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Ames v. King County

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

November 10, 2014

TONJA AMES, Plaintiff,
KING COUNTY, Washington; Deputies HEATHER R. VOLPE, member of the King County Sheriff's Department; CHRISTOPHER SAWTELLE, member of the King County Sheriff's Department; DANIEL L. CHRISTIAN, member of the King County Sheriff's Department; and DOES I-V, inclusive, individual employees of King County, Defendants.


RICARDO S. MARTINEZ, District Judge.


This matter comes before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. Dkt. #15. Defendants seek summary dismissal of all claims made against the Defendants. Plaintiff opposes the motion with respect to the individually-named Defendants, but does not object to the dismissal of the federal claim against King County. Dkt. #30. Having reviewed the record before it, and having determined that oral argument is not necessary, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART Defendants' motion.


Summary judgment is appropriate where "the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986). In ruling on summary judgment, a court does not weigh evidence to determine the truth of the matter, but "only determine[s] whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Crane v. Conoco, Inc., 41 F.3d 547, 549 (9th Cir. 1994) ( citing Federal Deposit Ins. Corp. v. O'Melveny & Meyers, 969 F.2d 744, 747 (9th Cir. 1992)). Material facts are those which might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

The Court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. See O'Melveny & Meyers, 969 F.2d at 747, rev'd on other grounds, 512 U.S. 79 (1994). However, the nonmoving party must make a "sufficient showing on an essential element of her case with respect to which she has the burden of proof" to survive summary judgment. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Further, "[t]he mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251.


The sequence of events leading up to the incident at issue in this case is largely undisputed. On February 6, 2013, Plaintiff Tonja Ames returned home after work. Dkt. #31, Ex. G at 8:15-18. At the time, she lived in a single family home in Woodinville, where her 22-year-old son, Colin Briganti, also lived in an apartment over the garage. Id. at 6:16-7:7. Colin had lived in the apartment since 2012 when he became ill with a heart condition as a result of a history of drug addiction. Id. at 7:4-17. As was her typical routine, Ms. Ames called her son. He did not answer the phone. She tried calling again, and when he still did not answer, she went over to check on him. Id. at 8:15-22.

Ms. Ames opened the apartment door, but did not immediately see Colin. She walked further in and saw him slumped over on the couch drooling. Dkt. #31, Ex. G at 8:23-25. She was concerned because she was trying to speak with him and he was not coherent. Id. at 8:25-9:2. She looked around for evidence of use of drugs, and, while doing so, saw a note. Id. at 9:3-18. She briefly looked at the note, determined that it was "not good, " and called her neighbors, Bill and Linda Eby, for help. Id. at 9:18-22.

Ms. Ames then called 911. Dkt. #33 at ¶ 4 and Dkt. #31, Ex. G at 10:9-10. Ms. Ames informed the dispatcher that she needed an ambulance for her son. Dkt. #20, Ex. A at 2:3-13. The dispatcher asked if her son was conscious, to which Ms. Ames responded, "Barely. It looks like he overdosed on some medication." Id. at 2:22-3:1. The dispatcher asked if it was an intentional overdose, to which Ms. Ames replied, "Yes, there is a note here left for me." Id. at 3:7-12. See also Dkt. #31, Ex. G at 10:11-25. The dispatcher classified the call as "Priority: 1 Type: SUICD - Suicide Attempt." Dkt. #31, Ex. I. The dispatcher called for medical aid, and noted a 22-year-old male, "intentional OD w/suic note left behind." Dkt. #31, Ex. I.

King County Sheriff's Deputy Heather Volpe was dispatched with an aid crew from Woodinville Fire and Rescue. Dkt. #31, Ex. I. It is common practice for law enforcement to accompany medics when responding to attempted suicide calls to ensure the safety of the aid crew. Dkts. #22 at ¶ 3 and #18 at ¶ 4. At 6:34, Deputy Volpe and the aid crew arrived at Ms. Ames' home. Dkt. #31, Ex. I. The aid crew included Lt. Drago Nevestic, Firefighter/EMT Chris Mezzone, and Firefighter/EMT Larry Laurent. Dkts. #21, #22 and #23. Mr. and Mrs. Eby had arrived prior to the aid crew and Deputy. See Dkts. #34 and #35. Ms. Ames met the aid crew and Deputy at the front corner of her house. Dkt. #16, Ex. A at 17:24-18:9. She gave them a full account of her son's medical history and led them to the door of his apartment. Id.

EMT Mezzone and EMT Laurent entered the apartment first and began assessing Colin's condition. Dkts. #31, Ex. G at 22:12-14, #21, Ex. A at 3:22-23 and Dkt. #23, Ex. A at 3:16-23. Colin was "lethargic [and] barely could keep his eyes open." Dkt. #16, Ex. D at 33:12-13. Deputy Volpe then attempted to enter the apartment with Lt. Nevestic. However, Ms. Ames stopped them, refusing to let Deputy Volpe in. Dkt. #31, Ex. I. According to the aid crew, Ms. Ames became aggressive, shouting at the Deputy and stating, "[t]here are no fucking cops allowed in my house."[1] Dkt. #16, Ex. B at 12:2-5 and 55:24-25.

Deputy Volpe was surprised that Ms. Ames would not let her enter. Dkt. #18 at ¶ 8. She explained to Ms. Ames that if she could not enter, the EMTs could not treat her son. Dkt. #16, Ex. A at 23:3-8. Ms. Ames said that Deputy Volpe made this statement loud enough for the EMTs to hear her.[2] Id. EMT Mezzone, hearing Ms. Ames refuse entry to Deputy Volpe, stated, "Well, we need to go." Dkt. #21, Ex. A at 4:8-13. He then informed EMT Laurent that he needed to back out for safety purposes, and they both returned to the aid car. Id. at 4:13-17. Mrs. Eby, who overheard the conversation, corroborates EMT Mezzone's testimony, although both Mr. and Mrs. Eby state that Deputy Volpe ordered the EMTs out of the house. Dkts. #34 at ¶ 8 and #35 at ¶ 7.

