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Hinson v. Bias

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

June 14, 2019

MATTHEW REID HINSON, Plaintiff-Appellee,
R.A. BIAS, Officer #61580, B.K. KREMLER, Officer #64398, S.T. WILLIAMS, Officer #64402, Z.M. ANDERSON, Officer # 67377, ROB SCHOONOVER, Officer #6434, Defendants-Appellants.

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida D.C. Docket No. 3:14-cv-02127-HLA-MCR

          Before JORDAN, ROSENBAUM, and DUBINA, Circuit Judges.


         For no apparent reason, Plaintiff-Appellee Matthew Hinson stabbed a man he did not know in the neck during a chance encounter at a pub. As the man laid on the ground bleeding to death, Hinson calmly walked to the parking garage, got into his truck, and began to leave. But at the garage's checkout booth, Defendants-Appellants Jacksonville Sheriff's Office Officers caught up with him.

         In this 28 U.S.C. § 1983 action, Hinson alleges that the Officers violated his Fourth Amendment rights by employing excessive force in effecting his arrest. He also asserts that the Officers transgressed his Eighth Amendment rights by being deliberately indifferent to medical needs he purportedly experienced as a result of the force inflicted during the arrest.

         In support of his claims, Hinson relies on surveillance footage of the parking area, as well as his father's sworn interpretation of that same surveillance recording. For their part, the Officers deny that they used excessive force, and they support their version of the facts with their sworn statements recounting what happened during the arrest. In an interesting twist, they also rely on the same video recording as Hinson, in addition to Hinson's medical records.

         But what looked at first like a tale of two stories turns out to be but a single one, uncontradicted in any material way by any admissible evidence in this case. And under that single rendition of the facts, the Officers here did not use excessive force to effect Hinson's arrest. Nor were they deliberately indifferent to Hinson's medical needs. For these reasons, the Officers are entitled to qualified immunity, and we vacate the district court's contrary conclusion.

         I. Facts

         A. The Stabbing

         Though the day ended tragically, October 6, 2012, started out usually enough for Plaintiff-Appellee Matthew Hinson. He completed his shift as a cook at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Jacksonville at around 6:00 or 7:00 p.m. Then he went home, where his wife was, and watched the end of a football game. After that, Hinson went for a few hours to his friend's house down the road, where he had several beers. While he was there, Hinson's wife, who had since gone to Fionn MacCool's Irish Pub and Restaurant at the Jacksonville Landing, started calling and texting him to pick her up.

         Hinson eventually left his friend's home and went over to Fionn MacCool's. But when he arrived at the restaurant, his wife was not yet ready to leave. So Hinson took a seat at the bar and had another beer or two.

         At some point, Hinson encountered Chris Pettry, a man he had never previously met, in the restaurant. The trigger, if any, for what occurred next is unclear: Hinson grabbed his pocket knife, stabbed Pettry in the neck, and inflicted a four-inch laceration wound on one side of Pettry's throat. Pettry died soon after, as a result of this wound.

         B. The Arrest

         After stabbing Pettry, Hinson left Fionn MacCool's and headed for the parking garage. At the garage, Hinson got into his truck and drove to the checkout booth, where officers arrested him. Hinson testified that he remembered nothing at all about his arrest after he put his hands up in response to officers' commands. So the sources of evidence concerning what happened during the arrest consist solely of the participating officers' statements and video surveillance footage.[1] We review them below.

         1. The Officers' Statements

         Defendants-Appellants Jacksonville Sheriff's Office ("JSO") Detective Z.M. Anderson and Officer B.K. Kremler responded to the scene after learning of the life-threatening stabbing. At the time, they knew of the suspect's description and whereabouts from a witness. Anderson and Kremler caught up with the suspect, who turned out to be Hinson, at the parking garage around midnight, as Hinson sat in his truck and tried to pay for his parking. According to Anderson, when he and Kremler approached Hinson's truck with their guns drawn, the engine was still on. Anderson saw Hinson, sitting in the truck. And he noted that Hinson matched the description of the suspect the officers had received.

         Anderson and Kremler attested that Kremler instructed Hinson to put his hands up where the officers could see them. But, the officers stated, Hinson did not comply. So Kremler continued to tell Hinson to put his hands up. Eventually, Hinson raised his left hand, but Kremler was unable to see Hinson's other hand. Finally, the officers reported, Hinson put both hands up.

         While this was occurring, two more JSO officers arrived on the scene in response to a radio dispatch about the life-threatening stabbing. Defendant-Appellant Officer S.T. Williams first went to Fionn MacCool's, where he saw the victim lying in a pool of his own blood, apparently dead. Then Williams learned that Anderson and Kremler had found Hinson. So he went to the parking garage to see if he could be of assistance.

         There, Williams met up with Defendant-Appellant Officer R.A. Bias, who had arrived at the garage and had run to the driver's door of Hinson's truck. Bias, too, drew his gun and pointed it at Hinson. He then commanded Hinson to keep his hands up and get out of the truck, facing away from Bias (for officer safety). Hinson did not respond, so Bias continued instructing Hinson to leave the truck. At some point, Bias opened the truck's door, and after some time passed, Hinson finally put one leg on the ground. Bias took Hinson's hand and extracted him from the truck.

         As Bias and Hinson left the confined area between the truck and the checkout booth, Bias told Hinson to turn around and face away from him, so Bias could handcuff Hinson. Instead, Hinson continued moving towards Bias. Again, Bias commanded Hinson to stop and turn around. But Hinson again did not comply.

