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Baldwin v. Harris County Sheriff Department

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division

August 14, 2019

EBONI NICOLE BALDWIN, Plaintiff,
v.
HARRIS COUNTY SHERIFF DEPARTMENT, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          HON. KEITH P. ELLISON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         At a hearing on June 27, 2019, the Court heard oral argument on Defendant Latoisha Dorsey's (“Defendant”) Motion for Summary Judgment. At the hearing, the Court denied the motion, because the Court found that a genuine issue of material fact remained as to the availability of qualified immunity. Defendant subsequently appealed the Court's denial of qualified immunity. (Doc. No. 101.) At the request of both parties, the Court now reduces to writing the genuine issues of material fact effecting its oral denial of summary judgement. See Silverthorne v. Laird, 460 F.2d 1175, 1178-79 (5th Cir. 1972); 16A Charles Alan Wright, Arthur R. Miller & Edward H. Cooper, Federal Practice and Procedure § 3949.1 (4th ed. 2019) (noting that, after a notice of appeal is filed, a district court “may reduce to writing an earlier oral decision” so as long as it does “not alter the substance of the decision”).

         I.BACKGROUND

         On consideration of a motion for summary judgment, the Court construes all contested factual issues in the light most favorable to the non-movant. Bourne v. Gunnels, 921 F.3d 484, 492 (5th Cir. 2019). For the purpose of deciding the motion for summary judgment, the Court finds that the facts, construed in the light most favorable to the non-movant, are as follows.

         Plaintiff is a combat veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Doc. No. 97-18.) Late in the evening on September 26, 2014, Plaintiff took Ambien prescribed to her to treat her diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”). (Doc. No. 97-2 at 6.) Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff left her house in her car, attempting to reach the hospital. (Doc. No. 97-1 at 74.)[1] Plaintiff felt calm and alert when she got into the car. (Doc. No. 97-1 at 74.) However, at some point, Plaintiff became unable to operate her vehicle. (Doc. No. 97-1 at 74.)

         A bystander found Plaintiff sitting in her car, stopped at a red light. (Doc. No. 97-3.) The bystander attempted to communicate with Plaintiff, but found that she was incoherent. (Doc. No. 97-3.) The bystander later stated that Plaintiff “was not asleep, but was not responsive to [his] questions to her.” (Doc. No. 97-3.) The bystander called an ambulance. (Doc. No. 97-3.) Plaintiff told the emergency medical technician (“EMT”) that she had PTSD and had taken four Ambien. (Doc. No. 97-4.) The EMT noticed two more pills, later identified as Ambien, in Plaintiff's hand, and an opened water bottle in her lap. (Doc. No. 97-2; Doc. No. 97-4.) The EMT wanted to take Plaintiff directly to the hospital. (Doc. No. 97-4.)

         When Defendant arrived on the scene, Plaintiff was still experiencing intermittent unconsciousness. (Doc. No. 97-2 at 6.) Defendant and other deputies removed Plaintiff from her car, handcuffed her, and pushed her into the back of a patrol car. (Doc. No. 97-6 at 0:53-0:56.) Deputies then proceeded to search Plaintiff's vehicle, which clearly displayed a disabled placard in the front window. (Doc. No. 97-6 at 1:05-1:22.) In a video recorded by Defendant's dash cam, Plaintiff can be heard telling someone off-camera with a male voice that she has PTSD. (Doc. No. 97-8 at 1:07-1:08.)

         Defendant drove Plaintiff to Houston Police Central Intox (“Intox”), a police department facility where law enforcement conducts blood draws to determine if an individual is intoxicated. (Doc. No. 97-2 at 6; Doc. No. 97-14 at 23.) At some point during the drive, Defendant manually disabled the video and audio recording equipment inside her police cruiser, a violation of department policy. (Doc. No. 97-5 at 136; Doc. No. 97-11 at 159-165.) On the way to Intox, Plaintiff told Defendant that she felt suicidal, and asked to be taken to the hospital. (Doc. No. 97-1 at 104.) Defendant refused and instead proceeded to Intox, where Plaintiff was left handcuffed to a bench in a cell for two hours to wait for her blood draw. (Doc. No. 97-1 at 104; Doc. No. 97-2 at 6; Doc. No. 97-5 at 138; Doc. No. 97-10 at 4-5.)

