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Jackson v. City of Austin

United States District Court, W.D. Texas, Austin Division

October 11, 2019




         Before the Court are Defendants Jones and Huckaby's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 48); Plaintiff's Response (Dkt. No. 55); Defendants' Reply (Dkt. No. 56); Defendant City of Austin's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 49); and Jackson's Response (Dkt. No. 55).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Gregory Tauren Jackson brought this suit against the City of Austin and Austin Police Officers Jason Jones and Brian Huckaby, alleging unlawful arrest and excessive use of force under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and a number of accompanying state law claims. In his responses to the summary judgment motions, Jackson has abandoned his claims against the City, [1] and narrowed his claims against the officers.[2] The suit arises out of an incident that occurred in the early morning hours of December 20, 2015, which ended in Jackson's arrest on Austin's “infamous” Sixth Street. Though he was charged that night with failing to follow a lawful order and resisting arrest, those charges were subsequently dismissed, and Jackson later brought this lawsuit.


         Summary judgment is appropriate when the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any 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. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-25 (1986); Trent v Wade, 776 F.3d 368, 376 (5th Cir. 2015). A dispute regarding a material fact is “genuine” if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in favor of the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Disputed fact issues which are “irrelevant and unnecessary” do not preclude the entry of summary judgment. Id. at 248. Once the moving party has made an initial showing that there is no evidence to support the nonmoving party's case, the party opposing the motion must come forward with competent summary-judgment evidence of the existence of a genuine fact issue. Nola Spice Designs, LLC v. Haydel Enters., Inc., 783 F.3d 527, 536 (5th Cir. 2015).

         When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court is required to view all inferences drawn from the factual record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio, 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Connors v. Graves, 538 F.3d 373, 376 (5th Cir. 2008). Further, a court “may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence” in ruling on a motion for summary judgment. Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000). On the other hand, conclusory allegations, unsubstantiated assertions, or unsupported speculation are not competent summary judgment evidence, and are insufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Turner v. Baylor Richardson Med. Ctr., 476 F.3d 337, 343 (5th Cir. 2007). The party opposing summary judgment is required to identify specific evidence in the record and to articulate the precise manner in which that evidence supports his claim. Adams v. Travelers Indem. Co. of Conn., 465 F.3d 156, 164 (5th Cir. 2006). If the nonmoving party fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to its case and on which it will bear the burden of proof at trial, summary judgment is proper. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23. However, courts may not grant summary judgment, even where it is unopposed, if the movant has not discharged its burden under Rule 56. Envtl. Def. Fund v. Marsh, 651 F.2d 983, 991 (5th Cir.1981).

         III. FACTS

         The following facts come from the summary judgment record and are set forth in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. On Saturday, December 19, 2015, continuing into the early morning hours of Sunday, December 20, 2015, Gregory Tauren Jackson visited Sixth Street with his girlfriend and others. Dkt. No. 55-6 at 30. On weekends, a number of blocks of Sixth Street are closed to traffic, and the entire street is a pedestrian zone. At the end of such nights, the Austin Police Department follows a process to clear the street of pedestrians before it is re-opened to vehicular traffic. The process involves a “parade” of sorts involving mounted police, bicycle officers, and patrol cars, moving slowly down the street, instructing pedestrians to exit the street and move onto the sidewalks. Dkt. No. 55-1 at 45. On the night in question, at around 2:30 a.m., Jackson was crossing Sixth Street with his girlfriend and others after leaving a bar. Dkt. No. 55-6 at 30. He was crossing mid-block from the south side of the street, headed to the north sidewalk. Dkt. No. 55-1 at 47-48. As he crossed the street, he encountered the APD street-clearing parade. Id. Jackson was attempting to cross between the mounted patrol and the officers on bicycles when he bumped into Officer Jones's bicycle. Id. Jackson's girlfriend and the rest of his party had already made it across to the north side of the street, and Jackson was attempting to join them. Jones, however, instructed Jackson to return to the sidewalk on the south side of the street. Id. at 49-50.

         There are conflicting accounts of what happened next. There is video footage available from both a dashboard camera from one of the police cars in the “parade, ” as well as from a camera mounted on a light pole over the intersection near where the encounter took place. The overhead video shows Jackson and Jones engaged in a short conversation. Dkt. No. 48-6. There is no audio of this conversation available on any of the recordings, and the specific details of this interaction are disputed. In Jackson's deposition, he testifies that he cannot remember his interaction with Jones except that he told Jones he was just trying to join his friends on the north side of the street. Dkt. No. 55-6 at 41-50. Jackson states several times that he “can't recall” what the officers said to him. Id. For his part, Jones states that he instructed Jackson to return to the south side of the street, and Jackson continued to state that he wanted to join his party on the north side of the street. Id. at 66-67. The audio from the dashboard video reflects that the officer driving the patrol car instructed Jackson via the PA system to “stop arguing with the police and get back on the sidewalk.” Dkt No. 48-4 at 2:26:41. At approximately this same time, Jones informed Jackson he was under arrest. Dkt. No. 55 at 67. According to the time stamp on the overhead video, only eleven seconds passed from the time Jackson bumped into Jones' bike to the time officers first grabbed Jackson's wrist. Dkt. No. 48-6 at 2:26:35-2:26:46. Presumably, Jones' statement informing Jackson he was under arrest took place slightly before the first officers grabbed Jackson's wrist.

