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Date: 12-02-2022

Case Style:

Estate of Naphtali Israel, et al. v. City and County of Denver

Case Number: 1:20-cv-02198

Judge: Lewis T. Babcock

Court: United States District Court for the District of Colorado (Denver County)

Plaintiff's Attorney:

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Defendant's Attorney: Clayton Jeffrey Ankney,

Description: Denver, Colorado personal injury lawyers represented Plaintiffs who sued Defendants on civil rights violation theories under 42 U.C.C. 1983.

On June 30, 2019, plaintiff was sitting in the passenger seat of a parked vehicle, and his son was sitting in the driver's seat. Docket No. 4 at 2, ¶¶ 9-10. The vehicle was in a church parking lot when police officers approached it. Id., ¶ 9. Defendant Michael O'Neill, a sergeant with the Denver Police Department (“Sergeant O'Neill”), approached the vehicle on the driver's side. Id., ¶ 11. Plaintiff's son had a “non-violent warrant out for his arrest.” Id. at 3, ¶ 12. Sergeant O'Neill ordered plaintiff's son to step out of the vehicle and arrested him without incident. Id., ¶¶ 12-13.

         As his son was taken into custody, plaintiff opened the passenger-side door of the vehicle. Id., ¶ 14. When he did so, there were no officers near that side of the car, and he had not been ordered to remain in the vehicle. Id., ¶¶ 14, 16. Plaintiff was not suspected of any crime. Id., ¶ 15. Defendant Jayme R. Larson, a Denver police officer (“Officer Larson”), ran towards plaintiff as he was standing up from the passenger seat of the vehicle. Id., ¶¶ 17-18. Officer Larson did not make any statements or issue any commands, but grabbed plaintiff by both wrists and prevented plaintiff from moving. Id., ¶¶ 19-20. Officer Larson then arrested plaintiff. Id., ¶ 21. When plaintiff asked the officers what he was under arrest for, he was told, “[w]e haven't figured that out yet.” Id. at 5, ¶ 36.

         Plaintiff told Officer Larson he had “medical issues,” had “previously had intestinal surgery,” and “suffered from severe sciatic pain.” Id. at 4, ¶ 22. Defendant Vance Johnson, another Denver police officer (“Officer Johnson”), grabbed hold of plaintiff. Id., ¶ 23. At no point did plaintiff “attempt to flee, resist, or make any movements” that could indicate that plaintiff was trying to harm the officers. Id., ¶ 26. Neither Officer Larson nor Officer Johnson gave plaintiff any commands while he was in their control. Id., ¶ 27.

         While forced against his son's vehicle, Officer Larson struck plaintiff in the side of his torso with a closed fist. Id., ¶ 28. At the same time, Officer Johnson struck plaintiff with his elbow. Id., ¶ 29. Plaintiff immediately dropped to the ground. Id., ¶ 30. Sergeant O'Neill did not intervene. Id., ¶ 31. When plaintiff explained that he was in pain due to his recent surgery and sciatic nerve pain, Officer Johnson responded, “[w]ell now your face can hurt too!” Id. at 5, ¶ 32. Officer Johnson then turned his body camera off. Id. Plaintiff had to receive medical treatment for serious injuries to his face. Id., ¶ 34.

         The defendant officers charged plaintiff with two counts of felony assault on a peace officer, id., ¶ 35; however, the Denver District Attorney's Office dropped these charges. Id., ¶ 38.

         The Denver Police Department (the “Department” or “Denver Police”) has not disciplined Officer Johnson, Officer Larson, or Sergeant O'Neill. Id., ¶ 39. Sergeant O'Neill conducted a use of force investigation regarding plaintiff's arrest and found “[n]o areas of operational improvements.” Id., ¶ 40. Sergeant O'Neill's report also states that Officers Larson and Johnson “were recognized for displaying professionalism and restraint” and that “Officer Larson was further recognized for her calm, non-confrontational demeanor and attempt to de-escalate her initial interaction with [plaintiff].” Id. Detective Ashley Botello reviewed the use of force reports and body camera footage and “noted that everything in the report was accurate.” Id. at 6, ¶ 41.

         Plaintiff brings four claims for relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for (1) unconstitutional arrest under the Fourth Amendment against Officer Larson, Officer Johnson, and Sergeant O'Neill; (2) use of excessive force under the Fourth Amendment against Officer Larson, Officer Johnson, and Sergeant O'Neill; (3) malicious prosecution against Officer Larson, Officer Johnson, Sergeant O'Neill, and Detective Botello; and (4) municipal liability against Denver for a custom or widespread practice of using excessive force. Id. at 6-27, ¶¶ 42-100. Denver moves to dismiss the claim against it pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See generally Docket No. 14.
Hernandez v. City & Cnty. of Denver (D. Colo. 2022)

* * *

Local governments may not be sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on a theory of respondeat superior. Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of N.Y., 436 U.S. 658, 692 (1978). Instead, local governing bodies can be sued directly only where “the action that is alleged to be unconstitutional implements or executes a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted and promulgated by that body's officers.” Id. at 690 (footnote omitted). “[I]t is when execution of a government's policy or custom, whether made by its lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official policy, inflicts the injury that the government as an entity is responsible.

Outcome: 12/02/2022 65  FINAL JUDGMENT in favor of City and County of Denver, Colorado, Jeff (I) Hausner, Jeffrey Hausner, Matthew Wolfe, Matthew (I) Wolfe, Timothy Luke, and Timothy (I) Luke and against Estate of Naphtali Israel, Clarette Samuels, and Ralph Ford pursuant to 64 Order, by Clerk on 12/2/2022. (ebuch) (Entered: 12/02/2022)

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