         Anderson, who could see this occurring, attested that he then became concerned for Bias's safety, since Bias no longer had his weapon drawn, Bias was significantly smaller in stature than Hinson, and the officers had no way of knowing whether Hinson was armed. So Anderson grabbed Hinson's wrist and shoulder and performed a police maneuver known as a "straight arm bar takedown." As a result, Hinson was in a prone position on the ground, next to the checkout booth.

         Once Hinson was down, Bias stated, Bias attempted to handcuff him. Towards this end, Bias repeatedly instructed Hinson, whose hands were under him, to release his hands. But according to the officers, Hinson would not cooperate. Instead, Hinson struggled to keep his hands underneath his body.

         Bias started to become concerned that Hinson might be trying to reach a weapon while his hands were under his body. So to induce compliance with Bias's directive to Hinson to produce his hands for handcuffing, Bias made "five or six hammer strikes"[2] to Hinson's upper-mid back area. In addition, Anderson gave one "pain compliance strike to Hinson's face" to obtain Hinson's cooperation. Hinson then released his hands from underneath his body, and Bias handcuffed him.

         The officers who viewed the arrest stated that once Hinson was handcuffed, no officer used further force against him, and all the officers denied using or seeing any other officer use a flashlight to administer the strikes or otherwise to hit Hinson. Nevertheless, Anderson, Bias, and Williams conceded that Hinson sustained abrasions to the skin on his left cheek, eye, and forehead, from the pavement, as a result of the officers' arrest efforts.

         After Hinson was handcuffed, JSO Sergeant William Janes arrived on the scene. Janes attempted to get Hinson to stand, so he could place Hinson in his patrol car. According to Janes, however, Hinson refused to comply. Instead, Hinson fell to the ground. So Janes picked up Hinson, and Hinson then walked to Janes's patrol car on his own. Kremler and Williams attested that they saw these events, and while they were occurring, Hinson never lost consciousness. Along with Anderson, Bias, and Janes, Kremler and Williams also insisted that Hinson never requested medical attention and that they never perceived him as requiring it.

         After officers secured Hinson in the patrol car, they found a large knife wedged between the driver's seat and the console inside Hinson's truck. Another knife laid on the ground by the driver's door. JSO later determined that the knife found on the ground next to the truck was the knife used to cut Pettry's throat earlier that evening.

         Janes drove Hinson to the Police Memorial Building, where Janes turned Hinson over to homicide detectives. At no point during the arrest was Defendant-Appellant JSO Lieutenant Rob Schoonover present.

         2. The Video Recordings

         The surveillance video taken at the checkout booth does not include audio. But to the extent that its limited view allows, [3] the video is, for the most part, not inconsistent with the officers' description of what occurred during the arrest.

         It shows that while Hinson was at the checkout booth, Officers approached his truck with guns drawn and pointed them at Hinson in his truck. Roughly seven seconds later-enough time for officers to repeatedly instruct Hinson to put his hands up-Hinson put his left hand up and outside his truck's window.

         At that time, Hinson dropped out the window what later turned out to be a knife. None of the Officers reported seeing Hinson drop the knife out the window. Anderson, however, attested that he saw a knife fall from Hinson's lap to the ground, when Hinson left the truck. Since only one knife was recovered from the ground, the knife Anderson purported to see fall from Hinson's lap must have been the knife that Hinson actually dropped out the window. This is the one inconsistency between the video footage and the Officers' testimony that our review of the evidence reveals. As we discuss later, though, it does not concern a matter that is material to the granting of summary judgment here.

         After Hinson dropped the knife out the window of his truck, he held his left hand up for about twelve seconds before reaching that hand back into the truck and out of the Officers' views. A couple of seconds later, Hinson again put his left hand outside the driver's window of his truck. Seven seconds after that, Hinson put both hands up and outside the driver's window. Again, these intervals would have permitted sufficient time for the Officers to have repeatedly instructed Hinson to put his hands up.

         Roughly another thirty seconds passed before an officer opened the truck's door. This period also was more than enough time for Officers to have repeatedly instructed Hinson to leave the truck. Then another eight seconds went by, and Hinson put one foot outside the truck. After seven more seconds, an officer took Hinson's arm and pulled him from the truck. During the next several seconds, Hinson moved back in the direction of the officer who had his arm.

         Suddenly, another Officer moved close to Hinson and took him down to the ground.[4] Once Hinson was on the ground facedown, an Officer straddled Hinson's back and appeared to reach down by the side of Hinson's body in a manner that would be consistent with trying to find Hinson's arms so he could cuff Hinson.

         About seven seconds later, the same Officer struck Hinson on the back. Two seconds after that, the Officer again struck Hinson on the back. Another second went by, and the Officer struck Hinson on the back a third time. Then, a second later, another Officer struck Hinson in an area consistent with where Hinson's head would have been, had the view not been obstructed. Finally, after another second, the first Officer hit Hinson on the back a fourth and fifth time.

         In the next second, that Officer began to sit up and to work with his hands behind Hinson's back. For the next about twenty seconds, the Officer engaged in activity consistent with cuffing Hinson, though the video is of such poor quality that even after reviewing it frame by frame, we cannot confirm with certainty precisely what the officer was doing. Nevertheless, the recording reflects nothing inconsistent with the Officers' statements concerning Hinson's takedown and cuffing, and it does not show that any Officer used a flashlight to hit Hinson.

         A little while after Hinson was cuffed, another Officer arrived and stood Hinson up. Hinson then fell down. While Hinson was on the ground, the Officer who had stood Hinson up used his foot to apparently tap Hinson's back. About nine seconds after Hinson fell to the ground, two Officers stood Hinson up again and placed him in the patrol car.

         3. ...

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