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Mohammed v. Baskins

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

September 17, 2019

Kevin Stephen Mohammed, Plaintiff,
v.
Deputy A. Baskins, ET AL., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Gray H. Miller Senior United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff, a state inmate at the time of filing, filed this pro se section 1983 lawsuit against four employees of the Harris County Constable's Office: Deputy Andrew Baskins, Deputy Justin Loucks, Sergeant Anthony Sebastian, and Deputy Carlos Guerra.[1]Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment (Docket Entries No. 20, 21), to which plaintiff filed a response (Docket Entry No. 23) and defendants filed a reply (Docket Entry No. 24).

         Having considered the motion, the response, the reply, the record, and the applicable law, the Court GRANTS the motion for summary judgment and DISMISSES this lawsuit for the reasons shown below.

         Background and Claims

         On April 1, 2016, defendants were dispatched to a house owned by plaintiff's parents at 21622 Falvel Sunset Ct., Spring, Texas 77388, to execute fugitive felony arrest warrants against plaintiff. The felony charges included family violence and violation of protective orders. Plaintiff, who was 40 years old and unemployed at the time, had a known history of violent crimes and violent tendencies. A K-9 unit was brought with defendants to the scene, as per Harris County Constable's Office Precinct 4 policy for apprehending violent fugitives.

         The deputies arrived at the two-story house and positioned themselves at the front and back doors. Plaintiff's parents and brother answered their door knocks and told the deputies plaintiff was not at home. However, after a few minutes, the father admitted plaintiff was upstairs and called out for plaintiff to surrender.

         Plaintiff did not respond. Deputy Baskins entered the house with his K-9 unit and, pursuant to policy, shouted out several warnings to the unseen plaintiff that the K-9 unit would enter the residence, find him, and bite him if he did not reveal himself. Plaintiff again did not respond. Baskins and the K-9 unit proceeded through the house, and the K-9 unit subsequently signaled that plaintiff was behind an upstairs couch.

         The parties disagree as to what happened at that point. Baskins, relying on the K-9 dog's signals, states that he again told plaintiff to surrender, and that plaintiff again failed to respond. Baskins moved the couch away from the wall and found plaintiff on the floor hidden under a blanket. Plaintiff refused to show his hands, and Baskins ordered the K-9 unit to apprehend him. The K-9 unit bit and held on to plaintiff's arm, and plaintiff began fighting him. Plaintiff resisted the deputies' efforts to arrest and restrain him, but they were eventually able to subdue and handcuff him.

         Plaintiff, on the other hand, claims that he was asleep on the upstairs floor and woke up when a dog bit him on the arm. He argues that he did not fight the dog or resist arrest, but did try to free his arm from the dog's mouth. According to plaintiff's complaint, the defendants repeatedly struck him for no reason, twisted his arms, and kneed him in the back.

         Plaintiff claims in this lawsuit that defendants used excessive force during his arrest, resulting in injuries to his face, neck, and back. He seeks $2 million in monetary damages.

         Summary Judgment Standards

         Summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) is appropriate when, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant, the court determines that “the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, 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.” Burleson v. Texas Dep't of Criminal Justice, 393 F.3d 577, 589 (5th Cir. 2004).

         The court must examine the evidence and inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Id. A properly supported motion for summary judgment should be granted unless the opposing party produces sufficient evidence to show that a genuine factual issue exists. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). There is no genuine issue for trial if the record, taken as a whole, could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party. Prison Legal News v. Livingston, 683 F.3d 201, 211 (5th Cir. 2012). Although disputed facts are viewed in the light most favorable to a non-movant, the entire record must be considered. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007).

         If the moving party meets the initial burden of showing there is no genuine issue of material fact, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to produce evidence or designate specific facts showing the existence of a genuine issue for trial. Id. A plaintiff cannot oppose summary judgment through some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, by conclusory allegations, by unsubstantiated or speculative assertions, or by only a scintilla of evidence. Boudreaux v. Swift Transp. Co., Inc., 402 F.3d 536, 540 (5th Cir. 2005). Moreover, a court has no obligation to sift the record in search of evidence to support a party's opposition to summary judgment. Adams v. Traveler's Indemnity Co., 465 F.3d 156, 164 (5th Cir. 2008).

         Use of Excessive Force

         Legal Standards

         Claims for use of excessive force in the course of an arrest are analyzed under the Fourth Amendment and its guarantee of freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 395 (1989). To succeed on a use of excessive force claim, a plaintiff must establish that he experienced: (1) an injury; (2) which resulted directly and only from the use of force which was clearly excessive to the need; and (3) the excessiveness of which was clearly unreasonable. See Ontiveros v. City of Rosenberg, 564 F.3d 379, 382 (5th Cir. 2009); Freeman v. Gore, 483 F.3d 404, 410 (5th Cir. 2007). The question is “whether the totality of the circumstances justified” the use of force. Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1, 9 (1985).

         In Graham, the Supreme Court articulated three guideposts for courts to use when determining if a particular use of force was reasonable under the circumstances or excessive to the need. These guidepost are: (1) the severity of the crime at issue; (2) whether the suspect posed an immediate threat to police officers or civilians; and (3) whether the suspect was actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by fleeing the scene. Id., 490 U.S. at 396-97. These factors provide the framework for judging whether an officer's use of force was excessive. Newman v. Guedry, 703 F.3d 757, 761 (5th Cir. 2012).

         To make out a Fourth Amendment violation, let alone one that violates clearly established law, “the question is whether the officer's actions are ‘objectively reasonable' in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them, without regard to their underlying intent or motivation, ” while evaluating the use of force “from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene.” Graham, 490 U.S. at 396.

         Plaintiff's Written Statement

         Among the exhibits submitted in support of their motion for summary judgment, defendants include an unsworn statement written by plaintiff. The statement is undated, and no background information for the exhibit is provided. In the statement, plaintiff stated in relevant part as follows:

This is my true and correct statement. On Friday April 1st 2016 at approximately 5 pm, I Kevin Mohammed was dropped off at my parents house: 21622 Falvel Sunset Ct. Spring TX 77388 by a friend. Upon arriving at my parent['s] house I realized that they were not home so I let myself in with my personal house key. I entered their home and proceeded to make myself something quick to eat, before retiring upstairs to the game room. The last thing I remember was laying down on the floor of their game room and falling to sleep.
when [sic] I was awoken abruptly to the bites of a dog that I had never seen. coming [sic] to and becoming fully cognitive of the fact that there was what appeared to be a large Dog [sic] whose jaws were firmly clamped around my upper left forearm, I reacted by instinctively attempting to break my arm free from the dog['s] grasp by pulling my arm back towards me. At that point I then noticed from my sitting position something coming down towards me, a bright light the blow of a blunt object that turned out to be the officer['s] issued handgun. The officer then proceeded to continued [sic] to strike me with said blunt object on my left facial and cranial area. As this happened I again became prostrate on the floor as I rolled over on my stomach in an attempt to shield my face and head from the blows, while the large dog subsequently proceeded to continue to bite me on my buttocks and upper thighs on both left and right sides.

(Docket Entry No. 20-9.)

         Thus, plaintiff alleges that a single officer struck him with an object and that a dog bit him. He does not state that any other officers or individuals were involved.

         Qualified Immunity

         Legal Standards

         The doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials from civil damages liability when their actions could reasonably have been believed to be legal. Whitley v. Hanna, 726 F.3d 631, 638 (5th Cir. 2013); Morgan v. Swanson, 659 F.3d 359, 370 (5th Cir. 2011). Qualified immunity “gives government officials breathing room to make reasonable but mistaken judgments, ” and “protects all but the ...


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