Slaughter v. Lawrenz et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER. IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment 32 is GRANTED. This matter is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE. LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.(Written Opinion). Signed by Judge Michael J. Davis on 10/26/17. (GRR)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF MINNESOTA
Civ. No. 16‐cv‐1234 (MJD/SER)
Officers Josh Lawrenz and
Jennie M. Brown, Counsel for Plaintiff.
Jon K. Iverson and Nathan C. Midolo, Iverson Reuvers Condon, Counsel
This matter is before the Court on Defendants’ motion for summary
On June 1, 2010, Plaintiff David Slaughter went to Lions Park in Chaska,
Minnesota with his three year old grand‐nephew. (Midolo Aff., Ex. 1 (Plaintiff
Dep. 39).) A few months beforehand, Plaintiff had undergone surgery for
peripheral artery disease and he was still in a lot of pain. (Id. 34.) He took his
bike to the park, but because of the surgery, he could not pedal the bike and
instead just coasted on the bike to the park. (Id. 41.) He also brought along his
dog, unleashed. (Id. 44.)
After they were at the park for approximately five minutes, his nephew,
the father of his grand‐nephew, arrived at the park on another of Plaintiff’s bikes.
(Id. 42.) Plaintiff claims that his nephew was looking for him because he wanted
money. (Id.) Thereafter, Plaintiff and his nephew got into a loud argument at the
park. (Id.) Plaintiff asserts that other people in the park told them to be quiet, to
which Plaintiff politely told them to not get involved. (Id.) His nephew then
grabbed the child, and a group of men in the park approached Plaintiff, and were
yelling at him. (Id.) At that time, Plaintiff claims he feared for his life and as the
group approached him, he backed up to his bike and grabbed a miniature bat
that was strapped to the bike. (Id. 45.) He believes at this time he also called 911
because he was concerned about his nephew taking away his grand‐nephew. (Id.
At his deposition, Plaintiff testified that when he fell back to his bike, he
debated whether to grab his cane or the bat. Although the bat was shorter, he
believed he could get a “couple of licks in before it broke . . . but I was counting
on the baseball bat to do damage, because I was afraid for my life.” (Id. 48.)
Deciding that the “best defense is a good offense” Plaintiff rushed the group with
the bat raised in the air “with all the energy he had.” (Id. 46.) Plaintiff admitted
that he intended to “clock” one of them, but at the last second the man picked up
a child and used the child as a shield. (Id.) Thereafter, the group backed away.
Because of his injuries from surgery, Plaintiff could not go after his nephew
so he decided to leave the park to protect himself. (Id. 50.) He gathered up his
bikes and was pushing them home when at some point he fell on the ground.
(Id. 56.) Shortly thereafter, he was approached by Officers Josh Lawrenz and
Tony Kjorstad. (Id.)
At his deposition, Lawrenz testified that he received a call from dispatch,
informing him of an uncooperative caller reporting a possible kidnaping.
(Midolo Aff., Ex. 3 (Lawrenz Dep. 5). Dispatch received a second call from a
different person reporting an altercation at Lions Park. (Id. 5‐6.) When he
arrived at the park, Lawrenz saw some people he knew, who were flagging him
down. (Id. 6.) After speaking with these people, both Lawrenz and Kjorstad
went to speak with Plaintiff. (Id. 7.)
Plaintiff claims that he approached the officers because of his concern for
the welfare of his grand‐nephew. (Id. Ex. 1 (Plaintiff Dep. 60).) The officers, on
the other hand, assert that they approached Plaintiff while he was sitting on the
ground, after he fell off his bike. (Midolo Aff., Ex. 3 (Lawrenz Dep. 7).).
Lawrenz testified that he told Plaintiff that they had received a complaint
that Plaintiff was threatening the group with a baseball bat. (Id. Ex. 3 (Lawrenz
Dep. 8).) Lawrenz then advised him he would need to have him stand up so he
could conduct a pat down search for weapons. (Id.) While Plaintiff initially
followed the officers’ directions and appeared as if he would comply, when
Lawrenz touched his wrists, Plaintiff resisted and told him to “get his f’in hands
off of me.” (Id. 9; Ex. 4 (Kjorstad Dep. 11).)
Plaintiff testified that he resisted the search because he did not feel the
officers had a reason to search him and because he was the one who called 911.
(Id. Ex. 1 (Plaintiff Dep. 60).) Plaintiff further admitted that the officers may have
said something to him before they tried to search him, but because the Plaintiff
was talking to them, he wasn’t listening to what the officers said. (Id. 64.)