         Defendant did not inform the nurse conducting the blood draw that Plaintiff had ingested Ambien. (Doc. No. 97-5 at 144.) During the blood draw, Plaintiff asked Defendant about veterans' court. (Doc. No. 97-15 at 7:32-7:37.) Defendant told Plaintiff that she did not know, but an offscreen voice told Plaintiff she could discuss it with pre-trial. (Doc. No. 97-15 at 7:39-7:47.) After the blood draw, Defendant took Plaintiff to Harris County Jail. (Doc. No. 97-5 at 144; Doc. No. 97-10 at 5.)

         Upon booking at the jail, Plaintiff again told Defendant that she needed to go to the hospital, because she felt suicidal. (Doc. No. 97-2 at 6; Doc. No. 97-5 at 147-48.) A jail nurse was called over at this point. (Doc. No. 97-2 at 6.) After learning of Plaintiff's suicidal ideations and recent overdose, the nurse and a staff doctor directed Defendant to take Plaintiff to the hospital. (Doc. No. 97-2 at 6; Doc. No. 97-5 at 150.) Defendant then transported Plaintiff to the hospital. (Doc. No. 97-2 at 6; Doc. No. 97-5 at 150.)

         Plaintiff's screening and treatment at the hospital lasted less than an hour. (Doc. No. 97-10 at 5; Doc. No. 97-17.) Medical records include a (struck through) notation that Plaintiff was having thoughts of suicide. (Doc. No. 97-17 at 8.) After discharge, Defendant took Plaintiff directly from the hospital to be booked into the Harris County Jail. (Doc. No. 97-5 at 222; Doc. No. 97-10 at 5.)

         After the incident with Defendant, Plaintiff's suicidal symptoms worsened. (Doc. No. 97-1 at 33-34, 134-35, 137-38; Doc. No. 97-18; Doc. No. 97-20). She has developed symptoms of hypervigilance, irritability, diminished concentration, and insomnia. (Doc. No. 97-1 at 33-34, 134-35, 137-38; Doc. No. 97-20.) She required extended hospitalization to treat her PTSD, and she experiences nightmares, flashbacks, and recurring bad memories related to the arrest. (Doc. No. 97-1 at 33-34; Doc. No. 97-18; Doc. No. 97-20.) She also suffers from symptoms of “re-experiencing” her trauma, including fear of the police, fear of travelling, and fear of prescribed therapeutic medications, all of which adversely impact her mental health. ((Doc. No. 97-1 at 33-34, 134-35, 137-38; Doc. No. 97-20.)

         Additionally, Plaintiff's employers learned of her arrest and terminated her. (Doc. No. 97-1 at 52.) The criminal charges against Plaintiff were dismissed, and Plaintiff's Motion for Expunction of Records relating to her arrest was granted. (Doc. No. 97-1 at 47; Doc. No. 97-21; Doc. No. 97-22.)

         Critically, Defendant disputes several portions of this narrative. Defendant maintains that Plaintiff reported that she was suicidal only once, just before being booked into the Harris County Jail. (Doc. No. 97-5 at 148.) Defendant produced some evidence that Plaintiff refused the EMT's urging to accept transportation to the hospital. (Doc. No. 94-3 at 82; Doc. No. 97-4.) However, Defendant concedes that, if Plaintiff's account is accurate, then Defendant had a duty to “immediately seek medical treatment for her.” (Doc. No. 97-5 at 135.) Defendant also testified that she had direct experience with suicidal inmates when she worked in the Harris County jail, and that she was trained in such cases to seek medical intervention before anything else. (Doc. No. 97-5 at 42-45; Doc. No. 97-23.)

         Defendant's arguments-both in the briefing and at the July 27, 2019 hearing-hinged on the disputed facts being construed in her favor. And at no point did she “contend[] that ‘taking all [Baldwin]'s factual allegations as true[, ] no violation of a clearly established right was shown.'” Reyes v. City of Richmond, 287 F.3d 346, 351 (5th Cir. 2002) (quoting Cantu v. Rocha, 77 F.3d 795, 803 (5th Cir. 1996)).

         II.APPLICABL ...


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