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Date: 04-29-2024

Case Style:

William Sean Buckner v. City of Sallisaw, et al.

Case Number: 6:22-CV-146

Judge: Jason A. Robertson

Court: United States District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma (Muskogee County)

Plaintiff's Attorney: James A. Conrady

Defendant's Attorney: Keith A. Wilkes


Muskogee, Oklahoma personal injury lawyer James A. Conrady who represented the Plaintiff who sued the Defendants on civil rights violation theories claiming $125,000 in damages and/or injuries.

"Section 1983 Litigation" refers to lawsuits brought under Section 1983 (Civil action for deprivation of rights) of Title 42 of the United States Code (42 U.S.C. § 1983). Section 1983 provides an individual the right to sue state government employees and others acting "under color of state law" for civil rights violations. Section 1983 does not provide civil rights; it is a means to enforce civil rights that already exist.

Plaintiff commenced this action in this Court on May 12, 2022. He alleges that he was subjected to a traffic stop by Defendant Houston Murray, a lieutenant with the Sallisaw Oklahoma Police Department. The allegations in the Verified Complaint indicate that on October 23, 2021, Plaintiff and his wife were driving on Highway 64 in Sallisaw, Oklahoma around 6:25 p.m. Plaintiff passed a City of Sallisaw police patrol SUV and noted that the vehicle turned around, activated his lights, and accelerated to drive up on Plaintiff's vehicle. Plaintiff exited the highway and pulled into a motel parking lot. The police vehicle followed and parked directly behind Plaintiff's vehicle.

Defendant Murray exited his vehicle. Plaintiff states that he rolled down the driver's side window. Defendant Murray identified himself and stated that the reason for the traffic stop was a burned out head lamp. Plaintiff exited his vehicle to observe the lights. Plaintiff's lights were on high beam and his wife changed them to low beam and Plaintiff alleges both lights were illuminated. He informed Defendant Murray that the light issue had been resolved. Plaintiff alleges Defendant Murray stated that he did not care and that his camera on his vehicle would prove otherwise.

Plaintiff states that he returned to his vehicle and closed the door. He asked Defendant Murray if he was going to write a citation and Defendant Murray informed him that he was going to give him a warning but because of Plaintiff's attitude, he intended to write a citation. Plaintiff states that he “argued that both headlamps were in working order and [Defendant Murray] didn't care.”

Defendant Murray asked for Plaintiff's driver's license, registration, and proof of insurance. Plaintiff immediately provided his license and registration but did not have a paper copy of his insurance verification and sought to access a digital copy. Plaintiff alleges Defendant Murray took Plaintiff's license and registration to his vehicle and returned with a completed citation for a lack of proof of insurance and defective headlamps. Plaintiff states that he tried to show Defendant Murray the digital insurance verification but he stated it was too late.

As Defendant Murray presented the citation to Plaintiff, another nearby vehicle made a loud noise, making it difficult for Plaintiff to hear Defendant Murray. After the noise subsided, Defendant Murray asked “are you going to sign this citation?” Plaintiff answered “No”, but states he was going to say “No, before I read it.” He then states he told Defendant Murray three times that he would sign the citation. Nevertheless, Plaintiff alleges Defendant Murray backed from Plaintiff's window, placed his hand on his gun, and ordered Plaintiff to exit his vehicle because he was placing him under arrest.

Plaintiff again allegedly offered to sign the citation but Defendant Murray told him it was too late and he was going to jail. Plaintiff was handcuffed and contends the cuffs were “extremely tight” which cause him pain. Defendant Murray responded by telling Plaintiff to “stop resisting.” Defendant Murray told Plaintiff and his wife that he was impounding the vehicle parked on the motel's property. Plaintiff asked that the vehicle not be impounded because it would force his wife to walk home some four miles away, offering instead for his wife to drive the vehicle home. Plaintiff alleges Defendant Murray stated that he didn't care and was going to impound Plaintiff's vehicle. Defendant Murray placed Plaintiff in the backseat of his vehicle. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Murray placed handcuffs on his wrist “so tight that it pealed skin off forcing me to flinch so he could yell Stop resisting arrest and place a charge of resisting arrest, which is documented with photographs at the jail intake. ...”

Defendant Murray transported Plaintiff to the police department. During the trip, Plaintiff alleges that he demanded that Defendant Murray charge him with every violation that he threatened and impound his vehicle and force his wife to walk home. Plaintiff was booked into the jail and posted bond.

