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Begin v. Drouin

United States District Court, D. Maine

April 20, 2017

JASON BEGIN, Plaintiff
v.
LAURA DROUIN, et al ., Defendants

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          John C. Nivison, U.S. Magistrate Judge

         In this action, Plaintiff Jason Begin alleges that Defendant Laura Drouin, an officer with Defendant City of Augusta's Police Department, used excessive force against him when she shot and injured him on January 12, 2015. Plaintiff also asserts state law claims, including a vicarious liability negligence claim against the City of Augusta.

         The matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 23.) Through the motion, Defendants argue that Defendant Drouin's use of force was reasonable, that any debate as to the reasonableness of the force used is insufficient to overcome qualified immunity, that state law immunity doctrines shield Defendant Drouin from liability on the state tort claims, and that the City of Augusta is immune on Plaintiff's vicarious liability claim. (Id.)

         Following a review of the record, and after consideration of the parties' arguments, the Court grants in part and denies in part the motion.

         I. Summary Judgment Standard

         “The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “After the moving party has presented evidence in support of its motion for summary judgment, ‘the burden shifts to the nonmoving party, with respect to each issue on which he has the burden of proof, to demonstrate that a trier of fact reasonably could find in his favor.'” Woodward v. Emulex Corp., 714 F.3d 632, 637 (1st Cir. 2013) (quoting Hodgens v. Gen. Dynamics Corp., 144 F.3d 151, 158 (1st Cir. 1998)).

         A court reviews the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, resolving evidentiary conflicts and drawing reasonable inferences in the non-movant's favor. Perry v. Roy, 782 F.3d 73, 77 (1st Cir. 2015). If the court's review of the record reveals evidence sufficient to support findings in favor of the non-moving party, a trial worthy controversy exists and summary judgment must be denied. Id. (“The district court's role is limited to assessing whether there exists evidence such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” (internal quotation marks omitted)).

         II. Summary Judgment Facts [1]

         Prior to January 2015, Plaintiff had a history of mental illness and treatment, including inpatient treatment at Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta (Riverview) for over nine years. (Plaintiff's Statement of Additional Material Facts (PSAMF) ¶¶ 75 - 76, ECF No. 25.) On August 2, 2004, Plaintiff was found not criminally responsible by reason of insanity on a felony theft charge and a misdemeanor violation of conditions of release charge. (Stipulation ¶ 1, ECF No. 20.) Based on the finding, the Superior Court committed Plaintiff to the custody of the Commissioner of the Department of Behavioral and Developmental Services, and Plaintiff was subsequently placed in Riverview. (Id. ¶¶ 2 - 3.)

         On or about October 3, 2013, the Superior Court granted Plaintiff a modified release, which permitted him to leave Riverview subject to certain conditions. (Id. ¶ 5.) Pursuant to the modified release order, Plaintiff was required to reside in a group residential program. (Id. ¶ 6.) In January 2014, Plaintiff was released from Riverview and began residing in a group residential program. (Id. ¶ 7.)

         On January 12, 2015, members of Riverview's Assertive Community Treatment Team (the ACT Team) met with Plaintiff at their office in Augusta; the purpose of the meeting was to inform Plaintiff that the ACT Team had information which suggested he was in violation of the terms of his community placement. (Stipulation ¶¶ 14, 23.) After an initial discussion with Plaintiff, the ACT Team determined they would recommit Plaintiff. (Id. ¶¶ 26, 29.) The ACT Team anticipated that Plaintiff would be upset by the news, and called the Augusta Police Department to request the presence of an officer when the ACT Team informed Plaintiff of the decision. (Id. ¶¶ 30, 32; PSAMF ¶¶ 62, 64.)

