Easter v. Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation et al
OPINION AND ORDER by Magistrate Judge Kimberly E. West denying 58 Motion for Summary Judgment. (adw, Deputy Clerk)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
EASTERN DISTRICT OF OKLAHOMA
MARY EASTER, as Special
Administrator for the Estate
of Billy Patrick, deceased,
OKLAHOMA DEPARTMENT OF
WILDLIFE CONSERVATION; and
JARED CRAMER, in his
Case No. CIV-16-168-KEW
OPINION AND ORDER
This matter comes before the Court on Defendants’ Motion for
Summary Judgment (Docket Entry #58).
On April 26, 2015, Decedent
Billy Patrick (“Patrick”), Carl Locke (“Locke”), and Lyndi King
(“King”) went fishing at a pond in an area known as Sanders Flats
located in rural Adair County, Oklahoma at around 8:30 a.m.
fished on the east side of the pond by their vehicle.
King proceeded to the northwest corner of the pond while Locke
remained close to the vehicle. After fishing for approximately one
hour, Game Warden Cody Youngblood (“Youngblood”) appeared at the
pond near Patrick and King. Youngblood wrote Patrick a ticket for
fishing without a license.
told him what had happened.
Patrick walked to Locke’s location and
Game Warden Jared Cramer (“Cramer”)
heard on his radio that Youngblood was in contact with at least two
people and that they both had warrants for their arrest out of the
State of Arkansas.
He did not know the basis for the warrants.
Cramer went to Youngblood’s location to assist him because the
radio traffic indicated Youngblood would be taking the subjects
Cramer approached from the west and pulled in next
on the passenger side of his truck.
his vehicle and asked Youngblood which subject had a warrant.
Youngblood indicated the individual with the white t-shirt which
would later be determined to be Patrick.
Cramer noted Patrick was
Cramer drove to the other side of the pond where Patrick
and Locke were located.
Cramer asked Patrick to put his hands on the bed of Patrick’s
truck and asked if he had any weapons on her person.
He then asked
Patrick to place his hands behind his back and point his thumbs up.
Immediately after this instruction, Patrick ran to Cramer’s right
toward the slope down to the pond.
Cramer pursued Patrick and
tackled him with both individuals falling to the ground.
men rolled on the ground into the water of the pond.
The details of the altercation which occurred in the pond and
on its banks are in considerable dispute.
Cramer testified that
Patrick resisted during the entire struggle, charged at Cramer
after regaining his feet, and tried to take Cramer to the ground.
Cramer states that Patrick tackled him into the pond and Cramer
landed on his back.
Cramer testified that Patrick was on top of
him while Cramer’s head was under two feet of water and that
Patrick would force him back into the water every time he attempted
to raise his head above the water.
Patrick was trying to drown him.
Cramer stated he believed
Cramer testified Patrick was off
of him and Cramer was attempting to get to his feet and draw his
Cramer stated that when Patrick was “coming back to me”
and he fired his weapon at Patrick as he got to Cramer - about half
an arm’s length away.
Patrick died from his wounds received from
justifiably in fear of his life was offered by both King and Locke.
King testified Youngblood told her to get in his truck.
see Cramer in the water but not Patrick.
standing at the time of the shooting.
running at Cramer.
She saw Cramer was
She never saw Patrick
She observed space between Cramer and Patrick.
Locke testified that Patrick was trying to get up out of the
water and away from Cramer and in trying to get up, Patrick pushed
on Cramer and Cramer went under the water. At counsel’s suggestion
in Locke’s deposition, Locke estimated the duration of Cramer’s
submersion under the water “like you’re being baptized.”
then got to his feet and Cramer tried to knock Patrick’s legs out
from under him from behind striking on the back of Patrick’s legs.
Patrick dropped on his butt in the mud, facing Cramer.
regained his knees.
Patrick tried to turn and get away and was
using Cramer to get himself out of the water.
He was on one knee
and did not regain his feet when Cramer shot him.
and Patrick had a hold on one another, Patrick did not look like he
was doing anything but trying to get away, according to Locke.
Plaintiff initiated this action on May 6, 2016, alleging
Cramer violated Patrick’s constitutional rights under the Fourth
Amendment as enforced through 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by employing
excessive force in shooting and killing Patrick.
Department of Wildlife Conservation (“ODWC”) under the Oklahoma
Governmental Tort Claims Act, contending that Cramer’s use of force
exceeded the amount reasonably necessary under the circumstances,
causing Patrick’s death.
Defendants filed the subject Motion asserting (1) Cramer is
entitled to qualified immunity because no violation of the Fourth
Amendment occurred and the law was not clearly established that
Cramer’s actions violated the Constitution; and (2) Cramer was not
negligent and Plaintiff cannot recover against ODWC under the
Oklahoma Governmental Tort Claims Act.
Under Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure,
summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, depositions,
answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with
the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to
any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment
as a matter of law."
Universal Money Centers v. A.T. & T., 22 F.3d
1527, 1529 (10th Cir.), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 1052, 115 S.Ct. 655,
130 L.Ed.2d 558 (1994).
The moving party bears the initial burden
of showing that there is an absence of any issues of material fact.
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 255354, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986).
A genuine issue of material fact exists
when "there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for
a jury to return a verdict for that party."
Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510-11, 91 L.Ed 2d
In determining whether a genuine issue of a material
fact exists, the evidence is to be taken in the light most favorable
to the nonmoving party.
Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144,
157, 90 S.Ct. 1598, 1608, 26 L.Ed.2d 142 (1970).
Once the moving
party has met its burden, the opposing party must come forward with
specific evidence, not mere allegations or denials of the pleadings,
which demonstrates that there is a genuine issue for trial. Applied
Genetics v. Fist Affiliated Securities, 912 F.2d 1238, 1241 (10th
Cir. 1990); Posey v. Skyline Corp., 702 F.2d 102, 105 (7th Cir.
