United States District Court, S.D. Florida
VIOLA BRYANT, as Personal Representative of the Estate of GREGORY VAUGHN HILL, JR., Plaintiff,
SHERIFF KEN MASCARA, in his Official Capacity as Sheriff of St. Lucie County and CHRISTOPHER NEWMAN, Defendants.
ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART MOTION FOR
SUMMARY JUDGMENT FILED BY DEFENDANT MASCARA AND DENYING
MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT FILED BY DEFENDANT
L. ROSENBERG, DISTRICT COURT JUDGE
Christopher Newman-a Sheriff's Deputy-fatally shot
Gregory Vaughn Hill, Jr. through Mr. Hill's garage door
while responding to a noise complaint. This case, which
arises out of Mr. Hill's death, was brought by Mr.
Hill's estate through Ms. Viola Bryant. The Complaint
contains claims against Defendant Newman in his individual
capacity and against Sheriff Ken Mascara in his official
capacity as Sheriff of St. Lucie County. Both Defendants have
moved for summary judgment. The summary judgment motions are
ripe for ruling. The Court has considered all relevant
filings and the argument heard in this matter on May 4, 2017.
Defendant Newman's Motion for Summary Judgment is
DENIED and Defendant Mascara's Motion
for Summary Judgment is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN
SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD
judgment is appropriate 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). The existence of a factual dispute is not
by itself sufficient grounds to defeat a motion for summary
judgment; rather, “the requirement is that there be no
genuine issue of material fact.”
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242,
247-48 (1986). A dispute is genuine if “a reasonable
trier of fact could return judgment for the non-moving
party.” Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Fla. v.
United States, 516 F.3d 1235, 1243 (11th Cir. 2008)
(citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48). A fact is
material if “it would affect the outcome of the suit
under the governing law.” Id. (citing
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48).
deciding a summary judgment motion, the Court views the facts
in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draws
all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. See
Davis v. Williams, 451 F.3d 759, 763 (11th Cir. 2006).
The Court does not weigh conflicting evidence. See Skop
v. City of Atlanta, 485 F.3d 1130, 1140 (11th Cir.
2007). Thus, upon discovering a genuine dispute of material
fact, the Court must deny summary judgment. See id.
moving party bears the initial burden of showing the absence
of a genuine dispute of material fact. See Shiver v.
Chertoff, 549 F.3d 1342, 1343 (11th Cir. 2008). Once the
moving party satisfies this burden, “the nonmoving
party ‘must do more than simply show that there is some
metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.'”
Ray v. Equifax Info. Servs., LLC, 327 F. App'x
819, 825 (11th Cir. 2009) (quoting Matsushita Elec.
Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574,
586 (1986)). Instead, “[t]he non-moving party must make
a sufficient showing on each essential element of the case
for which he has the burden of proof.” Id.
(citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322
(1986)). Accordingly, the non-moving party must produce
evidence, going beyond the pleadings, to show that a
reasonable jury could find in favor of that party. See
Shiver, 549 F.3d at 1343.
Events Preceding the Shooting.
Court begins with the undisputed facts leading up to Gregory
Hill's death: On January 14, 2014, Ms. Stefani Mills was
picking up her son and her nieces from Francis K. Sweet
elementary school. DE 68-2 at 9:11-25, 10:19-24. Ms. Mills
phoned in a noise complaint about music emanating from the
garage of a home near the school. Id. at 12:1-9,
20:1-5. Deputy Sheriff Newman and Deputy Sheriff Lopez
responded to the complaint. DE 68-1 at 20:19-25, 21:1-6. At
approximately 3:00 p.m., Deputy Newman and Deputy Lopez
arrived at 1501 Avenue Q, Ft. Pierce, Florida, Gregory
Hill's residence. Id. at 22:21-25. When the
officers arrived, the garage door was closed. Id. at
51:22-25. Deputy Newman and Deputy Lopez banged on the garage
door. DE 68-1 at 25:9-11.
however, factual conflicts begin to emerge. The only two
individuals able to offer a comprehensive account of the
events that followed are Deputy Newman, one of the
Defendants, and Deputy Lopez, who accompanied Deputy Newman
to the residence. The only other witness to the entire series
of events, Mr. Hill, was killed. Accordingly, the Court
begins by laying out Deputy Newman's account of the
shooting. The Court then addresses record evidence creating
genuine disputes of material fact with regard to Deputy
Newman's account and discusses the inferences the Court
must draw in Plaintiff's favor in light of those
Deputy Newman's Account of the Shooting.
one responded, Deputy Newman walked to the front door.
Id. at 25:13-14. Deputy Lopez remained near the
garage. Id. at 25:13-15. Deputy Newman pulled the
screen over the door open and knocked. Id. at
25:17-20. Deputy Newman “didn't hear
anything.” Id. at 25:17-18. He then took out
his “ASP”-a baton-and “used the end . . .
to bang on the door so [Gregory Hill] could hear . . .”
Id. at 25:18-20. The music got louder. Id.
point, the garage door opened, id. at 25:20-22,
revealing Gregory Hill-who was “a couple feet away from
Deputy Lopez”-holding a gun in his right hand,
id. at 25:22-25, 26:1-6. According to Deputy Newman,
the garage door opened high enough that he could he could see
“the whole garage” and “all of” Mr.