         Defendant Drouin was dispatched to the office, where she met Greg Smith, a member of the ACT Team. (PSAMF ¶ 56.) Mr. Smith informed Defendant Drouin that Plaintiff was to be recommitted to Riverview and that Plaintiff might become uncooperative.[2] (Id. ¶ 62; Stipulation ¶ 39.) Mr. Smith was the only member of the ACT Team with whom Defendant Drouin spoke when she arrived at the ACT Team office. (PSAMF ¶ 59.) When Defendant Drouin asked Mr. Smith if Plaintiff had a history of violence, Mr. Smith answered yes, but did not elaborate further. (Id. ¶ 40.)

         Prior to speaking with Mr. Smith, Defendant Drouin was aware of Plaintiff's name and that she would be escorting him to Riverview. She had no prior knowledge about Plaintiff. (Id. ¶¶ 43 - 44, 50; Stipulation ¶ 38.) Defendant Drouin had been to Riverview previously, and understood that Riverview was a locked psychiatric hospital. (PSAMF ¶ 52.)

         Defendant Drouin entered the building with Mr. Smith, and waited out of view while the ACT Team delivered the news to Plaintiff. (Defendants' Statement of Material Facts (DSMF) ¶ 1, ECF No. 24.) Defendant Drouin waited and listened in a hallway adjacent to the relatively small room in which Plaintiff received the news. (Photographs of scene, ECF Nos. 21-15, 21-16, 21-17, 21-18, 21-19, 21-20.) While she waited in the hallway of the ACT Team offices, Defendant Drouin could hear some, but not all, of the conversation between the ACT Team and Plaintiff. (Stipulation ¶ 42.)

         During the meeting, Russell Kimball, a member of the ACT Team, told Plaintiff that he would be returning to Riverview. (Stipulation ¶ 49.) Several other members of the team stood or sat nearby, with at least three of the members standing in the short, narrow entry to the office space. (Id. ¶¶ 45, 47, 48.) In response to the news, Plaintiff stated that he was not going back to Riverview. (Id. ¶ 50; DSMF ¶ 2.) Mr. Kimball told Plaintiff the decision was made, and Brian Charette, another member of the ACT Team, informed Plaintiff that he had no choice in the matter and that a police officer was present to take him to Riverview. (Stipulation ¶ 52; DSMF ¶ 3.) A member of the ACT Team then motioned to Defendant Drouin to approach, which she did. (Stipulation ¶ 53.)

         As she approached, Defendant Drouin saw a man seated in a chair along the wall to her right, and then saw Plaintiff seated in one of the two chairs against the opposite wall.[3](Stipulation ¶ 54; Photo, ECF No. 21-18.) Plaintiff stood up and, as he stood, reached into his pocket and said, “I should have Dated this moons ago.” (Stipulation ¶ 55; DSMF ¶ 4.) When Plaintiff raised his right arm to approximately shoulder height, Defendant Drouin saw that Plaintiff had a black folding knife in his hand that he quickly snapped into the open position. (Stipulation ¶¶ 56 - 57; DSMF ¶ 13.)

         When Plaintiff stood up, Philip Hunt, a mental health worker who was employed by Motivational Services and who transported Plaintiff from his group home to the ACT Team's office, was the closest to Plaintiff. (Stipulation ¶¶ 15, 58.) Mr. Hunt did not make any movements toward Plaintiff, and backed out of the way when he observed Defendant Drouin approach. (Id. ¶ 59.)

         Based on Plaintiff's statement that he was not returning to Riverview, and his sudden display of a knife he had concealed in his clothing, Defendant Drouin feared Plaintiff would use the knife against the ACT team members or her.[4] (DSMF ¶ 15.) When Plaintiff raised the knife in his right hand, ACT Team members were in close proximity to Plaintiff and Defendant Drouin. (Id. ¶ 16.) There was no one between Defendant Drouin and Plaintiff. (Plaintiff's Opposing Statement of Material Facts ¶¶ 16, 19, ECF No. 25.)

