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Collins v. Dotson

United States District Court, E.D. Texas, Marshall Division

November 7, 2019

CHARLES EDWARD COLLINS, Plaintiff,
v.
CHARLES “CHASE” DOTSON, Individually, CRUZ VENCES, Individually, RYAN ROOP, Individually, CALEB ODEN, Individually, CLINT MATHERS, Individually, and JONATHAN SMITH, Individually, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM ORDER

          ROY S. PAYNE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Charles Edward Collins sued six law enforcement officers under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He alleges that Charles “Chase” Dotson unconstitutionally arrested him and used excessive force during the arrest and that the five other officers present at the scene did not intervene and thus, are liable under a theory of bystander liability.

         In response, Defendants Ryan Roop, Caleb Oden, Clint Mathers, Cruz Vences, Jonathan Smith (collectively “Bystander Defendants”), and Dotson (together, collectively, “Defendants”) each filed a motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity.[1] (Dkt. Nos. 55-59, 53). Further, Dotson filed a motion to strike Collins' summary judgment evidence (Dkt. No. 68) and Collins filed a motion to strike the Bystander Defendants' expert affidavit (Dkt. No. 69).[2]

         After conducting a hearing on the issues, the Court concludes, for the reasons set forth herein, that the motions by Dotson, Roop, Oden, Smith, and Collins (Dkt Nos. 53, 55, 56, 59, 68, 69) are DENIED. The motions by Vences and Mathers (Dkt. Nos. 57, 58) are GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         a. Parties

         At the time of these events, Dotson was a Harrison County Sheriff's Office deputy. (Dkt. No. 53 at 5). Vences was also a deputy for Harrison County. (Dkt. No. 58 at 10). Roop was a K-9 deputy for Harrison County. He had been a licensed police officer since 2005 and with Harrison County since 2011. He had spent time both as a jailer and patrol officer. (Dkt. No. 55-3, Roop Deposition, at 2). Oden had been a jailer for Harrison County for approximately one year and eight months and had performed fifty to one hundred extractions of arrestees from vehicles. (Dkt. No. 56-3, Oden Deposition, at 2-4). Smith was also a jailer for Harrison County. (Dkt. No. 59-3, Smith Affidavit, at 2). Mathers was a Sergeant jailer for Harrison County. He had been on the job for just over three years and had been a Sergeant jailer for approximately five months. Before that he had spent at least eight years as a security police officer in the military. (Dkt. No. 57-3, Mathers Deposition, at 2-3). Collins was a sixty-two-year-old oilfield consultant, who lived in Waskom, Texas with his fiancé, Sandy Graff, on her property. (See Dkt. No. 65 at 2; Dkt. No. 53 at 4).

         b. Events at House and Arrest

         At 12:30 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day 2018, Sandy Graff's daughter, Samantha Garcia, dialed 911, told the dispatcher that her mother had called “in a frantic, ” and asked him to send police officers to Ms. Graff's house because Collins was “drunk . . . [and] tearing everything up.” (Dkt. Nos. 53-6, Roop Deposition, at 13; Dkt. No. 55, Ex. 5A-1, 911 Call starting at 0:10).

         A few minutes later, Ms. Garcia called back, telling the dispatcher that she was at the house, everything was fine, and Collins was laying down. The dispatcher stated he would not cancel the call. When pressed, Ms. Garcia admitted that she was not yet at the house but that her mother had told her on the phone that everything was fine. The dispatcher again explained that he would not cancel the call and that the officers could determine whether they were needed when they arrived. (Dkt. No. 55, Ex. 5A-2, 911 Call).

