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Church v. Anderson

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Central Division

April 17, 2017

ZACHARY LEE CHURCH, Plaintiff,
v.
BOB ANDERSON, Individually and in his Official Capacity as a Police Officer for the Cedar Falls Police Department, JEFF OLSON, Individually and in his Official Capacity as Chief of Police, and CEDAR FALLS, IOWA, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER REGARDING DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          MARK W. BENNETT U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.

         TABLE OF CONTENTS

         I. INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND ............................................................. 2

         A. Factual Background ..................................................................................... 2

         B. Procedural Background ............................................................................... 7

         II. LEGAL ANALYSIS ................................................................................................. 8

         A. Summary Judgment Standards .................................................................... 8

         B. Heck Preclusion .......................................................................................... 10

         C. Qualified Immunity .................................................................................... 15

         1. Standards for qualified immunity ................................................... 15

         2. Excessive force claim ...................................................................... 19

         D. State Law Claims ........................................................................................ 23

         III. CONCLUSION ...................................................................................................... 25

         Early in the morning of Christmas day, December 25, 2013, Cedar Falls police officer Bob Anderson shot Zachary Lee Church while attempting to arrest him. Church has sued Anderson, the City of Cedar Falls (“Cedar Falls”), and Cedar Falls's police chief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, asserting, inter alia, that Anderson violated Church's Fourth Amendment rights by using excessive force. Defendants have moved for summary judgment on all claims on the basis, inter alia, of qualified immunity.

         I. INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         I set out only those facts, disputed and undisputed, sufficient to put in context the parties' arguments concerning defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment and resistance to them.[1] At least for the purposes of summary judgment, the facts recited, here, are either undisputed or facts construed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, Church. I will discuss additional factual allegations, and the extent to which they are or are not disputed or material, if necessary, in my legal analysis.

         Early in the morning of December 25, 2013, Cedar Falls police officer Bob Anderson was on patrol. At that time, Anderson was an experienced police officer, who had worked at the Cedar Falls Police Department for more than 20 years. Anderson had extensive training in firearms, roadside impairment, and hostage negotiation. He had been a firearms instructor for approximately 10 years and was also an OWI and field sobriety instructor. Anderson was about to complete his shift when, shortly before 3:00 a.m., he noticed a running vehicle with an occupant parked along 2nd Street in Cedar Falls, with its lights on. Anderson circled the block and approached the vehicle from behind. Anderson pulled up next to the driver's side of the vehicle. While still in his patrol car, Anderson shined his flashlight into the vehicle. Anderson saw Church slumped forward against the steering wheel. Anderson did not know the individual or recognize the vehicle. Church did not react to Anderson's patrol car or the flashlight shining into his vehicle.

         At the time, Church was 27 years old. He grew up in Parkersburg, Iowa, approximately 20 miles from Cedar Falls. On December 24, 2013, Church worked a six-hour shift as a cook at Toad's Bar & Grill (“Toad's”). Church's shift ended at approximately 9:00 p.m. He then had drinks at the bar with friends and co-workers. Church drank an unknown quantity of alcohol on the evening of December 24, 2013. After approximately an hour and a half, Church drove two of the people he was drinking with home. It took Church between five and fifteen minutes to drop both people at their homes. Church then returned to Toad's for an unknown period of time.

         Anderson moved his patrol car behind Church's vehicle, and turned on his rear warning flashers. He then contacted the dispatch center and informed dispatch of his location, Church's vehicle's license number, and that he saw someone sleeping in the vehicle. Anderson then approached Church's vehicle. Church remained unresponsive and slumped forward. Anderson checked the vehicle's door and found it unlocked. He opened the vehicle's door and smelled the strong odors of alcohol and burnt marijuana.

         Church began making fumbling movements toward the ignition switch and gearshift selector. Anderson noticed these movements, and reacted by reaching in and turning off the vehicle and taking the keys out of the ignition. Anderson noticed that Church displayed signs of intoxication. Specifically, Anderson observed that Church's eyes were bloodshot and watery, and his face was flushed. Based on his observations, Anderson requested a backup police officer be sent to that location. Anderson asked Church to step out of his vehicle and to show him some form of identification. Church complied and told Anderson that he had been visiting a friend who lived on the street. Anderson conducted a quick pat-down search of Church. In conducting the pat down, Anderson felt a good-sized lump in Church's right-hand coat pocket and followed up by shining a flashlight into the pocket. However, that pocket contained only Church's wallet and cash. Anderson did not locate any weapons on Church. Anderson asked Church if there was any marijuana in the vehicle. Anderson told him that he could smell marijuana and if there was marijuana in the vehicle, he was going to find it. Church denied that there were any drugs in his vehicle.