When Plaintiff pulled away from Lawrenz, the officers did a takedown
maneuver on Plaintiff. (Id. 65.) Plaintiff claims he fell down onto a tree stump,
and that the officers proceeded to kick him and step on him. (Id. 69.) He also
claims they smashed his head into the ground and hurt his arms when they put
the cuffs on him. (Id.) Plaintiff tried to tell the officers he was in a lot of pain, to
stop kicking and hitting him, but they just laughed at him. (Id.) Plaintiff admits
that he resisted the officers’ attempts to place him in handcuffs. (Id. 71.)
After about five minutes, Plaintiff finally allowed the officers to handcuff
him and they picked him up off the ground and threw him into the squad car
and taken to jail. (Id. 74.) Once there, the handcuffs were removed and he was
“thrown” into a cell and fell on the floor. (Id. 82.) One of the jailors then bent
Plaintiff’s fingers and arms, and put him in a chokehold, and when he asked why
they were doing that, the three or four jailors in the cell began to laugh at him.
(Id. 82‐84.) Only when he complained of chest pain did they leave him alone to
call an ambulance. (Id.) Plaintiff had no further contact with Officers Lawrenz
and Kjorstad once in jail.
Plaintiff was ultimately charged with a number of crimes, including
disorderly conduct, obstruction of legal process and assault. (Midolo Aff., Ex. 5.)
Eventually, Plaintiff entered an Alford plea to the disorderly conduct charge that
arose as a result of his actions on June 1, 2010. (Id. Ex. 6 (Plea Transcript 19‐22).)
In the Second Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges Officers Lawrenz and
Kjorstad used excessive force against him in violation of his Fourth and
Fourteenth Amendment rights and that they committed an assault when they
threw him on the ground at Lions Park.
Standard for Summary Judgment
Summary judgment is appropriate if, viewing all facts in the light most
favorable to the non‐moving party, there is no genuine dispute as to any material
fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ.
P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322‐23 (1986). The party seeking
summary judgment bears the burden of showing that there is no disputed issue
of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. “A dispute is genuine if the evidence is
such that it could cause a reasonable jury to return a verdict for either party; a
fact is material if its resolution affects the outcome of the case.” Amini v. City of
Minneapolis, 643 F.3d 1068, 1074 (8th Cir. 2011) (citing Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 252 (1986)). The party opposing summary
judgment may not rest upon mere allegations or denials, but must set forth
specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Krenik v. County of
Le Sueur, 47 F.3d 953, 957 (8th Cir. 1995).
When bringing a Section 1983 claim a plaintiff must establish (1) a
deprivation of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States
and (2) that the deprivation was committed under color of state law. Lugar v.
Edmondson Oil Co., 457 U.S. 922, 931 (1982). A government official that is sued
under Section 1983 in his/her individual capacity may raise the defense of
qualified immunity. Sisney v. Reisch, 674 F.3d 839, 844 (8th Cir. 2012).
Defendants argue they are entitled to qualified immunity against any claim
brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
“Qualified immunity protects a government official from liability in a
section 1983 action unless the official’s conduct violated a clearly established
constitutional or statutory right of which a reasonable person would have
known.” Henderson v. Munn, 439 F.3d 497, 501 (8th Cir. 2006) (citations
omitted). “The purpose of qualified immunity is to allow public officers to carry
out their duties as they believe are correct and consistent with good public policy,
rather than acting out of fear for their own personal financial well being.” Sparr
v. Ward, 306 F.3d 589, 593 (8th Cir. 2002) (citation omitted).
“To determine whether a right is clearly established we ask whether it
would be clear to a reasonable officer that his conduct was unlawful in the
situation he confronted.” White v. McKinley, 519 F.3d 806, 813 (8th Cir. 2008)
(quoting Clemmons v. Armontrout, 477 F.3d 962, 965 (8th Cir. 2007)). “This
inquiry turns on the ‘objective legal reasonableness of the action, assessed in light
of the legal rules that were clearly established at the time it was taken.’” Wilson
v. Layne, 526 U.S. 603, 614 (1999). Further, “the clearly established law must be
‘particularized’ to the facts of the case.” White v. Pauly, 137 S. Ct. 548, 552 (2017).