         Soon after, Deputies Dotson, Vences, and Roop, along with Sergeant Forrest Mitchell, who is not a defendant in this case, arrived at the scene, where they saw Ms. Graff outside her residence. The facts that follow are the undisputed facts as determined by the Court based on a careful review of the video evidence. Vences approached the house and opened the front storm door, where he encountered Ms. Garcia, who was walking to him from inside the house. She explained that she had just put Collins to bed. After a few seconds, Collins approached the front door. Vences said, “Lets step in here” and Collins responded, “Yes sir.” Vences, Roop, and Dotson then followed Collins inside. Collins sat down at the island countertop in the kitchen, while Vences, Roop, and Dotson stood around him. Mitchell stayed outside with Ms. Graff and Garcia. (Dkt. No. 55, Ex. 5D, Vences bodycam starting at 0:40).[3]

         Inside, the house was a mess. Groceries were haphazardly strewn across the kitchen. A sliding glass door to the backyard was broken, and glass shards were all over the floor. A chair, looking like it had been thrown, was upside down next to the broken door. Collins, on his own, explained to the officers that “all this mess you see, I did it.” (Id. starting at 1:15). When later asked why he made the mess, he stated that that he was “[j]ust angry” but that he could not remember why he was angry. (Dkt. No. 53-2, Collins Deposition, at 12-13).

         During the post-arrest investigation, it was discovered that Collins had been at his fiancé's bar for around seven hours that day, drinking what he estimated to be around ten beers. Further, he had taken his prescribed ten-milligram dosage of hydrocodone, an opioid pain medication, twice that day. After leaving the bar around 10:00 p.m., he went home. (Id. at 8-12).

         Inside the house, the deputies tried to gauge the situation. Even without knowing Collins' exact state of intoxication, it was evident that he was under the influence due to his erratic behavior and occasionally slurred speech. (Dkt. No. 53-6, Roop Deposition, at 13). The officers asked Collins what had occurred. While he gave non-answers to their questions, he emphatically and repeatedly stated two things. First, that he did not lay hands on anyone and second, that everything was his, including the house and all the items in it. Collins believed this meant that he had not committed a crime, which the officers confirmed to him. (Dkt. No. 55, Ex. 5D, Vences bodycam starting at 1:52).

         When asked what his plan for the night was, Collins responded that he was “going to bed.” While the conversation was somewhat disjointed, [4] the next minute essentially went as follows. Collins stood up and argued to no one in particular that he could destroy his own house if he wanted. Dotson answered, “you're absolutely right.” Collins went on to say, “I can do what I want to in my own house, I can tear those cabinets off and you can't do a God damn thing about it. Now, if you want to arrest me for it, I'll sue your ass Monday. Lock me up, lock me up tonight!” Dotson responded, “We won't” but went on to say, “we're not going to take you to jail for anything besides public intoxication at this point.” Collins responded, “In my own house?” Dotson explained, “We can. You're not cooperating with us.” (Id. starting at 3:52).

         After a few more minutes of this unproductive back and forth, Mitchell came inside and Vences went outside to ask Ms. Graff what happened. Ms. Graff confirmed Collins' story, stating they had been at her bar during the day. He left before her and when she came home, she found the mess. She emphasized there was no argument between them, no assault, no violence. She then explained that she was going to spend the night with her daughter. (Id. starting at 7:35).

         While Vences went outside, the others were inside talking to Collins, who continued to predict that the officers were going to arrest him. When asked what had happened, he explained that he had caused the mess “over a God damn fit” and that while they “don't come that often, I can throw one.” He then asked the officers if “y'all think you can hold me if I want to throw a fit . . . cause I don't think you can.” Despite using words that might be perceived as a threat, his tone remained joking. He then looked at Dotson and asked, “You think you can hold me big boy?” Right after, he looked at Roop and winked, while smiling. He later told Dotson, “I'm just picking on you.” While Collins was laughing, the officers, particularly Dotson, did not seem amused by his behavior. (Dkt. No. 55, Ex. E, Roop bodycam, starting at 9:40; fit statement at 10:04; joke at 10:20).

         Dotson then explained to Collins, “If you're saying you did all this and nobody was home, you're not going to jail because at that point you tore up your own shit. However, listen to me, the way the law is written, if you tore this up in front of family member that is family violence.” (Id. starting at 11:03).