         In his deposition Jones states he “told Jackson he was under arrest and instructed Jackson to put his hands behind his back, ” but that Jackson did not comply. Dkt. No. 55-1 at 96-101. Jones states he then grabbed Jackson's right arm while Officer Huckaby, also a bicycle officer, grabbed his left, but that Jackson resisted their efforts to handcuff him by “stiffening his arms up and refused to allow me to put his hands behind his back.” Id. Jones testified Jackson “attempted to pull away from our grasp” and that force was applied only after he was concerned that Jackson was about to break free from the officers. Id. Huckaby also cites a concern that Jackson would break free as the reason he used force, stating that he applied knee strikes as an attempt to gain control of Jackson. Dkt. No. 48-3 at ¶ 8. In his affidavit, Huckaby states that he “continued to give Jackson verbal commands to put his hands behind his back, but Jackson did not comply with my commands.” Id. Jackson disputes that he resisted the officers at all, and testified, “I just remember putting my-I figured I was getting arrested, because I was still standing there with all the police, and then when I put my hands behind my back they grabbed my hands. And then I just remember a lot of officers surrounding me in a circle, and I remember being hit in the face.” Dkt. No. 55-6 at 42-43.

         While the video evidence, and particularly the overhead video, shows the overall circumstances of the encounter, it is not fully dispositive of whose memory of the events is correct. It does not, however, fully corroborate the officers' claims. First, the video reflects that Jackson did not actively resist the officers. Dkt. No. 48-6 at 2:26:35-2:28:12. He does not pull his hands away, nor does he ever move toward the officers. Id. Instead, at most, he appears to be passively uncooperative. Id. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Jackson, he may well have been surprised and confused, given how brief his interaction with the officers had been to that point, the street had not yet been closed, and there were many others still in, and crossing, the street in the immediate vicinity. Id. at 2:26:30-2:26:46. The video also reflects that the encounter escalated very quickly. In seconds, things went from Jackson talking to the officers, to him being surrounded by officers, and then to Huckaby and Jones almost immediately thereafter kneeing Jackson multiple times, while officers grab both of his arms. Id. at 2:26:35-2:26:54. Jackson stumbles backward, and one of the officers falls to his knees. Id. at 2:26:54-2:27:58. Jackson is grabbed again, then at least three officers and Jackson fall to the street, with the officers on top of Jackson. Id. at 2:26:58-2:27:05. A few seconds later, the video shows Jones delivering closed handed punches to Jackson's head area, pausing, and then delivering several more punches to Jackson's head or face. Id. at 2:27:13-2:27:27. At the time these blows were delivered, there were three APD officers sitting on Jackson's legs, pelvis, and back, respectively. Id. Eventually, Jackson is handcuffed, and brought back to his feet. Id. at 2:27:55-2:28:12. After several minutes of patting him down, and other discussions, he is placed in a patrol car and taken to jail. Id. at 2:28:12-2:30:23.

         At some point later that morning, a City of Austin magistrate signed off on an Affidavit for Warrant of Arrest and Detention, which charged Jackson with Failure to Comply with a Lawful Order and Resisting Arrest. Dkt. Nos. 48-8 and 48-9. Both charges were dismissed nearly a year later, on December 7, 2016. Dkt No. 55-10. Medical records show Jackson suffered a number of head injuries during the arrest, including a concussion, a facial fracture, cervical strain, and post-concussion syndrome. Dkt. No. 55-9 at 236, 277, 279, 317-320, and 336-338. Jackson testified that since that night, he has continued to suffer chronic headaches and back pain. Dkt. No. 55-9 at 116-118, 157-160, 190-192, and 238-242.

         IV. ANALYSIS

         Jones and Huckaby move for summary judgment, contending that: (1) they did not violate Jackson's constitutional rights because (a) probable cause existed to arrest Jackson, and (b) they did not use excessive force, and, regardless, (2) they are entitled to qualified immunity. As is explained in more detail below, because the qualified immunity analysis includes determining whether the plaintiff has a triable case that the officer violated a statutory or constitutional right, the Court takes up all of the summary judgment arguments together, in the context of the qualified immunity discussion.

         A. ...

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