         Defendant Drouin drew her firearm. As she did, she observed Plaintiff slash his arms with the knife. (DSMF ¶¶ 17, 30.) Because Plaintiff inflicted severe wounds to himself without any hesitation, Defendant Drouin feared he would not hesitate to use his knife on her or the ACT Team members who were near him. (Id. ¶ 18.) Defendant Drouin determined that if she did not disable Plaintiff with her firearm, Plaintiff could very quickly use his knife against someone other than himself. (Id. ¶¶ 20, 27, 31.)

         Approximately one second after Plaintiff pulled out his knife and opened it, as she was drawing her firearm, Defendant Drouin yelled “hey, hey, hey” at Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 21.) Defendant Drouin gave Mr. Begin no verbal commands. (PSAMF ¶ 70.) She then fired three shots, striking Plaintiff twice in the chest and once in the left shoulder; she stopped shooting when Plaintiff fell to the floor. (Id. ¶¶ 22, 23; Stipulation ¶ 60.)

         According to Defendant Drouin, the approximate distance between Defendant and Plaintiff was 15 to 20 feet. (PSAMF ¶ 72.) Defendant Drouin estimates that the time from when she first saw Plaintiff to the time she discharged her weapon was approximately four to six seconds. (Stipulation ¶ 64.) Before discharging her weapon, Defendant Drouin did not see Plaintiff take any steps toward anyone else after he stood up and took the knife from his pocket. (PSAMF ¶ 69.) Plaintiff remained stationary. (Id.)

         Defendant Drouin was certified to use an expandable baton and a Taser, and had each available to her. (Stipulation ¶ 68.) She also had OC spray. (Id.) Defendant Drouin did not use the OC spray, baton or Taser against Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 69.) Defendant Drouin was not attempting to arrest Plaintiff when she shot him. (Id. ¶ 70.)

         Defendant Drouin was a member of the Augusta Police Department's Crisis Intervention Team (CIT). To become a member of the CIT, Defendant Drouin received training and education as to the ways to communicate effectively with and otherwise manage individuals with mental health issues. (Stipulation ¶¶ 71 - 73.) She also received related training at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy. (Id. ¶ 74.) Although the Augusta Police Department's computer files contained information about Plaintiff, including that caution should be used when interacting with him because he is suicidal, [5] Defendant Drouin was unaware of the information at the time because she did not access the information before she arrived at the ACT Team offices. (PSAMF ¶¶ 45, 46, 51.)

         Mr. Charette, a vocational rehabilitation specialist, Mr. Hunt, a mental health worker, and Mr. Kimball, a physician's assistant, believed Plaintiff's actions were unpredictable.[6] (DSMF ¶¶ 32 - 36.) Mr. Kimball, in particular, believed that Plaintiff might use the knife against anyone who tried to stop him. (Id. ¶ 37.)

         The Augusta Police Department had in place Standard Operation Procedures for “Situational Use of Force” (the Use of Force SOP) (ECF No. 21-12), in effect on January 12, 2015. (Stipulation ¶ 76.) The Use of Force SOP provides: “It is the policy of [the Department] that an officer's responsibility is to use only that amount of physical force that reasonably appears necessary to affect an arrest, control a situation, or to defend the officer or a third party from harm.” (ECF No. 21-12, § I.) Thus, “an officer may use only that physical force that the officer reasonably and actually believes is necessary to effectively bring an incident under control while protecting the officer and another, including the use of an electronic weapon and less-than-lethal munitions, if applicable.” (Id. § I.C.)

         The Use of Force SOP explains that the appropriate use of force is “situational.” (ECF No. 21-12, § III.S.) It defines situational use of force as follows:

A dynamic process by which an officer assesses, plans, and responds to situations that threaten public and officer safety. The assessment process begins with the situation immediately confronting the officer, and moves to the suspect's behavior and the officer's perceptions and tactical considerations. Based on this assessment, the officer selects from the available response options while continuing to evaluate the ...

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