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Rockstrom v. Spokane County

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

April 29, 2019

SHAUN L. ROCKSTROM, Plaintiff,
v.
SPOKANE COUNTY, Washington; SAMUEL TURNER, Deputy; CHAD EATON, Deputy; MICHAEL KEYS, Deputy; Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          ROSANNA MALOUF PETERSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         BEFORE THE COURT is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 8. Defendants Spokane County, Washington; Deputy Samuel Turner; Deputy Chad Eaton; and Deputy Michael Keys argue that they should be granted summary judgment on Plaintiff Shaun L. Rockstrom's excessive force and negligence claims. Id. A hearing was held in this matter on April 22, 2019. Mr. Rockstrom was represented by Richard D. Wall. Defendants were represented by Heather C. Yakely. The Court has considered the parties' arguments, the briefing, the record, and is fully informed.

         BACKGROUND

         In early February of 2016 or 2017, [1] Plaintiff Shaun L. Rockstrom walked into a WinCo grocery store in Spokane Valley, Washington with a bag of tootsie rolls that he had purchased elsewhere. ECF No. 10-1 at 10. Mr. Rockstrom ate the tootsie rolls as he walked into the store. Id. This prompted one of the cashiers at the WinCo to approach Mr. Rockstrom and pat him down. Id. The WinCo employee's actions upset Mr. Rockstrom, and he told her to stop. Id. The employee then contacted the store's security, who asked Mr. Rockstrom to leave. Id. at 16. Mr. Rockstrom stepped outside the store. Id. at 17.

         According to Mr. Rockstrom, within minutes, three police officers arrived at the store. ECF No. 10-1 at 17. The three police officers were Defendant Spokane County Deputies Samuel Turner, Chad Eaton, and Michael Keys. ECF No. 13 at 3-4. The deputies are employees of Defendant Spokane County, Washington, in the Spokane County Sheriff's Office. Id. at 1; ECF No. 11 at 1; ECF No. 12 at 1. The deputies attest that they were trained by Spokane County and acted in accordance with their experience and training when interacting with Mr. Rockstrom on the day in question. ECF No. 12 at 5.

         The parties dispute what occurred in the interaction between Mr. Rockstrom and the deputies. Mr. Rockstrom alleges that one of the deputies approached him and asked for his identification. ECF No. 10-1 at 22. He claims that one of the deputies recognized him because he recalls one of them saying “Rockstrom, get out of here.” Id. at 23. Mr. Rockstrom alleges that he tried to leave, but another deputy stopped him and asked again for Mr. Rockstrom's identification. Id. He states he heard one of the deputies tell another deputy to shut off the car camera. Id. at 23-24. Mr. Rockstrom also claims he heard one of the deputies say, “Punch him.” Id. at 24. Following that, Mr. Rockstrom says that he only remembers being punched multiple times and falling to the ground. Id.

         Jessica McLaughlin attests that she witnessed the interaction between Mr. Rockstrom and the deputies. ECF No. 16 at 1. She states that she saw the three deputies confronting Mr. Rockstrom outside the WinCo store. Id. at 2. She claims that she saw Mr. Rockstrom take two cards out of his pocket and throw them on the ground in front of the deputies. Id. She also states that she heard Mr. Rockstrom ask if he was under arrest, but none of the deputies responded. Id. She alleges that Mr. Rockstrom tried to walk away from the deputies. Id. At this moment, she claims that the deputies attacked Mr. Rockstrom, brought him to the ground, and held Mr. Rockstrom down while they punched him repeatedly in the head and face. Id. at 2-3. Ms. McLaughlin states that she never saw Mr. Rockstrom raise his fists, flail his arms, or make any aggressive movement toward the deputies. Id.

         The deputies' account of the incident differs from the accounts told by Mr. Rockstrom and Ms. McLaughlin. The deputies allege that the loss prevention officer for WinCo told them that he had asked Mr. Rockstrom to leave the store three times because Mr. Rockstrom was swearing at employees, confronting security, and scaring customers. ECF No. 13 at 3. The deputies claim that when they engaged with Mr. Rockstrom, Mr. Rockstrom was clenching his fists as if preparing for a fight. ECF No. 11 at 2; ECF No. 12 at 4; ECF No. 13 at 4.

         The deputies state that they approached Mr. Rockstrom, asked for his identification, and threatened to arrest him for trespassing if he did not comply. ECF No. 11 at 2; ECF No. 12 at 3; ECF No. 13 at 4. They allege that Mr. Rockstrom was very fidgety, which indicated that he was “under emotional distress, on drugs, or is attempting to hide something such as a weapon, or is planning an escape.” ECF No. 11 at 2-3; ECF No. 12 at 3; ECF No. 13 at 3. The deputies state that Mr. Rockstrom took out his wallet, threw it either on the ground or at Deputy Eaton, and then tried to walk away with his fists up in front of him. ECF No. 11 at 3; ECF No. 12 at 3; ECF No. 13 at 4.

         The deputies allege that Deputies Keys and Turner stepped in to take control of Mr. Rockstrom's arms while Deputy Eaton attempted to take control of Mr. Rockstrom's body. ECF No. 11 at 3; ECF No. 12 at 4; ECF No. 13 at 5. The resulting struggle caused everyone to fall to the ground. ECF No. 11 at 3; ECF No. 12 at 4; ECF No. 13 at 5. While on the ground, the deputies claim that Mr. Rockstrom actively resisted arrest by flailing his arms and kneeing and elbowing the deputies. ECF No. 11 at 4; ECF No. 12 at 4; ECF No. 13 at 6. The deputies allege that Deputy Eaton instructed Deputy Turner to hit Mr. Rockstrom as a distraction technique so that they could handcuff him. ECF No. 11 at 4; ECF No. 12 at 5; ECF No. 13 at 6. They claim that Deputy Turner's punches allowed them to gain control of Mr. Rockstrom and place him in handcuffs and leg restraints. ECF No. 11 at 4; ECF No. 12 at 6; ECF No. 13 at 6. Deputy Turner broke his hand as a result of one of his punches. ECF No. 12 at 7. Mr. Rockstrom was transported to a hospital in an ambulance and treated for head injuries. ECF No. 11 at 4.

         Mr. Rockstrom filed a complaint against Defendants in Spokane County Superior Court claiming that Defendants are liable for excessive force, through 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and negligence. ECF No. 1-2 at 6-9. Defendants removed the case to this Court under federal question jurisdiction. ECF No. 1. Defendants now move for summary judgment on Mr. Rockstrom's claims. ECF No. 8.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         A court may grant summary judgment where “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact” of a party's prima facie case, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); accord Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-33 (1986). A genuine issue of material fact exists if sufficient evidence supports the claimed factual dispute, requiring “a jury or judge to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth at trial.” T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc. v. Pac. Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987). A key purpose of summary judgment “is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324.

         The moving party bears the burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, or in the alternative, the moving party may discharge this burden by showing that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's prima facie case. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325. The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to set forth specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial. See Id. at 324. The nonmoving party “may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleading, but his response, by affidavits or as otherwise ...


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