Cramer asserts qualified immunity and, in doing so, first
“Individual defendants named in a § 1983 action may raise a defense
of qualified immunity,”
Cillo v. City of Greenwood Village, 739
F.3d 451, 459 (10th Cir. 2013), which “shields public officials ...
from damages actions unless their conduct was unreasonable in light
of clearly established law,”
Gann v. Cline, 519 F.3d 1090, 1092
(10th Cir. 2008)(quotations omitted). Generally, “when a defendant
asserts qualified immunity, the plaintiff carries a two-part burden
to show: (1) that the defendant's actions violated a federal
constitutional or statutory right, and, if so, (2) that the right
was clearly established at the time of the defendant's unlawful
Cillo, 739 F.3d at 460.
The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution precludes an illegal
U.S.C.A. Const. Amend. IV.
The question to be answered in a
qualified immunity context on excessive force claims is “whether
the officers’ actions are ‘objectively reasonable’ in light of the
facts and circumstances confronting them, without regard to their
underlying intent or motivation.”
Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386,
Under the totality of the circumstances approach, the
court is required to consider a balance of the factors of “the
severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an
immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and
whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade
arrest by flight.”
Id. at 396.
If the force employed is deadly
reasonable officer in Defendants’ position would have had probable
cause to believe that there was a threat of serious physical harm
to themselves or to others.”
Estate of Larsen ex re. Sturdivan v.
Murr, 511 F.3d 1255, 1260 (10th Cir. 2008); see also Tennessee v.
Garner, 471 U.S. 1, 11 (1985).
An important aspect of the inquiry
is “whether the officers were in danger at the precise moment that
they used force.”
Phillips v. James, 422 F.3d 1075, 1083 (10th
The facts in this case are simply in dispute as to the level
of threat under which Cramer was under when an unarmed Patrick
tried to elude him during the attempted arrest.
Patrick laid hands upon Cramer during the course of the struggle to
free himself from Cramer’s grasp.
The evidence is inexorably
disputed, however, as to whether Patrick was attempting to drown
Cramer at the time Cramer chose to shoot him and whether an
objectively reasonable officer would have determined that deadly
force was the appropriate use of force under the circumstances.
qualified immunity analysis, ‘a qualified immunity defense [is] of
less value when raised in defense of an excessive force claim.’
[Medina v. Cram, 252 F.3d 1124, 1131 (10th Cir. 2001)] (citing
Quezada v. County of Bernalillo, 944 F.2d 710, 718 (10th Cir.
Whether an officer acted reasonably in using deadly force
is ‘heavily fact dependent.’ Romero v. Board of County Comm'rs, 60
F.3d 702, 705 n. 5 (10th Cir. 1995) (quoting Wilson v. Meeks, 52
F.3d 1547, 1553 (10th Cir. 1995).” Olsen v. Layton Hills Mall, 312
F.3d 1304, 1314 (10th Cir. 2002).
Given the considerable dispute
in the facts, this Court cannot determine that Cramer is entitled
to qualified immunity at this time.
The second prong of the qualified immunity test requires that
this Court determine that the law was clearly established at the
time of the incident.
In evaluating whether the right was clearly
established, the court considers whether the right was sufficiently
clear that a reasonable government employee in the defendant's
shoes would understand that what he or she violated that right.
Casey v. W. Las Vegas Indep. Sch. Dist., 473 F.3d 1323, 1327 (10th
“A clearly established right is generally defined as
a right so thoroughly developed and consistently recognized under
Lobozzo v. Colo. Dept. of Corr., 429 Fed.Appx.
707, 710 (10th Cir. 2011).
“Ordinarily, in order for the law to be
clearly established, there must be a Supreme Court or Tenth Circuit
decision on point, or the clearly established weight of authority
from other courts must have found the law to be as the plaintiff
Currier v. Doran, 242 F.3d 905, 923 (10th Cir. 2001).
see also Medina, 960 F.2d at 1498.
On the other hand, the Supreme
Court has observed that it is generally not necessary to find a
controlling decision declaring the “very action in question . . .
Anderson v. Creighton, 483 U.S. 635, 640 (1987).
determining whether the right was ‘clearly established,’ the court
assesses the objective legal reasonableness of the action at the
time of the alleged violation and asks whether ‘the contours of the
right [were] sufficiently clear that a reasonable official would
understand that what he is doing violates that right.’” Holland ex
rel. Overdorff v. Harrington, 268 F.3d 1179, 1186 (10th Cir. 2001).
A court should inquire “whether the law put officials on fair
notice that the described conduct was unconstitutional” rather than
engage in “a scavenger hunt for cases with precisely the same
facts.” Pierce v. Gilchrist, 359 F.3d 1279, 1298 (10th Cir. 2004).
The law was clearly established at the time of this incident
that deadly force was only justified when a suspect “poses a
significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the
officer or others.”
Garner, 471 U.S. at 3.
Again, a dispute
remains as to whether Cramer was under such a threat given the
presented by Plaintiff in a light most favorable to Plaintiff,
summary judgment is not currently appropriate.
For precisely the same reasons, summary judgment is not
appropriate on the negligence claim Plaintiff asserts against ODWC.
The use of force was appropriate only if the “suspect poses an
immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others”, among
Morales v. City of Okla. City ex rel. Okla. City
Police Dept., 230 P.3d869, 880 (Okla. 2010).
As stated, the facts
surrounding the level of threat posed by Patrick to Cramer is in
IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that Defendants’ Motion for Summary
Judgment (Docket Entry #58) is hereby DENIED in toto.
IT IS SO ORDERED this 30th day of October, 2017.
KIMBERLY E. WEST
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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