         Vences then returned inside and Collins again sat near the kitchen island, while rambling on about how he could do what he wanted in his own house. Ms. Garcia then entered the house and went into the master bedroom, shared by Ms. Graff and Collins, to grab some clothes for her mother. Roop followed Ms. Garcia around the corner of the kitchen and out of Collins' sight line. Collins stood up and walked over, exclaiming that “you ain't got no God damn business in that bedroom.” While the officers originally thought Collins was speaking to Ms. Garcia, he clarified that he was talking to Roop. Roop explained that he was standing outside the bedroom. Collins repeatedly stated that the officers had no business going into his bedroom as his items were in there. The officers tried to explain that they needed to keep an eye on everyone in the house for safety reasons. Eventually, Vences, possibly frustrated by Collins, cursed. Collins, shocked by it, began to head back to his seat. Vences told Collins to sit down three times as Collins was slow to go back to his seat. (Dkt. No. 55, Ex. 5D, Vences bodycam starting at 9:39, Garcia enters at 11:11; Collins starts to complain at 11:43; Collins starts to sit at 12:46).

         After Collins returned to his seat, the situation seemed to be defused as Vences began joking and laughing with Collins. The critical scene in the house began when Vences asked Collins. “You got chickens here?” Collins responded, “Mmhmm, four of them.” Vences asked, “Where they at?” Collins said, “Chickens?” Vences said, “Yeah.” Collins replied by pointing at each of the four officers while he counted, “One, two, three, four.” Vences can be heard laughing, but Dotson, apparently unamused by the comment, immediately arrested and handcuffed Collins. Collins responded that it was “just what he wanted” and that he would sue them come Monday. (Id. starting at 15:07; joke starting at 15:27).

         c. Ride to Jail Annex

         After Dotson arrested Collins, he took Collins into his patrol car and began to drive to the Police Annex. Roop and Vences followed in their patrol cars. The in-car camera, without audio to begin, shows Collins, with his hands handcuffed behind his back, in the backseat, talking and banging his head against the divider. After two minutes of this, Dotson turned on his flashing lights. He also called the Jail Annex to inform them that he would be bringing a violent subject in and would need assistance. Sergeant Mathers, Jailer Oden, and Jailer Smith were assigned to the matter and began to prepare the Sallyport of the Jail Annex for extraction by bringing a restraint chair for Collins. (Dkt. No. 65-5, Incident Report, at 2).

         Back in Dotson's car, the audio function of the in-car camera began to work and Collins can be seen lying down quietly. (Dkt. No. 55, Ex. 5G-2, Dotson car camera starting around 2:00). After about three minutes of lying down quietly, Collins sat up and banged his foot against the divider. He asked to talk to the Sheriff, while repeating that he would sue Dotson and the other officers involved in his arrest. (Id. starting at 5:00). He continued to talk, on-and-off, for the next few minutes, while also banging the dividing screen with his foot and head. Dotson did not reply. As the car got close to the Annex, Collins called Dotson a “big boy” and stated that “if y'all think you fixing to whoop my ass, you wrong” (Id. starting at 9:12; second comment starting at 9:35).

         Dotson then pulled into the Annex. Roop followed, leaving a gap of a few feet between the two cars.[5] Collins, still in Dotson's car, stated, “I'm ready, God damn I'm ready when you are. Open the door.” Dotson replied, “Hold on.” Collins continued, “Open the God damn door. I know you all ready. I'm ready to give it my best shot. You all fixing to throw it on me. I'm fixing to throw it on your ass. I know you think you fixing to beat me.” This continued for a few more seconds as the officers prepared for Collins' extraction. (Id. starting at 9:45).