Defendants argue that in his deposition, Plaintiff clarified that his excessive
force claim stems from them 1) bringing him to the ground using a leg maneuver
2) putting their legs on his back 3) pushing his head into the ground 4) pulling
his arms backwards when trying to place him in handcuffs and 5) placing
handcuffs on him. (Midolo Aff., Ex. 1 (Plaintiff Dep 70).) Viewing the facts in
favor of Plaintiff, the Court finds these actions do not rise to the level of excessive
When the claim is one of excessive force,
factors relevant to assessing the objective reasonableness of force used by
officers include: the relationship between the need for the use of force and
the amount of force used; the extent of the plaintiffʹs injury; any effort
made by the officer to temper or to limit the amount of force; the severity
of the security problem at issue; the threat reasonably perceived by the
officer; and whether the plaintiff was actively resisting.
Ryan v. Armstrong, 850 F.3d 419, 427 (8th Cir. 2017) (quoting Kingsley v.
Hendrickson, __ U.S. __, 135 S. Ct. 2466, 2473 (2015)).
In addition, the issue of reasonableness should be examined from the
perspective of the facts known to the officer at the time of the incident. Schultz v.
Long, 44 F.3d 643, 648 (8th Cir. 1995). “If an officer reasonably, but mistakenly,
believes that a suspect was likely to fight back, for instance, the officer would be
justified in using more force than in fact was needed.” Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S.
194, 205 (2001).
Finally, police officers are permitted and even expected to ensure the safety
of the public and individuals pursuant to their community care‐taking function.
Winters v. Adams, 254 F.3d 758, 763 (8th Cir. 2001); Meehan v. Thompson, 763
F.3d 936, 941 (8th Cir. 2014). When exercising this function, an officer may seize a
person if there is reason to believe the person is impaired, or presents a danger to
themselves or others. Id.
Plaintiff claims there was no reason to use any force against him on the day
in question because, despite the fact that he admittedly rushed at a group of
people in the park with an upraised baseball bat and that he intended to “clock”
one of them, when the officers approached him he was calm. He also claims that
the officers did not explain to him that they were going to conduct a pat down
search before attempting to do so, so he pulled away and was immediately taken
down to the ground.
Plaintiff concedes that he continued to resist the officers’ attempts to put
him in handcuffs, but that smashing his head into the ground, moving his arms
back, kneeing his back and stomping on his legs was excessive.
Based on the undisputed facts that Plaintiff had previously threatened a
group of people in the park with a baseball, and that Plaintiff initially resisted the
officers’ attempts to conduct a pat down search, the Court finds it was reasonable
for the officers to use a leg sweep to take him to the ground. See Wertish v.
Krieger, 433 F.3d 1062, 1067 (8th Cir. 2006); Ehlers v. City of Rapid City, 846 F.3d
1002, 1011 (8th Cir. 2017). And once on the ground, Plaintiff continued to
physically resist and refused to allow the officers to put handcuffs on him,
therefore the officers were justified in the continued use of force. See Schoettle v.
Jefferson County, 788 F.3d 855, 858 (2015) (finding that use of pepper‐spray and
blows to the head and body of plaintiff were reasonable based on plaintiff’s
active resistance to officers’ attempts to handcuff him); Wertish, 433 F.3d at 1066
(finding that officer’s use of force against plaintiff who was resisting arrest was
The Supreme Court has held that there is no constitutional right to be
informed of the reasons for an arrest or detention. Devenpeck v. Alford, 543 U.S.
146, 155 (2004). Thus, the proper inquiry is whether the officers were justified in
conducting the brief frisk, not whether they informed Plaintiff prior to
conducting the frisk. Here, it is undisputed that the officers were acting on the
information that Plaintiff had tried to attack people with the baseball bat and that
it was reasonable to conduct a brief frisk for weapons prior to talking with
Because the Court finds that the force used against Plaintiff was not
unconstitutionally excessive, Count I must be dismissed.1
In the Second Amended Complaint, Plaintiff only alleges a claim of excessive force, yet
in his opposition brief, he argues that the initial pat down and arrest were unconstitutional.
Because these claims were not plead in the Complaint, he cannot assert them at this time.
Northern States Power Co. v. Federal Transit Admin., 358 F.3d 1050, 1057 (8th Cir. 2004)
(finding that a party may not manufacture claims which were not pled, late into the litigation
for the purpose of avoiding summary judgment). Nonetheless, based on the undisputed facts
in this case, such claims have no merit. Plaintiff cannot demonstrate that a brief frisk for
weapons was not reasonable when the officers had specific information that Plaintiff had
threatened a group of people and tried to attack them with a baseball bat. These facts are
sufficient to support a reasonable suspicion that Plaintiff was involved in criminal activity, and
provided probable cause that Plaintiff had committed disorderly conduct and/or assault. The
Clearly Established Constitutional Right
In the alternative, Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity as to
Count I because it was not clearly established that the officers’ conduct rose to the
level of a constitutional violation.
