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Ryan v. Armstrong

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

March 7, 2017

Dennis Ryan, Jr., as trustee for the heirs and next of kin of Jerome Deon Ladette Harrell Plaintiff- Appellant
v.
Officer Mary Armstrong; Officer Patrick Culloton; Officer Craig Stowell; Officer Gilbert Michalski; Officer Mark Hill; Officer Joseph Klebs; Sergeant Mark Maslonkowski; Officer Adam Seifferman, individually and in their official capacity; Captain Pam Jensen, individually and in her official capacity; Stearns County Defendants-Appellees

          Submitted: December 13, 2016

         Appeal from United States District Court for the District of Minnesota - Minneapolis

          Before LOKEN, MURPHY, and KELLY, Circuit Judges.

          MURPHY, Circuit Judge.

         In February 2012 Jerome Harrell surrendered to the Stearns County jail in response to outstanding traffic warrants. He was booked and held overnight. During that time he exhibited bizarre and erratic behavior. The following morning correctional officers decided to remove Harrell from his cell for a medical assessment. Harrell became unresponsive during the removal procedure and died. The trustee of Harrell's estate sued Stearns County and various correctional officers (collectively the defendants) under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of Harrell's constitutional rights as well as other claims. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings.

         I.

         Early in the evening of February 23, 2012 Jerome Harrell surrendered to the Stearns County jail in response to outstanding traffic warrants. Although Harrell was initially cooperative with efforts to book him into the jail, the officer who completed Harrell's initial classification worksheet marked that Harrell had "special needs" and noted that he "appear[ed] high." During the intake process Harrell also began talking about a shooting that had occurred near St. Cloud State University a few days before. Harrell said he "wanted to help the cops figure [it] out" because "[the cops] think it was him" even though he had heard the suspect in the shooting "was wearing a face mask and that the guy had tattoos on his hands" which Harrell did not. Harrell also mentioned that he had just watched a documentary about the rapper Tupac Shakur and "needed to come clean." Based on Harrell's comments during the intake process, a detective from the St. Cloud police department went to the jail at 9:30 pm to meet with him. The meeting lasted approximately one hour; officers noted that Harrell "appeared anxious" after it.

         At 11:00 pm that night there was a shift change for the correctional officers. Defendants Mary Armstrong and Patrick Culloton came on duty and were informed at the start of their shift that Harrell appeared high and had exhibited strange behavior. One of the duties of officers at the jail was to perform well being checks (WBCs) every half hour on detainees. Armstrong and Culloton observed that Harrell was behaving oddly during their half hour checks from the beginning of their shift. When Armstrong checked on Harrell, she saw him "spring up from his bunk with lunging movements and start moving his body as though he was an animal." She also said that Harrell made "loud howling and screaming vocals" throughout the night. Culloton stated that Harrell also banged on his cell door. His behavior was disruptive enough that other detainees asked to have him moved or quieted. Neither Armstrong nor Culloton talked to Harrell during their shift, however, nor did they enter his cell. Although they monitored his behavior by regular checks, they did not request any medical assistance. They were relieved by a new shift of officers shortly before 7:00 am and reported Harrell's behavior to them.

         Defendant Mark Hill, one of the officers on the new shift, checked on Harrell shortly after he came on duty. In the course of his checks, Hill observed Harrell "making loud howling noises and pounding on the door." He was also "splashing water from the sink all over the cell with a sheet." At around the same time as Hill made these observations, supervising officer Pam Gacke asked the jail's medical staff to assess Harrell. Since the medical staff believed that Harrell needed to be placed in a restraint chair during that process, he was removed from his cell by a team of four officers (defendants Craig Stowell, Joseph Klebs, Gilbert Michalski, and Adam Seifermann). At the time the team went to enter Harrell's cell, it found him completely naked with a wet sheet draped over his head, screaming and banging on the door. Team members made a video of him shortly before his removal from the cell.

         The team's efforts to remove Harrell from his cell were videotaped. When Gacke directed Harrell to back away from his door and lie on his bunk, he did not comply. Then, as the extraction team entered his cell, Harrell rushed at the first officer. The team attempted to subdue Harrell, but he continued actively resisting and bit one of the officers. During this struggle Harrell was knocked to the floor, and several officers held him down while attempting to place his wrists and ankles in restraints. One twice used a taser in drive stun mode.

         Once the officers succeeded in handcuffing Harrell, they used scissors to cut away a sheet he had wrapped around his head. Approximately five minutes after the officers first entered Harrell's cell, they found he was no longer responsive. They moved him from his cell to a lower level of the jail where staff attempted to revive him until an ambulance arrived. Harrell was transported to the hospital where he was pronounced dead at 10:00 am.

         An autopsy found no significant injury or trauma. Harrell's immediate cause of death was described as "sudden unexpected death during restraint." An investigator who photographed the interior of Harrell's cell shortly after his removal noted that "[t]here was . . . a large pool of blood on the floor that had come from a laceration to Jerome Harrell's head."

         The trustee of Harrell's estate filed this lawsuit after his death, alleging that individual correctional officers and Stearns County had violated Harrell's constitutional rights with deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs and excessive force. The individual defendants moved for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity. The district court granted them summary judgment after concluding they had not violated Harrell's constitutional rights. It also granted summary judgment on the trustee's claims ...


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