Hill, who was “standing upright.” Id. at
Newman yelled “gun” and drew his service weapon.
Id. at 27:8-11. He was “screaming at the top
of his lungs, “gun, drop the gun” in an effort to
make himself heard over the music. Id. at 26:8-11.
Deputy Newman's service weapon was aimed at Mr. Hill.
Id. at 27:13-14. Deputy Newman yelled
“gun.” Id. at 26:14-15. Then “[he]
screamed ‘gun' one more time as loud as [he] could,
‘drop the gun.'” Id. at 26:14-16.
Deputy Newman testified that while he was yelling these
commands, Mr. Hill's face was visible. Id. at
Hill then began pulling the garage door down with his left
hand as he raised the gun in his right hand. Id. at
27:16-22. Deputy Newman, fearing that Mr. Hill intended to
shoot through the garage, fired his weapon. Id. at
26:24-25, 27:1-6. Deputy Newman fired four times through the
garage door. Id. at 27:3-6. He fired the lowest shot
first, tracking vertically. Id. at 27:10-20. Deputy
Newman did not hear either Gregory Hill or Deputy Lopez say
anything, id. at 28:14-19, a fact Deputy Newman
attributed to the loud music, id. at 28:12-23. The
only gun recovered from within the garage was found in Mr.
Hill's back pocket. DE 71-16 at 49:3-11. Deputy Newman
identified the gun found in Mr. Hill's back pocket as the
same gun he had seen in Mr. Hill's right hand as the
garage door was closing. Id. at 49:12-17.
Evidence Giving Rise to Genuine Disputes of Material Fact
with Regard to Deputy Newman's Account of the
to Deputy Newman, when the garage door opened, id.
at 25:20-22, it revealed Mr. Hill-who was “a couple
feet away from Deputy Lopez”-holding a gun in his right
hand, id. at 25:22-25, 26:1-6. Deputy Lopez also
testified that when Mr. Hill raised the garage door he was
holding the garage door up with his left hand and holding a
gun in his right hand. DE 71-1-at 38:2-6. But Mr. Hill's
daughter Destiny, who was sitting on a bench outside of
Francis K. Sweet elementary school looking at the house, DE
71-12 at 22:6-13, testified that Mr. Hill was holding
“[n]othing” besides the garage door. DE 71-12 at
21:22-25, 22:1-7. Defendant urges to Court to
“disregard” the “standalone testimony of
this young child, ” DE 74 at 6, arguing that her
account is not supported by reasonable inferences that can be
drawn from the forensic evidence when it is viewed in the
light most favorable to Plaintiff. Not so.
only gun recovered from the scene was found in Mr. Hill's
right back pocket. Mr. Hill was shot twice in the abdomen and
once in the head. DE 71-3 at 5-7. Dr. Anderson, M.D.-
Plaintiff's expert-had no opinion as to the order in
which the shots were fired. DE 71-14 at 47. But he did
testify, based on the blow-back from the head wound and the
path of the bullet, that Mr. Hill “was upright by the
garage door when the bullet to the head occurred.”
Id. at 46-47. The only record testimony about the
sequence of the shots is Deputy Newman's testimony that
“the lowest one was the first, and then two, three,
four” because Deputy Newman had been “trained to
track vertically, up” when firing. DE 68-1 at 27:10-20.
Thus, the record supports the inference that the shot to the
head was delivered last.
to Dr. Anderson, the shot to the head “perforat[ed] the
brain through the right frontoparietal cerebrum, basal
ganglia, and left temporal cerebrum.” Id. at
5. Dr. Anderson testified that because “the basal
ganglia are where most of the motor fibers are coming through
to connect the spinal cord from the brain itself . . .”
this wound would have “cut all motor function, sensory
function out immediately.” DE 71-14 at 41-42. Following
the infliction of the head wound, Dr. Anderson opined that
Mr. Hill “would not have had any motor
activity”-“[h]e couldn't have done any
purposeful movement . . .” Id. at 42. But
until the head wound was inflicted, Plaintiff's expert
agreed Mr. Hill would have been “capable, assuming he
had a weapon in his hand, of putting it in his pocket.”
Id. at 48. Defendant asks the Court to conclude that
the gun having been found in Mr. Hill's back pocket is
not inconsistent with Defendant Newman's testimony that
Mr. Hill was holding it in his right hand as the garage door
closed. Defendant emphasizes Dr. Anderson's testimony
that Mr. Hill would have been physically capable of getting
the gun into his pocket even after sustaining two gunshot
wounds to the abdomen. DE 74 at 7. But that would require
drawing an inference against Plaintiff, which this Court
cannot do when considering Defendants' motions for
forensic evidence-viewed in the light most favorable to
Plaintiff-supports the inference that the gun was never in
Mr. Hill's right hand. Defendant does not dispute that
Mr. Hill was highly intoxicated. See DE 74 at 7. The
Medical Examiner's Report indicates an ethanol level of
.328-for reference, the legal limit for operating a motor
vehicle is .08. DE 71-3. Plaintiff's expert testified to
the serious potential impact on Mr. Hill's motor
function. See DE 71-14 at 60. And the shooting
happened extremely quickly. At 15:23:24, the officers
confirmed the address. DE 71-2. At 15:24:32 Deputy Lopez
reported: “Shots fired. Shots fired. Black Male,
Dreads, Armed with, with a Handgun . . .” Id.