For a right to be clearly established, “existing precedent must have placed
the statutory or constitutional question beyond debate.” Ryan 850 F.3d at 427
(quoting White v. Pauly, 137 S. Ct. at 551). “In all cases, ‘[t]he dispositive
question is whether the violative nature of particular conduct is clearly
established ... in light of the specific context of the case.’” Id. (quoting Mullenix v.
Luna,136 S.Ct. 305, 308 (2015)).
Again, the officers had specific information that Plaintiff had threatened a
group and tried to attack them with a baseball bat. When they tried to conduct a
pat down search, Plaintiff resisted and refused to comply with the officers’
commands. Given these facts, there is no clearly established precedent indicating
the officers’ actions in using force against a resisting suspect was a constitutional
violation. See e.g., Heitzman v. Englestad, Civ. No. 12‐cv‐2274, 2015 WL 506279,
*6 (D. Minn. Feb. 6, 2015) (citing Blazek v. City of Iowa City, 761 F.3d 920, 923‐25
officers also had a reasonable suspicion that Plaintiff may be armed with a bat or other weapon.
(8th Cir. 2014) (finding that defendant was entitled to qualified immunity where,
after plaintiff refused to follow commands, officer spun plaintiff around multiple
times, slammed her against a car hood, and pushed on plaintiff’s neck and back
with his arm to handcuff her). Plaintiff has failed to put forth any authority for
his position that the officers were on notice that their conduct was clearly
unlawful. Accordingly, the Court finds Defendants are entitled to qualified
Because Plaintiff has asserted that the officers acted in their official
capacities, the complaint must be construed as raising a Monell claim that the
officers acted in accordance with an unconstitutional custom, practice or policy of
the City of Chaska. McNeal v. Sherburne County, 07‐2494, 2008 WL 2224882, *2
(D. Minn. May 27, 2008) (a suit against a public employee in that person’s official
capacity is merely a suit against the public employer) (citing Monell v. New York
City Dept. of Social Serv., 436 U.S. 658, 690, n. 55 (1978)). Defendants argue that
Plaintiff’s Monell claim fails as a matter of law.
A municipality may be liable under § 1983 only if the government body
itself subjects a person to a deprivation of rights or causes a person to be
subjected to such a deprivation. Connick v. Thompson, 131 S. Ct. 1350, 1359
(2011) (citing Monell v. New York City Dept. Of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 692
(1978)). To impose liability on a municipality, a plaintiff must prove that action
or conduct pursuant to official municipal policy caused his/her injury. Id.
“Official municipal policy includes the decisions of a governmentʹs lawmakers,
the acts of its policymaking officials, and practices so persistent and widespread
as to practically have the force of law.” Id. Further, there can be no municipal
liability absent an underlying and valid substantive claim against an individual.
McCoy v. City of Monticello, 411 F.3d 920 , 922 (8th Cir. 2005).
Because Plaintiff has failed to show that he was subjected to a deprivation
of a constitutional right, this claim must be dismissed.
State Law Claims
Plaintiff further alleges that Officers Lawrenz and Kjorstad committed the
tort of assault. Defendants argue that this claim is time barred. Pursuant to
Minnesota law, a common law tort claim must be brought within two years from
the date of the incident. Minn. Stat. § 541.07(1); Jenkins v. County of Hennepin,
Minn., 06‐3625, 2007 WL 2287840, *8 n.14 (D. Minn. Aug. 3, 2007). Here, the
incident took place on June 1, 2010, and this matter was not filed until May 2016.
Accordingly, the Court finds that Plaintiff’s state law claim of assault must be
dismissed as time barred.2
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment
[Doc. No. 32] is GRANTED. This matter is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.
LET JUDGMENT BE ENTERED ACCORDINGLY.
Date: October 26, 2017
s/ Michael J. Davis
Michael J. Davis
United States District Court
Even if not time barred, the claim fails on its merits as Plaintiff cannot
demonstrate that the officers used an unreasonable amount of force when
attempting to place him in handcuffs. See Johnson v. Paterson, 358 N.W.2d 484,
485 (Minn. Ct. App. 1984).
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