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Date: 06-23-2022

Case Style:

John Sawyer v. City of Soddy-Daisy, et al.

Case Number: 1:20-cv-153

Judge: Susan K. Lee

Court: United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee (Hamilton County)

Plaintiff's Attorney:

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Defendant's Attorney: Philip Aaron Wells and Ronald D. Wells for The City of Soddy Daisy

Daniel H Rader , III and Daniel H Rader , IV for Eric Jenkins

Description: Chattanooga, Tennessee personal injury lawyers represented Plaintiff, who sued defendants on a civil rights violation theory.

Officer Eric Hindmon is a long-serving police officer who began his career with the Chattanooga Police Department in 2003. (Doc. 76-1, at 22.) He attended a police academy and received his Tennessee Peace Officer Service Training (“POST”) certification prior to joining the Chattanooga Police Department. (Id.) After leaving the Chattanooga Police Department in 2016, Hindmon briefly worked a logistics job before reentering law enforcement and joining the Soddy-Daisy Police department (“SDPD”). (Id. at 23.) Hindmon has maintained his POST certification since he earned it in the early 2000s and has never been involved in an officershooting in which he fired his service weapon. (Id. at 27, 32.) Additionally, Hindmon has been trained in crisis-intervention techniques, as well as domestic-assault interdiction. (Id. at 34.) Domestic-assault interdictions comprise roughly thirty percent of the calls to which Hindmon responds. (Id. at 35.)

Officer Thomas previously received training regarding how to manage individuals with diminished capacity, as well as intoxicated and belligerent individuals. (Doc. 75-1, at 59.) Prior to this shooting, in his roughly two years of employment with SDPD, he had answered a substantial number of domestic-violence calls. (Id. at 60.) He is also POST certified and completed yearly in-service training on deadly force. (Doc. 76-1, at 54.) Officer Jenkins, like Officers Thomas and Hindmon, is POST certified and completed required in-service training on the use of deadly force. (Id.) He graduated from the police academy in 2004 and has worked for SDPD for over ten years. (Id. at 67.)

B. The Shooting and its Aftermath

In April 2019, Jack Sawyer, the decedent, was diagnosed with dementia and vascular Alzheimer's disease. (Id. at 95; Doc. 74-1, at 6.) The decedent Jack Sawyer's son, John, helped pay his living expenses, and he co-owned his father's house with Jack's girlfriend, Patti Grimm. (Doc. 74-1, at 40.) Jack was a proud man, and both Grimm and John worried about his reaction to his diagnosis. (Id. at 14.)

Jack previously owned a substantial number of firearms. (Id. At 13, 35-36.) He gave most of these firearms to John but kept a pistol for himself.[1] (Id.) After moving into a new home, John and Grimm discussed taking the bullets out of Jack's pistol due to concerns about his continuing declining health and mental awareness. (Id. at 14, 16, 41.) Grimm ultimately removed the bullets from the weapon and placed them on top of the television cabinet in the house but did not tell Jack about unloading the gun because she did not want to upset him. (Id. at 18-19; Doc. 76-1, at 96; Doc. 91-1, at 6.) After removing the bullets, Grimm did not look at the gun again before the night of Jack's shooting. (Doc. 74-1, at 20.) When asked why John and Grimm did not remove the gun from the home, John said that he was worried about frustrating him by taking away a treasured possession. (Id. at 42.)

The night of the September 19, 2019, Grimm was getting ready for bed when Jack entered her bedroom and asked her to help him find the remote to his television. (Id. at 23.) When Grimm could not find the remote, Jack became upset and started hitting the television with a flashlight. (Id. at 24.) Jack eventually said that he would just go to bed, so Grimm turned around to leave the room. (Id. at 25.) Immediately after he stated he was going to bed, though, he said he wanted to watch television. (Id.) Grimm turned around to reenter Jack's bedroom and saw Jack pointing the pistol at her face about three feet away. (Id. at 27.) She immediately ran out of the house. (Id.) Prior to this incident, Jack had never been violent towards Grimm. (Id. at 15-16.)