         The jailers placed the restraint chair between the two patrol vehicles. Then, they walked to the back-left door of Dotson's car. At that point, the six officers-Deputies Dotson, Roop, and Vences, Sergeant Mathers, and Jailers Oden and Smith-were outside Dotson's car ready to extract the handcuffed Collins. Roop and Vences activated their bodycams. Dotson did not do so.

         d. Arrival

         Finally, Dotson opened the door. As it opened, Collins shouted, “Wait a minute! Wait a minute! Let me stick my feet out! Let me stick my feet out!” The officers disregarded Collins' pleading. Smith could be heard saying, “Wait my ass.” Oden and Roop grabbed the still- handcuffed Collins and dragged him out of the car head first.[6] Smith then grabbed Collins' right arm, Oden held Collins' left arm, and Roop kept Collins' head down. Dotson grasped Collins' right shoulder. Mathers and Vences watched from just behind the others. As Collins was dragged backwards to the restraint chair, he tried to say something. As the words started to leave his mouth, Dotson began to punch him in the head. Three punches in, Roop let go of Collins and said, “Get the f… in that chair.” Roop then turned around and turned off his bodycam. As the jailers sat Collins in the restraint chair. Dotson delivered five more even harder blows to Collins' head. None of the other police officers did anything to intervene. In the end, Dotson, over the course of around five seconds, hit Collins eight times in his head. (Dkt. No. 55, Ex. 5J, Vences bodycam in Sallyport starting at 0:37)[7].

         e. Aftermath

         Jailers Brandon Moore and Nathaniel Shannon, who are not defendants, watched the scene in the Sallyport and provided statements about its aftermath. Jailer Moore described Collins as “bleeding from the lower part of the right eye, arms, wrists, and elbow. His face was also very swollen and red and there was blood all over the floor and chair.” (Dkt. No. 65-5, Incident Report, at 3). Jailer Shannon further described that “Mr. Collins had swelling to the right side of his face he was also actively bleeding at the cheek and ear. Mr. Collins also had a cut on his left elbow that was actively bleeding.” After removing Collins' handcuffs, the jailers saw that Collins “had bloody hands both left and right and cuts on both of his wrist from where the restraints was on to tight, this appeared to cut into his wrist and make them purple and actively bleed.” (Id. at 5-6).

         The jailers applied basic first-aid to Collins and “Mr. Collins stated that his head hurt really badly that he wanted to go the hospital.” (Id.). Collins was then transported to the local hospital. After being treated, Collins was taken to the main Harrison County Jail.

         Months later during his deposition, Collins stated that he still had a drooped eye, numbness in the right side of his face, and hearing loss in his right ear as a result of the beating. (Dkt. No. 65-3, Collins Deposition, at 7-8).

         f. Charges

         Dotson originally arrested Collins for Interfering with Public Duties as indicated in his Arrest Report but the report states, “On the way to the car, I evaluated the entirety of the altercation and made the decision that charging Collins with Disorderly Conduct was more appropriate because Collins had not assaulted his girlfriend or an officer.” (Dkt. 65-10, Arrest Report, at 2). Thus, Dotson's complaint and book-in report show that Collins was arrested for Disorderly Conduct. (Dkt. No. 65-12, Book-in Report, at 3). Yet, a magistrate signed a form several hours after Collins' arrest reflecting the dual charges of Interfering with Public Duties and Resisting Arrest. Due to the added charge, Collins was sent to the main jail instead of the Annex. (Dkt. No. 65-8, Oden Deposition, at 3).

         According to the court records, ultimately there was only the single charge of Disorderly Conduct against Mr. Collins, to which he pleaded not guilty. This charge was dismissed by the court “in the interest of justice” and the County refunded in full the fine he had paid. (Dkt. 65-16).

         II. STATEMENT OF LAW

         a. Summary Judgment

         Summary judgment is proper “if 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). Facts are considered material if they “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A material fact creates a “genuine issue” if the evidence is such that the trier of fact reasonably could resolve the factual dispute in favor of either party. Id. at 248. The movant has the burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of fact. Id. at 256. If the movant meets the initial burden, Rule 56 requires the nonmovant to present affirmative evidence and set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. All evidence must be construed in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment. Id. at 261 n.2. Although evidence is reviewed in the light most favorable ...


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