at 7. Price passed by in her vehicle with a pack of law enforcement officers behind her. Doc. 79-2 at 7. Reeves pulled behind the cars and joined in the chase. Doc. 79-2 at 7. As the caravan got closer to Exit 212, the officers from Calera moved out of the way, and Reeves moved up to the front of the pack. Doc. 79-2 at 7.

         While the vehicle pursuit was ongoing, City of Clanton Officer Derrick Bone was at the Peach Park in Clanton, near Exit 205, completing a report. Doc. 79-6 at 4. He overheard radio traffic about a vehicle pursuit. Doc. 79-6 at 4. Bone decided to drive to Exit 212 once he heard that the caravan had passed Exit 214. Doc. 79-6 at 4-5. He sat and waited at Exit 212 until he heard over the radio that the group was exiting the interstate. Doc. 79-6 at 5. He then drove backwards down the southbound exit ramp. Doc. 79-6 at 6. Price's car came up the ramp toward him at a slow pace and finally stopped. Doc. 79-6 at 16. The other officers stopped ...


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