United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Abingdon Division
JAMIE HUFFMAN, ADMINISTRATRIX AND PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF WILLIAM MICHAEL HUFFMAN, DECEASED, Plaintiff,
FRED P. NEWMAN, ETC., ET AL., Defendants.
E. Jones, Abingdon, Virginia, for Plaintiff.
S. Keuling-Stout, Keuling-Stout, P.C., Big Stone Gap,
Virginia, for Defendants.
OPINION AND ORDER
P. Jones, United States District Judge.
a fatal police shooting, the representative of the
deceased’s estate has sued the shooting officer and the
sheriff, his employer, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming
unconstitutional use of excessive force. She has also
asserted a pendent state law wrongful death claim. The
defendants have moved for summary judgment, invoking
qualified immunity. For the reasons explained below, I will
enter summary judgment on behalf of the defendants.
following undisputed facts are taken from the affidavits,
party admissions, and other evidence submitted to the court
as part of the summary judgment record.
27, 2014, shortly before noon, plaintiff Jamie Huffman called
911 regarding her husband, William Michael Huffman, known as
Michael. She told the operator that Michael had been drinking
and had gone into the bathroom. She stated that she thought
he had a gun and that a pistol was missing from the gun
cabinet. Mrs. Huffman had heard a noise and was afraid to
enter the bathroom. While speaking with the 911 operator over
a landline, Mrs. Huffman used her mobile phone to call Sheila
Cooke, who lived next door to the Huffmans.
response, Cooke came to the Huffman’s house and went
into the bathroom, and Mrs. Huffman followed. Michael sat on
the toilet talking to Cooke, who was sitting across from him
on the bathtub. Mrs. Huffman observed a shell casing on the
floor of the bathroom, which she showed to Cooke. Michael
stated that he had shot at a stray cat from the bathroom
window. Mrs. Huffman described Michael as calm; he did not
make any threatening statements or gestures.
Huffman told the 911 operator that she still wanted an
officer to respond to the residence because Michael had been
making suicidal statements. Mrs. Huffman walked to the
kitchen and remained on the phone with the 911 operator. She
told the operator that her husband was experiencing
withdrawal from pain medication. Cooke and Michael exited the
bathroom and entered the living room, where Michael sat in a
recliner chair. His pistol was next to him, resting between
his right leg and the arm of the chair. Mrs. Huffman told the
911 operator where the gun was located.
Thomas Gregory Caldwell, a Deputy Sheriff of Washington
County, Virginia, responding to the 911 call, then arrived at
the Huffman home along with Virginia State Police Master
Trooper Rick Fore. Deputy Caldwell asked Michael, still
sitting in the recliner, if he had a firearm, to which
Michael replied, “Huh.” (Huffman Aff. ¶ 9,
ECF No. 28-1.) Deputy Caldwell repeated the question, and
Michael answered, “No.” (Id.) Deputy
Caldwell then asked Michael about the gun next to him and
requested that Michael lay it down, but Michael responded,
“No.” (Id.) Deputy Caldwell ordered
Michael to give him the gun at least two times, but Michael
did not comply. Cooke told Michael that if he would give up
his gun, she would get him a beer; he refused her request.
Deputy Caldwell asked Michael, “[W]ould you like to
tell me what’s going on?” (Id.) Michael
replied that he had been trying to shoot a stray cat out of
his bathroom window. A beer bottle and prescription pill
bottles were on a table next to Michael.
Caldwell motioned for Mrs. Huffman to step outside with him.
Mrs. Huffman walked onto the porch and Deputy Caldwell stood
in the front doorway. The recliner in which Michael was
seated had its back to the front door, ten to twelve feet
from the door. Mrs. Huffman told Deputy Caldwell that Michael
had been depressed; had issues with prescription drugs and
alcohol; and had gone into the bathroom and fired a gun,
prompting her to call 911. Michael then rose from the
recliner with the pistol in his right hand. Deputy Caldwell
again ordered Michael to drop the gun. Michael did not do so,
but instead began moving to his left. At that point, Deputy
Caldwell fired one shot from his pistol, striking
Michael. Deputy Caldwell then secured
Michael’s firearm, handed it to Trooper Fore, and began
administering first aid. Michael was transported by ambulance
and helicopter to Bristol Regional Medical Center, where he
died as a result of the gunshot wound.
autopsy report revealed that the bullet fired by Deputy
Caldwell entered Michael’s body at the left side of the
abdomen and traveled to the right side of the abdomen. The
bullet’s trajectory was “left to right, slightly
downward and slightly front to back.” (Mem. P. & A.
Opp’n Defs.’ Mot. Summ. J., Ex. 2, 1, ECF No.
28-4.) A photograph of Michael taken immediately after the
shooting shows that the gunshot wound was located on his left
side, between his armpit and hip. (Reply to Pl.’s
Resp., Ex. A, ECF No. 33-4.)
time prior to the shooting did Michael point his gun at
anyone or make any verbal threats.
Huffman asserts a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 of
excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment, as well
as a state law wrongful death claim pursuant to Va. Code Ann.
§ 8.01-50. She has named as defendants both Deputy
Caldwell and Fred P. Newman, the Sheriff of Washington
County. The defendants have moved for summary
judgment, arguing that they are entitled to qualified
immunity and that the undisputed facts warrant judgment in
their favor as a matter of law. Newman also contends that as
a matter of law, he cannot be held liable for Michael’s
death under a theory of supervisory liability ...