The entire incident spanned sixty-eight seconds, including
the time it took for the officers to approach the house from
their patrol cars (which were parked at the curb), knock on
the garage and front doors, shoot Mr. Hill, and return to
their patrol cars to call-in the incident. Finally, although
“Gregory Hill could not be excluded as a
contributor” to the mixture of DNA found on the gun,
the examination was “negative for the identification of
nucleated epithelial cells.” DE 71-13. In light of
these facts, it is reasonable to infer (even assuming the
shot to the head was delivered last) that the heavily
intoxicated Mr. Hill did not move the handgun into his back
pocket after the garage door closed. No evidence in the
record indicates that either Deputy Newman or Deputy Lopez
saw a gun anywhere other than in Mr. Hill's right hand
before the shooting occurred. Thus, viewed in the light most
favorable to Plaintiff, the record supports the inference
that neither officer had reason to believe Hill was
Court now turns to whether Mr. Hill was ever ordered to drop
the gun he was allegedly holding. The record supports the
reasonable inference that he was not. Deputy Newman testified
to yelling “gun” and drawing his service weapon.
Id. at 27:8-11. He recounted “screaming at the
top of his lungs, “gun, drop the gun” in an
effort to be heard over the music. Id. at 26:8-11.
Deputy Newman also recalled that after his service weapon was
aimed at Mr. Hill, id. at 27:13-14, he yelled
“gun” again. Id. at 26:14-15. Then
“[he] screamed ‘gun' one more time as loud as
[he] could, ‘drop the gun.'” Id. at
26:14-16. But none of the other witnesses heard Deputy Newman
yell anything regarding a gun, despite the fact that some
were clearly within earshot. For example, Destiny Hill heard
an officer tell Mr. Hill to “cut down the music.”
DE 71-12 at 23:16-23. And Joseph Hall, who was closest to the
scene, heard an officer tell Mr. Hill to “get on the
floor.” DE 71-7 at 10:20-22. Although he was standing
nearby, Deputy Lopez only recalled hearing Deputy Newman say
the word “hey.” DE 80-1 at 51:18-20. Deputy Lopez
also testified to instructing Mr. Hill to drop the gun.
See DE 80-1 at 40:3-10. But Deputy Newman did not
hear Deputy Lopez say anything on the scene. Deputy Newman
attributed difficulty hearing Deputy Lopez to loud music. DE
68-1 at 28:10-11. However, Joseph Hall testified that he did
not recall hearing any loud music. DE 71-7 at 16:15-18.
Moreover, even if music had been playing at a high volume,
the fact that Joseph Hall and Destiny Hill could nonetheless
hear statements made by the officers lends support to the
reasonable inference that the music would not have prevented
Deputy Lopez from hearing a command that Deputy Newman
allegedly screamed at the top of his lungs.
the Court finds that the record evidence about the shooting
itself, construed in the light most favorable to Mr. Hill,
supports two key inferences: First, that neither officer had
reason to believe Mr. Hill was armed and, second, that Mr.
Hill was never ordered to drop the gun he was allegedly
Events Following the Shooting.
noted above, when Deputy Lopez called in the shooting he
reported: “Shots fired. Shots fired. Black Male,
Dreads, Armed with, with a Handgun . . .” DE 71-2. The
SWAT team responded to the scene, DE 71-17 at 7:7-10, after
receiving a report of a “barricaded subject”
following the earlier incident “with two Deputies at
the front door where [Mr. Hill] had pulled a gun on them and
shots were fired.” DE 80-19 at 17:21-23, 18:1-2;
see also DE 80-20 at 28:20-24 (“Q: [W]hen you
arrived at the scene, what information did you have about
what was going on? A: That it was a police shooting and that
the individual may be still inside armed.”); DE 68-4
(“I was told that the incident involved a barricaded
subject with shots fired.”). After setting up a
perimeter, the SWAT team deployed a Crisis Negotiation team.
DE 71-17 at 12:9-12. Receiving no response, id. at
13:17-10, the SWAT team dispersed chemical agents into the
home, id. at 15 at 15-24. A robot was then used to
pierce the garage door and photograph the inside of the
garage. Id. at 17:7-25. Officer Brian Hester
testified that the SWAT team had intended to use the robot
earlier, but that “it wasn't working for whatever
reason.” Id. at 17:17-20. After the
robot's camera revealed Mr. Hill lying on the garage
floor, the SWAT team entered the garage. Id. at
18:1-24. The only gun recovered from the scene was found in
Mr. Hill's right back pocket. See Id. at 26:3-4.
case, which arises out of Mr. Hill's death, was brought
by Mr. Hill's estate through Ms. Viola Bryant. The
Complaint was removed on ...