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Mitchell v. Miller

United States District Court, D. Maine

September 26, 2014

JONATHAN E. MITCHELL, Plaintiff,
v.
ROBERT MILLER, Defendant

For JONATHAN E MITCHELL, Plaintiff: MICHAEL J. WAXMAN, LEAD ATTORNEY, LAW OFFICE OF MICHAEL WAXMAN, PORTLAND, ME.

For ROBERT MILLER, Officer, Defendant: MARK E. DUNLAP, NORMAN, HANSON & DETROY, PORTLAND, ME.

Page 58

ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Nancy Torresen, United States District Judge.

Plaintiff Jonathan E. Mitchell alleges that his rights under the Fourth Amendment and the common law of Maine were violated when he was shot and wounded by Defendant Robert Miller, a Portland, Maine police officer, after a high speed car chase. Before the Court is the Defendant's motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 18). For the reasons that follow, the Court GRANTS the Defendant's motion.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND[1]

The Plaintiff, Jonathan Mitchell, is a 32-year-old resident of Alton, Maine. Def.'s Statement of Material Facts (" DSMF" ) ¶ 1.[2] On the evening of April 9, 2011, Mitchell was staying with two friends at their apartment on Washington Avenue in Portland, Maine. DSMF ¶ 9. During the course of the night, Mitchell drank at a bar and smoked marijuana. DSMF ¶ ¶ 107, 112.

In the early morning hours of April 10, 2011, Mitchell took one of his host's cars, a black Volkswagen Jetta plastered with bumper stickers, and drove alone to an apartment on Allen Avenue where his wife, Mari Mitchell, was living. DSMF ¶ ¶ 9-11. Jonathan Mitchell broke into the apartment, woke Mari Mitchell up, and began talking to her about their relationship.

Page 59

DSMF ¶ ¶ 13-14. At 4:39 a.m., after Jonathan Mitchell left, Mari Mitchell called the police. DSMF ¶ ¶ 15-16. She told the dispatcher what had happened, gave a description of the Jetta that Jonathan Mitchell was driving, and explained which way he had gone. DSMF ¶ 17; Ex. 8 (" Dispatch Tape" ) at Track 1. Mari Mitchell referred to Jonathan Mitchell as her ex-husband, though they were actually still married. PSMF ¶ 116.

A dispatcher issued a radio bulletin relaying that Mari Mitchell had called in to report that her ex-husband, Jonathan Mitchell, had broken into her house and then fled in a black Volkswagen covered in bumper stickers and turned right off Allen Avenue onto Washington Avenue. Ex. 8 at Track 3; see also DSMF ¶ 18. Subsequent dispatches indicated that Jonathan Mitchell's license had been revoked because he was habitual offender, that he was a sexually violent convicted felon, and that Mari Mitchell had described him as being under the influence of alcohol or drugs and possibly unstable. DSMF ¶ ¶ 41-44.

Officer Miller, a four-year veteran of the force, was alone in his patrol car when he heard these dispatches. DSMF ¶ 18; Tr. of July 25, 2013 Dep. of Officer Robert Miller 2-3 (7:22-10:4) (" Miller Dep." ) (ECF No. 18-2). A camera attached to the front of his cruiser was recording at the time. Def.'s Ex. 9, 11 (" Car 12 Video" ). As the video from the cruiser cam shows, a vehicle matching Mari Mitchell's description--a black Jetta covered in bumper stickers--passed Officer Miller going the opposite way on Washington Avenue. DSMF ¶ 20; Car 12 Video 00:23. Officer Miller turned his cruiser around and began following. DSMF ¶ 21; Car 12 Video 00:28-32.

The car--driven by Jonathan Mitchell--turned into a residential neighborhood, and then turned right and left at two stop signs that followed, signaling and coming to a complete stop both times. DSMF ¶ ¶ 22, 24; Car 12 Video 00:46-01:25. At the second stop sign, Officer Miller confirmed that the car matched the description in the radio dispatch. DSMF ¶ 24. Officer Miller turned on his blue lights and siren to signal for Mitchell to pull over. DSMF ¶ 24; Car 12 Video 01:25.

Mitchell did not pull over, though he did continue to signal, stop at stop signs, and drive at a moderate speed for a little over a minute, with Officer Miller following. DSMF ¶ 25; Car 12 Video 01:25-02:32. At the end of this interval, Portland Police Officer David Schertz--who also had a camera attached to his cruiser--joined in the pursuit. DSMF ¶ 31; Tr. of July 25, 2013 Dep. of Officer David Schertz 3 (11:12-15) (" Schertz Dep." ) (ECF No. 18-3); Def. Exs. 10-11 at 02:12-02:32 (" Car 9 Video" ).

The nature of the chase changed shortly afterwards. Car 9 and 12 Videos 02:33-03:12; see also DSMF ¶ ¶ 26-27. Mitchell turned down another residential side street and then raced ahead, reaching speeds of up to 65 miles an hour. Car 9 and 12 Videos 02:33-03:12; DSMF ¶ 27.

About forty seconds into this phase of his flight, Mitchell turned right onto Fairfield Street; unknown to him, it dead-ended at a guardrail and an embankment a block ahead. DSMF ¶ ¶ 28-30; Car 9 and 12 Videos 03:13-03:23. Officer Miller turned to follow, with Officer Schertz close behind. DSMF ¶ ¶ 28, 32; Car 9 and 12 Videos 03:13-03:23. At the dead end, Mitchell veered off the street to the right, up the embankment, coming to a brief stop about three or four feet above street level. DSMF ¶ 33; Car 9 and 12 Videos 03:23-03:25.

Page 60

The Court recounts the chaotic scene that followed in reference to the second-by-second time-stamps in the two videos from the officers' cruiser cams:

3:22-25 Officer Miller parks his cruiser on the right side of Fairfield Street, several feet behind and to the left of Mitchell's car. Officer Schertz parks behind Officer Miller. Mitchell begins backing down the embankment, in front and to the right of the parked cruisers.
3:26 Officer Miller emerges from the driver side of his cruiser.
3:27-28 The Jetta pulls abruptly forward and to the left two to three feet, before coming to a sudden halt. Officer Miller draws his gun and walks toward the Jetta.
3:29-30 Officer Miller approaches the front driver side of the Jetta with his gun drawn, yelling loudly for Mitchell to get out of the car. Officer Schertz emerges from the driver side of his cruiser and follows behind Officer Miller on foot.
3:31-32 Mitchell does not obey Officer Miller's commands. Officer Miller opens the driver-side door of the Jetta with his left hand, keeping his gun trained on Mitchell with his right.
3:33 The Jetta lurches about a foot forward. Officer Miller continues to hold onto the driver side door with his left hand and keep his gun ...

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