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Godfrey v. Faulkner

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

January 23, 2015

ALLEN LEE GODFREY, SR., Plaintiff,
v.
OFFICER D. R. FAULKNER, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

NORMAN K. MOON, District Judge.

Allen Lee Godfrey, Sr., a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983, alleging that during his arrest, the defendant police officers used excessive force against him or failed to intervene to prevent such force. Defendants Faulkner, McNiff, Loureiro, [1] and Anderson have filed motions for summary judgment, to which Godfrey has responded.[2] After reviewing the record, I find genuine issues of material facts in dispute that preclude summary judgment.

I. GODFREY'S ALLEGATIONS

In his complaint and other submissions, [3] Godfrey alleges this sequence of events related to his claims. On December 30, 2011, he was resting in his vehicle in a Roanoke Kroger store parking lot, when a person who did not identify himself (Officer Faulkner of the Roanoke City Police Department) dragged him from the vehicle onto the pavement. While Godfrey screamed for help, Faulkner smashed Godfrey's face, head, and body into nearby parked cars, knocking Godfrey temporarily unconscious. Faulkner's continued actions roused Godfrey to semi-consciousness. Godfrey then saw Faulkner trying to pull his firearm and reached for that firearm to prevent the officer from shooting him. Just then, Kroger customers joined the scuffle. The weapon stayed in its holster and, ultimately, Faulkner placed Godfrey in handcuffs.

Officer McNiff arrived shortly thereafter, and the two officers led Godfrey to the back of Faulkner's police car, where other officers had arrived on the scene, including a lieutenant. After Godfrey spoke to one of these officers, McNiff kneed Godfrey in his outer thigh, knocking him to the ground on his tailbone; pushed Godfrey's head hard against his chest, making it difficult for him to breathe; placed a knee in Godfrey's lower back; and squeezed the handcuffs tight against Godfrey's wrists, rubbing hair off his wrists and arms. McNiff also twisted Godfrey's neck and pressed his knee against Godfrey's back to spin him down onto his stomach on the pavement, wearing only his boxers (officers had pulled off his other clothes at some point). McNiff yanked Godfrey to his feet, only to knee him back to a sitting position, while Godfrey, bleeding, screamed in pain. Godfrey alleges that Faulkner did not try to stop McNiff's abuse, and that a police sergeant and lieutenant heard and ignored Godfrey's pleas for them to make that abuse stop.

Paramedics arrived on the scene. Officer Loureiro, wearing gloves, grabbed and smashed Godfrey's face repeatedly against the side of a car, knocking out a tooth filling and chipping several other teeth. Loureiro then held Godfrey's face against the car with a "jaw lock" while the paramedics looked at Godfrey and put a facemask on him. McNiff and Loureiro threw Godfrey belly-down on the pavement, then yanked him up and moved him to a more secluded area of the parking lot. McNiff kneed Godfrey, knocking him to his knees. Moving behind Godfrey, McNiff then grabbed Godfrey's forehead and pulled back hard, wrenching Godfrey's back and twisting his neck, and causing him to scream in pain. Loureiro placed a gloved hand over Godfrey's mouth. Sgt. Anderson, instead of stopping the officers' actions against Godfrey, moved to push Kroger customers away to prevent them from taking photos of the proceedings with their phones. Ultimately, officers led Godfrey to a police vehicle and transported him to the police department.

The defendant police officers' affidavits describe these events in quite a different light. They assert that Faulkner reasonably suspected Godfrey of committing a crime, ordered him out of the car, and when he did not comply, physically removed and handcuffed him, while Godfrey physically resisted being restrained and then attacked the officer and reached for his gun. Defendants also assert that Godfrey continued to be combative, spat and made verbal threats, toward the officers until he was removed from the scene. Defendants' evidence includes video footage of the incident from the Kroger store's surveillance video camera and from the in-car video recorders of two different police cruisers; court orders convicting Godfrey of grand larceny of the truck, assaulting a police officer, and trying to take the officer's gun, based on this incident; and numerous affidavits from police officers and citizens on the scene, describing Godfrey's continued struggle with the officers.

In response to defendants' motions, Godfrey submits his own declaration and a letter prepared by Shaheed Omar, who witnessed part of the incident-both of which reiterate Godfrey's allegations that the officers used unnecessary force against him, particularly after he was handcuffed. Godfrey states that he cried out in pain and begged for help, that he did not resist or spit at anyone, and that if he squirmed, such movements were an involuntary reaction to the pain the officers' actions caused him.

I have carefully reviewed the relevant video provided on summary judgment. The soundless video footage from the Kroger store's surveillance camera shows Faulkner's police vehicle drive past a dark pickup truck in the foreground. Faulkner approaches the truck's cab and stands at the driver's window, while movement is visible inside the cab. After several minutes, the pickup rolls slowly forward and off to the right. Then, two individuals can be seen, struggling, bumping into two nearby parked cars and then to the pavement. Suddenly, the officer in his dark uniform is underneath the other individual in lighter clothing, both visibly struggling. Within seconds, other people are seen running from the store to join in the struggle, which continues for a couple minutes, gradually calming. Then, a second police cruiser arrives, and an officer runs out to assist his colleague. Together, they pull the now-handcuffed driver to his feet and escort him off to the left, out of view of the camera.

Video footage shot by Faulkner's in-car camera from behind the pickup shows the same basic sequence of events, also without audio. After standing at the side of the cab for a few minutes, Faulkner opens the driver's door, and it is yanked closed. He opens it again and pulls the driver out of the vehicle and off to the left, out of view of the camera, as the truck rolls slowly away. The officer's uniformed back comes briefly into view a couple times and disappears again, and then, several seconds later, the officer stumbles backward into the camera view and falls to the pavement. A shirtless individual runs after and dives on top of the officer, as they both appear to reach for and struggle over the officer's firearm. Then other people come running up, pull the shirtless individual off the officer, and help the officer hold him down on the pavement while the officer applies the handcuffs. McNiff arrives, he and Faulkner lift the cuffed individual to his feet, and lead him off to the right, out of the camera's view.

A third video clip from another officer's in-car camera picks up more than ten minutes later, shortly before midnight. It shows Godfrey (now without shirt or pants, still handcuffed) seated on the pavement. A police officer squats behind him, apparently holding his arms, while an officer from the ambulance squats in front of Godfrey and places a mask over his nose and mouth. Godfrey repeatedly tries to shake the mask off and squirms away from the officer holding his arms. Three times, the officer pushes and holds Godfrey forward toward his knees. Other officers stand and watch. During this four-and-a-half-minute sequence, Godfrey appears to be speaking, but the footage does not include audio. Finally, the officers help Godfrey to his feet and escort him off camera.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A court should grant summary judgment "if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). "As to materiality... [o]nly 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). In order to preclude summary judgment, the dispute about a material fact must be "genuine, ' that is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id.

In reviewing the evidence, the court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party and may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence." Williams v. Staples, Inc., 372 F.3d 662, 667 (4th Cir. 2004); see also Gray v. Spillman, 925 F.2d 90, 95 (4th Cir. 1991) (at the summary judgment stage, "[i]t is not [the court's] job to weigh the evidence, to count how many affidavits favor the plaintiff and how many oppose him, or to disregard stories that seem hard to believe"). Detailed factual allegations in a verified, pro se complaint may be sufficient to withstand a motion for summary judgment with supporting affidavits containing a conflicting version of the facts. Williams v. Griffin, 952 F.2d 820, 823 (4th Cir. 1991) ("[A] verified complaint is the ...


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