After they left the house, the EMTs called for a paramedic unit, recognizing that Colin required Advanced Life Support. Dkt. #16, Ex. E at 21:18-22:15. They remained waiting outside the house by their vehicle. Deputy Volpe also retreated. She informed her Sergeant, Kevin Johannes, that she was being refused entry and requested that back-up units be dispatched to assist her. Dkts. #18 at ¶ 8 and #31, Ex. I.

In the meantime, Ms. Ames, along with Mr. and Mrs. Eby, carried Colin out of the house and loaded him into Ms. Ames' truck, apparently so that Ms. Ames could transport Colin to the hospital herself. Dkts. #31, Ex. G at 27:2-4, #34 at ¶ ¶ 9-10, and #35 at ¶ 8. Ms. Ames also took the note Colin had left and put it in the truck so that she could give it to the people in the ER. Dkt. #16, Ex. A at 41:7-11. Deputy Volpe watched this, and noticed that Colin appeared completely unconscious. She radioed her Sergeant to tell him that it looked like Ms. Ames was attempting to transport Colin to the hospital herself. Dkts. #31, Ex. I and #18 at ¶ ¶ 11-12. After consulting with Sergeant Johannes, Deputy Volpe moved her patrol vehicle to block Ms. Ames from leaving her driveway. Dkt. #18 at ¶ ¶ 11-12.

Ms. Ames heard Deputy Volpe tell her that it was unlawful for her to take her son anywhere. Dkt. #16, Ex. A at 41:17-18. Ms. Ames yelled back, "Move your vehicle. You won't help my son." Dkt. #16, Ex. A at 41:20-21. Deputy Volpe responded that she was not going to let Ms. Ames go anywhere. Id. at 41:21-22. EMT Mezzone heard the exchange. He recalls that Deputy Volpe was calm and professional. He also recalls hearing her say that Colin needed immediate attention from the aid crew. Dkt. #16, Ex. B at 56:13-20. Ms. Ames admitted to Sergeant Johannes that she heard Deputy Volpe tell her that she needed to let the EMT take her son. Dkt. #20, Ex. B at 5:10-16.

When Deputy Volpe refused to move her car, Ms. Ames became angry. She demanded that Deputy Volpe "move [her] fucking vehicle." Dkt. #16, Ex. A at 41:23-25. She then proceeded to get into her truck and started to put her keys in her ignition. Before she could do anything further, she felt hands on her hair. Id. at 42:2-18. Deputy Volpe, in order to prevent Ms. Ames from taking control of her vehicle, had inserted herself between the truck door and the door frame. Dkt. #18 at ¶ 15. Deputy Volpe asserts that Ms. Ames struck her several times with the truck door in an effort to close it. Id. Ms. Ames does not describe any effort to close the truck door. Deputy Volpe states that she verbally commanded Ms. Ames to get out of the vehicle, but Ms. Ames ignored the commands, leading Deputy Volpe to engage in a use of force to remove her. It does appear that they struggled with each other as Deputy Volpe attempted to remove Ms. Ames from the vehicle. During the interaction, Colin sat motionless in the truck with his head slumped over to one side. Id.

Deputy Volpe, in an effort to distract Ms. Ames and gain control, grasped Ms. Ames' hair near her scalp. Id. at ¶ 17. This caused Ms. Ames to let go of the steering wheel, which allowed Deputy Ames to pull her out of the truck, bring her to the ground and handcuff her. The EMTs who witnessed this interaction and Lt. Nevestic described Ms. Ames as combative. Dkt. #16, Exs. B at 28:9-23 and Ex. E at 32:10-13. They also noted that Deputy Volpe moved swiftly and smoothly, and did not appear to be slamming or pounding on Ms. Ames.[3] Id.

After Ms. Ames had been handcuffed, she began complaining that she was having trouble breathing. Dkt. #18 at ¶ 18. Ms. Ames also informed Deputy Volpe that she had been previously paralyzed and had two back surgeries and was in a lot of pain. Dkt. #33 at ¶ 13-15. Deputy Volpe told her to lay on her side to help with her breathing. She also stated that she would stop applying pressure to Ms. Ames' back if Ms. Ames remained on the ground. Dkt. #18 at ¶ ¶ 18-19. Ms. Ames was subsequently moved to the back of a patrol car.

In the meantime, paramedics began administering aid to Colin.[4] Dkt. #16, Ex. B at 35:25-55:4. By then, Deputies Daniel Christian and Christopher Sawtelle had also arrived. Dkt. #19 at ¶ ¶ 4 and 8. Deputy Sawtelle believed the truck was a possible overdose scene based on information he had learned that Colin had been in the truck and the alleged suicide note was in the truck. Dkt. #19 at ¶ ¶ 5-6. Accordingly, he and Deputy Christian searched the truck, without obtaining consent from Ms. Ames. Id. at ¶ 8. They found the note in the truck, in plain view between the seats. Id. at ¶ 8 and Ex. B. Inside the glove box they found a loaded handgun and various prescription pills. Id. at ¶ 9 and Ex. C.

Deputy Volpe had reported her use of force against Ms. Ames, so Sergeant Johannes arrived to investigate. Dkt. #20 at ¶ ¶ 5-6 and Ex. B. Ms. Ames reported abrasions to her hands, that her wrist was "messed up, " and that her right knee and left rib cage were also sore. Dkts. ...

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