         Anderson escorted Church toward the patrol car. He intended to have Church sit in the rear of the patrol car until the backup police officer arrived. He then intended to take Church to the police station to conduct field sobriety tests in a controlled environment, because it was cold outside and there was snow on the ground. As they were walking to the patrol car, Church asked Anderson what was going on. Anderson replied that he could smell alcohol and that there was an indication that Church had been drinking, so Anderson wanted to run some checks to make sure that Church was okay to drive. Anderson took Church to the patrol car's rear door on the passenger side of the patrol car. Anderson opened the rear passenger door and instructed Church to have a seat. Church asked, “in this car?” and Anderson replied in the affirmative.

         Without warning, Church struck the left side of Anderson's head with a roundhouse punch from his right hand. Church was 6'2” tall and weighed 268 pounds while Anderson was 5'7” tall and weighed 190 pounds. Church's punch dropped Anderson to his knees. Anderson wrapped his arms around Church's legs to contain him. Church responded by punching Anderson several more times. Anderson then attempted to get on his radio to advise dispatch that he was in trouble. Church was punching Anderson with his right hand and Anderson had his left hand up to deflect the punches. Anderson testified that, because he was using his left hand to deflect Church's punches, he was unable to use nonlethal forms of defense, his ASP baton, pepper spray, and taser, because they were located on the left side of his duty belt. Anderson noticed that his microphone had been knocked loose and was dangling. Anderson grabbed the microphone and attempted to contact dispatch. As Anderson did this, he felt a sharp tug on his hip as though his duty belt, where his pistol was located, was being pulled. Anderson and Church then started backing up toward the front of the patrol car. Church advanced on Anderson throwing punches. Anderson ended up on his back. Anderson estimates that Church punched him three or four more times while he was on the ground. Anderson was physically exhausted, dizzy, and lightheaded.

         While using his left hand to defend against Church's punches, Anderson commanded Church to stop or “I will shoot you.” Anderson's App. at 71; Anderson Tr. Tran. at 147. Despite Anderson's warning, Church advanced toward Anderson again. Anderson, fearful that he was losing consciousness and Church might kill him, shot Church with his pistol. The first shot backed Church up, but then he started moving toward Anderson again. Anderson responded by firing two more shots at Church. Anderson saw Church run toward his vehicle, but did not pursue because he could not get up.

         Anderson had shot Church three times: in the lower left abdomen, the upper front left shoulder, and in the right collarbone/shoulder blade entering in the right posterior, inferior shoulder. The shot that hit Church in the abdomen was fired from approximately 18 to 24 inches away. The absence of gun powder residue on either of the other bullet's entrance wounds indicates that the gun was fired from a distance of over four feet.

         Cedar Falls police officer Katie Burkhardt was one of the police officers who responded to the scene. When she arrived, she saw Anderson laying on his back in the snow near the passenger side of his patrol car. She repeatedly asked Anderson if he was okay and he finally responded in a “very winded” voice that he had his gun. Anderson's App. at 71; Burkhardt Tr. Tran. at 457-58. Burkhardt saw Anderson's stocking cap, eyeglasses, a glove, Church's driver's license, and a set of car keys laying on the ground in the snow near the passenger door of Anderson's patrol car.

         Anderson was taken to Sartori Memorial Hospital (“Sartori”) in Cedar Falls by ambulance. The responding emergency medical technicians noted that Anderson was conscious, but dazed. They further noted that he had multiple abrasions and minor lacerations on both sides of his head. They also charted bruising on his left temple. Anderson was treated in the emergency room at Sartori. The treating physician, Dr. Laura Hoffman, noted abrasions to Anderson's face and a minor abrasion to his right arm. The primary diagnosis was traumatic injury due to assault; assault by person; abrasion to face; and injury to the head.

         Church was also treated at Sartori. He was diagnosed with 3 gunshot wounds: one to the abdomen, one to the left shoulder, and one to the right shoulder. Church was sedated for approximately six days and was discharged on January 6, 2014.

         Criminal charges were filed against Church and a trial was held. Church did not raise a self-defense claim in his criminal trial. On July 2, 2015, the jury found Church guilty of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver and operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated. The jury did not find Church guilty of assault on a peace officer with intent to inflict serious injury, in violation of Iowa Code § 708.3A(1), but ...


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