During the course of the encounter, Plaintiff alleges Defendant Murray “asked if I was Native American, which is highly offence (sic) to me as I belong to the Cherokee Nation, in which he had my driver's license, he ran my Cherokee License plates in his computer, and confirmed the vehicle was registered to me, with Cherokee Tags. I understood this to be a highly offense (sic) remark and that his actions was (sic) based on the fact that I belong to the Cherokee Tribe.” Plaintiff states that, after his arrest, he has not received a traffic citation or notice to appear in any court.

Plaintiff also alleges that Defendant Murray has a history of similar conduct and mistreatment of citizens and has failed to follow the policies and procedures of the Sallisaw Police Department. Plaintiff identifies a “John Doe” who was harassed by Defendant Murray and “to protect him from retaliation.” He also alleges Defendant Murray has been the subject of internal investigations by the Sallisaw Police Department.

Plaintiff alleges Defendant Terry Franklin, the Sallisaw Police Chief, has not adequately trained or supervised Defendant Murray. He also states that Defendant Murray has been permitted to continue in his job despite multiple complaints and instances of misconduct. Plaintiff alleges three causes of action against the Defendants:

(1) Discrimination against a Native American in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981. Plaintiff asserts disparate treatment by Defendant Murray because of his status as a member of the Cherokee Nation and because he had a tag issued by the Cherokee Nation;

(2) Deprivation of civil rights in violation of his Fourteenth Amendment rights as enforced through 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff contends Defendant Murray was acting under color of law when he violated Plaintiff's civil rights in respect to a lack probable cause, unlawful detention, false arrest without legal authority, use of excessive force, and injury to his person.

(3) Failure to train and supervise in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff alleges Defendant Franklin and the Sallisaw Police Department did not have adequate training in place and did not adequately supervise Defendant Murray. To that end, Plaintiff seeks for the Court to impose a “proactive Injunction” upon Defendant Franklin and the Sallisaw Police Department requiring and precluding certain conduct outlined in the Complaint.

As an initial matter, Defendants request that this Court take judicial notice of the dash camera video and body camera video from Defendant Murray's patrol unit and his person for purposes of considering these motions to dismiss. Needless to say, Defendants dispute Plaintiff's recitation of the facts arising from the incident between Defendant Murray and Plaintiff and his wife as stated in the Complaint and provide flash drives containing the referenced videos. This Court, however, does not find that the videos are the type of exhibits which are typically considered in connection with a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Consideration of evidence which is outside of the pleadings without converting the dismissal motion to one for summary judgment is error. Lowe v. Town of Fairland, Okla., 143 F.3d 1378, 1381 (10th Cir. 1998)(“. . . courts have broad discretion in determining whether or not to accept materials beyond the pleadings. 5A Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1366 (1990). Reversible error may occur, however, if the district court considers matters outside the pleadings but fails to convert the motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment.”). Other courts considering similar requests have also declined to consider such videos at the motion to dismiss stage, finding it more appropriately addressed in a request for summary judgment. See Estate of Holmes by & through Couser v. Somers, 387 F.Supp.3d 1233 (D. Kan. 2019), aff'd sub nom. Couser v. Gay, 959 F.3d 1018 (10th Cir. 2020). The sole exception found occurred where the plaintiff incorporated the body camera video in the allegations of the Complaint and did not dispute the video's authenticity, a circumstance not present in this case. See Harris v. Romero, 2021 WL 1169985, at *8 (D. Colo. Mar. 29, 2021), appeal dismissed, (10th Cir. June 3, 2022). Therefore, Defendants' motions will be considered without regard to the video evidence.

Outcome: IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that Defendant Houston Murray's Motion to Dismiss (Docket Entry #16) is hereby GRANTED, in part, in that the § 1981 claim, §1983 official capacity claim, and any asserted state law claims are hereby DISMISSED. The remainder of the Motion is hereby DENIED.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Defendant City of Sallisaw's and Terry Franklin's Motion to Dismiss (Docket Entry #17) is hereby GRANTED, in part, in that the §1983 official capacity claim against Franklin, any asserted state law claims, any declaratory or injunctive relief, and the claim for punitive damages are hereby DISMISSED. The remainder of the Motion is hereby DENIED.

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