United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division
PATERSON BROWN, SR. and KATHY M. BROWN, Co-Administrators of the Estate of Paterson Brown, Jr., Deceased, Plaintiffs,
DAVID L. COBB, individually and in his Official Capacity as a Police Officer for the City of Richmond, Virginia, and CITY OF RICHMOND, Defendants.
A. GIBNEY, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
case arises from the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Paterson
Brown, Jr., by an off-duty Richmond police officer, David L.
Cobb. The administrators of Brown's estate, Paterson
Brown, Sr., and Kathy Brown (collectively, the
"plaintiffs"), filed this action against Cobb and
the City of Richmond (the "City"). The Court denied
the City's motion to dismiss the plaintiffs' §
1983 claim for failure to train, but allowed the City to seek
early summary judgment on the issue, which the City has
done. Because the plaintiffs cannot show that
the City's training policy demonstrates deliberate
indifference concerning police officers' use of force,
much less that the policy caused the tragic incident in this
case, the Court will grant summary judgment for the City.
October 17, 2015, Cobb, an off-duty Richmond police officer,
brought his girlfriend's car to a car wash in
Chesterfield, Virginia. After Cobb left the car unattended,
he saw Brown get into the car. When Cobb realized that Brown
did not work for the car wash, he approached the car with his
gun drawn and opened the driver-side door. Cobb identified
himself as a Richmond police officer, and, paradoxically,
told Brown both to get out of the car and not to move. Cobb
also asked a bystander to call 911 to request backup from
Chesterfield police. Brown did not have a weapon.
point, Brown tried to close the driver's side door of
Cobb's car, prompting Cobb to move closer to the car with
his gun drawn. When Brown tried to close the door a second
time, Cobb stood in the way with his gun drawn, within two or
three feet of Brown, and pulled Brown's left arm to
prevent the door from closing. This caused Brown's foot
to come off the brake, and the car moved forward. Cobb then
shot Brown, either because he thought Brown was trying to
drive away when the car inched forward, or because he felt
that Brown had disobeyed the order not to move. The gunshot
struck Brown in an artery near his left pelvis. After
shooting him, Cobb pulled Brown out of the car and placed him
face down on the ground, but did not pat him down for a
weapon. An ambulance transported Brown to a hospital, where
he died later that day. A jury later convicted Cobb of
voluntary manslaughter and he served three months in jail.
acknowledged in his answer to the complaint that "all of
his relevant actions in this matter comported and complied
with the training he received" from the Richmond Police
Department (the "RPD"). (Dk. No. 22, at 7.) In
support of its summary judgment motion, the City submits
training documents, policies and guidelines on the use of
force, and the testimony of RPD Officer Michael Musselwhite
from Cobb's criminal trial. Essentially, the documents
show that the City uses various methods to train officers on
the use of force at the police academy and twice a year
thereafter. The City's program includes training on
weapons and vehicular contacts as well.
City argues that the plaintiffs cannot present sufficient
evidence of deliberate indifference in its training program.
In response, the plaintiffs offer an expert report from
Kenneth Miller, the Chief of Police for Petersburg,
Virginia. Chief Miller identifies four problems with
the City's training, which the plaintiffs argue create
genuine disputes of material fact and thus preclude summary
judgment for the City.
Monell Liability and the Failure to Train
relevant part, § 1983 provides,
Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance,
regulation, custom, or usage, of any State... subjects, or
causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or
other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the
deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured
by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party
injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper
proceeding for redress[.]
42 U.S.C. § 1983. To establish liability under §
1983, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant acted
under color of state law, violated the plaintiffs federal
constitutional or statutory rights, and caused injury.
Brown v. Mitchell, 308 F.Supp.2d 682, 692 (E.D. Va.
2004). A plaintiff cannot sue a local government "under
§ 1983 for an injury inflicted solely by its employees
or agents." Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of
N.Y., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978). In other words,
"the municipality itself`[must] cause the
constitutional violation" to establish liability;
vicarious liability will not attach to a municipality under
§ 1983. City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378,
385 (1989). Instead, a locality faces liability only when
officers inflict injury while executing the locality's
custom, usage, or policy. Monell, 436 U.S. at 694.
a locality can be liable for failing to train employees.
Connick v. Thompson, 563 U.S. 51, 61 (2011). To
recover under this "tenuous" theory, id.,
a plaintiff must prove that "(1) the [local government]
subordinates actually violated the plaintiffs constitutional
or statutory rights; (2) the [local government] failed to
train properly the subordinates thus illustrating a
'deliberate indifference' to the rights of the
persons with whom the subordinates come into contact; and (3)
this failure to train actually caused the subordinates to
violate the plaintiffs rights." Mitchell, 308
F.Supp.2d at 701. Causation in this context means that a
training deficiency made the violation basically "bound
to happen." Spell v. McDaniel, 824 F.2d 1380,
1390 (4th Cir. 1987). Courts require an "affirmative
link ... to avoid imposing liability on municipal
decisionmakers in the absence of fault and causation."
Carter v. Morris, 164 F.3d 215, 218 (4th Cir. 1999).
deliberate indifference element creates "a stringent
standard of fault." Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs v.
Brown,520 U.S. 397, 410(1997). To establish this
element, a plaintiff must identify a "specific
deficiency rather than general laxness or ineffectiveness in
training," Spell, 824 F.2d at 1390, and show
that the municipality disregarded a known or obvious
consequence of its training decision, Brown, 520
U.S. at 410. In other words, "mere negligence on the
part of policymakers is not sufficient." Spell,
824 F.2d at 1390. Liability does not attach when one employee
"happen[s] to apply the policy in an unconstitutional
manner," or when a city fails to satisfactorily train
one officer. City of Canton, 489 U.S. at 387, 390.
"Neither will it suffice to prove that an injury or
accident could have been avoided if an officer had had better
or more training." Id. at 391. Even