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Stamps v. Town of Framingham

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

February 5, 2016

EURIE A. STAMPS, JR., Co-administrator of the Estate of Eurie A. Stamps, Sr.; NORMA BUSHFAN-STAMPS, Co-administrator of the Estate of Eurie A. Stamps, Sr., Plaintiffs, Appellees,
TOWN OF FRAMINGHAM; PAUL K. DUNCAN, individually and in his official capacity as a police officer of the Framingham Police Department, Defendants, Appellants

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Leonard H. Kesten, with whom Thomas R. Donohue, Deidre Brennan Regan, and Brody, Hardoon, Perkins & Kesten, LLP were on brief, for appellants.

Anthony Tarricone, with whom Joseph P. Musacchio, Kreindler & Kreindler, LLP, Anthony W. Fugate, and Bardouille and Fugate were on brief, for appellees.

Matthew R. Segal, Adriana Lafaille, Ezekiel Edwards, Ilya Shapiro, Benjamin Crump, Juan Cartagena, Jose Perez, Bradford M. Berry, and Anson Asaka, on brief for the American Civil Liberties Union, American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, Cato Institute, National Bar Association, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People -- New England Area Conference, amici curiae in support of appellees.

Before Lynch, Thompson, and Kayatta, Circuit Judges.


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LYNCH, Circuit Judge.

This civil rights case brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 arises from the tragic shooting death of an innocent, elderly, African-American man, Eurie Stamps, Sr. He was shot by a local police officer, Paul Duncan, during a SWAT team raid executing a search warrant for drugs and related paraphernalia

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belonging to two drug dealers with violent criminal histories thought to reside in Stamps's home.

The co-administrators of Stamps's estate sued the Town of Framingham and Duncan. The plaintiffs argue that Duncan violated Stamps's Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable seizure when he pointed a loaded semi-automatic rifle at Stamps's head, with his finger on the trigger and the safety off. Duncan did so even though Stamps had been subdued, was lying in a hallway on his stomach with his hands above his head, and was compliant and posed no known threat to the officers. Duncan moved for summary judgment on the ground that he was entitled to qualified immunity because the shooting was an accident and, in any event, not a violation of clearly established law. The district court denied the motion, holding that a reasonable jury could find that Duncan had violated Stamps's Fourth Amendment rights and that the law was sufficiently clearly established to put Duncan on notice that pointing a loaded firearm at the head of an innocent and compliant person, with the safety off and a finger on the trigger, is not constitutionally permissible. Stamps v. Town of Framingham, 38 F.Supp.3d 146, 151-58 (D. Mass. 2014). Duncan appealed.

We agree with the district court and affirm the denial of the defendants' motion for summary judgment on qualified immunity.


The parties do not dispute that we properly have interlocutory jurisdiction. The defendants have accepted, as they did in the district court on summary judgment, that all inferences from the record are drawn in the plaintiffs' favor. See Mlodzinski v. Lewis, 648 F.3d 24, 27 (1st Cir. 2011) (" An interlocutory appeal from a denial of summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds lies only if the material facts are taken as undisputed and the issue on appeal is one of law." ).

After midnight on January 5, 2011, a group of approximately eleven SWAT team members executed a search warrant at a first floor apartment in Framingham, Massachusetts. Eurie Stamps, Sr., the decedent; Norma Bushfan-Stamps, his wife; and Joseph Bushfan, his stepson, lived in the apartment. The search warrant identified another man, Dwayne Barrett, as also occupying the apartment. The warrant was issued on probable cause that Bushfan and Barrett were selling crack cocaine out of the apartment. A third man, Deandre Nwaford, though not mentioned in the warrant, was thought to be an associate of Bushfan and Barrett, and the police believed he might be in the apartment as well. The Framingham Police Department suspected all three men of having ties to Boston gangs and criminal histories collectively including armed robbery, armed assault, assault with a dangerous weapon, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, theft of a firearm, and cocaine-related charges. The warrant authorized a nighttime search of the premises for drugs and related paraphernalia, but did not authorize unannounced entry or command search of any person found who might have such property in his possession.

Before the raid, the SWAT team was briefed on the layout of the apartment and the criminal histories of the occupants. During this briefing, the SWAT team members were told that Stamps, who was likely to be present in the apartment, was sixty-eight years old and that his criminal record only consisted of " motor vehicle arrests/charges." Stamps was not suspected of any involvement in the illegal activity underlying the search warrant or

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of any crime. The SWAT team members were also instructed that Stamps had no history of violent crime or of owning or possessing a weapon and that he posed no known threat to the officers executing the warrant.

The raid began just after midnight.[1] After the officers announced their presence, one team of officers set off a flash-bang grenade through the kitchen window, while another team, including Duncan, breached the apartment with a battering ram. Upon entering, Duncan switched the selector on his loaded M-4 rifle from " safe" to " semi-automatic."

Two other SWAT team members, Officers Timothy O'Toole and Michael Sheehan, encountered Stamps first, in a hallway that separated the kitchen from the bathroom and a rear bedroom. The officers ordered Stamps to " get down," and he complied by lying down on his stomach with his hands raised near his head. A series of officers stepped over Stamps to go elsewhere in the apartment. Duncan, who had been ordered by a sergeant to assist O'Toole and Sheehan as a " trailer," assumed control of Stamps while O'Toole and Sheehan continued searching and clearing the apartment.

Stamps remained prostrate on the hallway floor. Duncan pointed his rifle at Stamps's head as Stamps lay in the hallway. The rifle's safety was still disengaged and set to " semi-automatic." Duncan said nothing to Stamps. At some point, Duncan placed his finger on the trigger. [2] The search continued in the apartment. Sometime before the shooting, a young man found in the rear bedroom, Devon Talbert, was detained. He was not one of the suspects the police expected to find there. The record before us simply does not tell us what the status of the search was for Barrett and Nwaford.

While the other officers continued to search elsewhere in the apartment, Duncan was pointing a loaded, semi-automatic rifle, with the safety off and his finger on the trigger, at Stamps. Stamps was fully complying with the orders he was given, was unarmed and flat on his stomach in the hallway, and constituted no threat. At some point, Duncan unintentionally pulled the trigger of his rifle and shot Stamps.[3] The shot was an accident; Duncan had no intention of shooting Stamps. The bullet pierced Stamps's head, neck, and chest. Stamps was taken by ambulance to a hospital and pronounced dead. Duncan was later dismissed from the SWAT team for failing to abide by police training and protocols.

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According to expert testimony, Duncan committed three errors during his seizure of Stamps that violated police rules, including Framingham rules, his training, and general firearms protocol.[4] First, accepting for purposes of this appeal that he placed his finger on the trigger, Duncan concedes that he violated his training and Framingham Police Department protocol by doing so. According to Framingham Police Department policy in place at the time, officers were required to " keep their finger[s] outside of the trigger ...

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