After leaving Jack's house, Grimm, upset, drove to her daughter and son-in-law's home. (Id. at 25, 28; Doc. 76-1, at 90.) John, who lived in Denver, suggested that they call for a wellness check on Jack. (Doc. 74-1, at 44.) Jason Lyons, Grimm's son-in-law, called the Soddy-Daisy Police Department and told dispatch that there had been a domestic dispute and that Jack was violent. (Id. at 50; 911 Call, at 00:20-40.) Lyons told the Soddy-Daisy police that Jack had “gone crazy.” (Doc. 74-1, at 31.) He also informed the SDPD that Jack had a gun but that it was unloaded. (Id. at 51; Doc. 75-1, at 49, 52; Doc. 76-1, at 97; Doc. 91-1, at 27; Excerpt of Jenkins Body Camera Video at 0:00-0:05.)

When the SDPD arrived, they attempted to contact Jack by knocking on the front door and ringing the doorbell, but he did not answer. (Doc. 74-1, at 52; Doc. 75-1, at 16; Doc. 76-1, at, 38, 40, 98; Thomas Body Camera Video, at 1:50-2:45; Hamilton Body Camera Video, at 14:00-14:30.) The officers also attempted calling his phone, which went straight to voicemail. (Doc. 75-1, at 36.) Officers Jenkins and Thomas then entered the home with guns drawn because they had been informed that Jack had a firearm. (Id. at 44, 51-52; Doc. 76-1, at 48; Doc. 91-1, at 88; Thomas Body Camera Video, at 11:00-12:00.) Officers Jenkins and Thomas loudly called Jack's name while walking towards the back of the house while Officer Hindmon stayed towards the front of the house to guard a locked door. (Doc. 75-1, at 45, 50; Doc. 76-1, at 16-17; Thomas Body Camera Video, at 12:00-13:00.) When Officer Jenkins entered the back bedroom, he saw Mr. Sawyer-initially sitting on his bed with his back to the officers-turn around with what appeared to be a pistol in his hand. (Doc. 75-1, at 49-50, 63; Doc. 76-1, at 97; Doc. 91-1, at 53.) Officer Thomas ducked into the bedroom's ensuite bathroom as Jenkins fired two rounds at Jack. (Doc. 75-1, at 50, 56-57; see Excerpt of Thomas Body Camera Video 0:000:08.) Officer Hindmon did not observe the shots being fired. (Doc. 76-1, at 18.) The bullet entered Jack's chest, lacerated his heart and his left lung, and exited through the left side of his chest, killing him instantly. (Doc. 75-1, at 27, 47.)

When Officer Hindmon heard the shots from the front of the house, he immediately called for an ambulance, checked on the conditions of Officers Thomas and Jenkins, and then checked Jack's wound and for a pulse. (Doc. 76-1, at 17.) After the shooting, Officer Jenkins also took Jack's pulse, and he and Officer Hindmon determined that he was lifeless.

(Id.; Doc. 75-1, at 40-41; Thomas Body Camera Video, at 18:00-19:00.) EMTs declared Jack deceased when they arrived on scene. (Doc. 76-1, at 101.) An investigation conducted by the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office found that Officer Jenkins had probable cause to believe that Jack posed a serious threat of bodily injury or death. (Id. at 102.)

In June 2020, John Sawyer brought this action on behalf of his father's estate, asserting claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the involved officers-Jenkins, Hindmon, and Thomas-and the City of Soddy-Daisy, in addition to various state-law claims. (Doc. 1.) After amending his complaint, John also asserted various negligence-based claims against Defendants. (Doc. 66.) On April 5, 2022, Officers Jenkins and Thomas filed a motion for summary judgment (Doc. 73). On April 18, 2022, Officer Hindmon filed a motion for summary judgment (Doc. 82), and the City filed its motion for summary judgment thereafter (Doc. 88). John submitted a single response to all the motions (Doc. 91), and the motions are ripe for the Court's review.

* * *

42 U.S.C. § 1983 provides in relevant part:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State . . ., subjects, or causes to be subjected, any . . . person . . .to the deprivation of any rights ... secured by the Constitution and laws [of the United States], shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress{.}

Outcome: For the above reasons, Officers Jenkins and Thomas's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 73), Officer Hindmon's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 82), and the City's motion for summary judgment (Doc. 88) are GRANTED.


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