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Henderson v. City of Woodbury

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

November 28, 2018

Tawana Henderson, as Trustee for the Next-of-Kin of Mark Eric Henderson Plaintiff- Appellant
City of Woodbury; Officer Anthony Ofstead; Officer Natalie Martin; Officer Stacey Krech, in their individual and official capacities Defendants - Appellees

          Submitted: February 14, 2018

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

          Before SMITH, Chief Judge, MURPHY and COLLOTON, Circuit Judges. [*]


         On August 31, 2012, Mark Henderson ("Mark") attended a party at a hotel room in Woodbury, Minnesota. The gathering turned into a hostage situation, and Mark was shot multiple times by Woodbury Police Department Officers Stacey Krech, Natalie Bauer, [1] and Anthony Ofstead after he attempted to escape the ordeal. Mark's mother, Tawana Henderson ("Tawana"), as trustee for Mark's next-of-kin, filed a lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City of Woodbury ("City") and Officers Krech, Bauer, and Ofstead. The district court concluded that the officers were entitled to qualified immunity and granted them and the City summary judgment. Tawana now appeals. We reverse.

         I. Background[2]

         Mark Henderson, a 19-year-old black man, was attending a party held in Room 217 of a Red Roof Inn in Woodbury, Minnesota. Without warning, one of the guests, another young black male named Demetrius Ballinger, pulled a gun. Ballinger robbed the other guests, including Mark, and held them hostage. One of the young women at the party called 911 and then hid her phone. Though the caller was unable to speak with the operator, the operator kept the line open and listened to the audible audio from the motel room through the phone.

         Based on this audio, the 911 operator discerned an apparent confrontation between someone with a gun and another person with a knife. The person with the gun (Ballinger) demanded that the person with the knife (Mark) give it up. The dispatcher alerted police and reported "hear[ing] two males talking about a knife-it sounds like one possibly took it from the other and he's trying to get it back" to police. Henderson v. City of Woodbury, 233 F.Supp.3d 723, 726 (D. Minn. 2017) (citation omitted).

         Dispatch determined that the call originated from the Red Roof Inn. But, dispatch was uncertain as to which guest room. Upon arrival, officers tried to find the room through guest records and by driving around the hotel. When this proved unsuccessful, the officers began to canvass the building by foot. Walking in the lead was Officer Krech, followed by Officers Bauer and Ryan Schroeder. Officer Krech came across Room 217, and through a gap between the window and curtain, she saw an animated black male in a dark shirt (Ballinger). Officer Krech then approached the door to see if she could hear anything. Officer Bauer took a position near the window. Ballinger then approached the window, moved the curtain to the side, and pointed his gun at Officer Bauer's head. Officer Bauer yelled "Gun!," and the officers retreated. Id. (citation omitted). By this point, Officers Bauer and Krech had drawn their guns.

         The officers called for backup and secured the area. They were positioned at a breezeway area at the top of the stairs to the second floor. Officer Ofstead and Sergeant Christopher Murray were the first arriving backup officers. Together, the officers discussed the situation and decided to call a SWAT team.

         Suddenly, finding an opportunity to escape, Mark opened the door to Room 217 and ran down the hallway. Ballinger, the hostage taker, fired a shot at Mark. The officers heard this gunshot, but they did not see who fired it or where it landed.[3] Mark continued running down the hallway toward the breezeway, in the direction of the officers. He was not armed. According to the officers, they ordered Mark to stop, relinquish the weapon they believed he possessed, and get on the ground. As Mark neared them, Officers Ofstead and Krech, who at this point were positioned closest to Mark, fired at him but missed.

         After hearing the shots, Mark stopped and got facedown in the hallway. Then, according to the officers, Mark "pushed himself up with his left hand, and his right hand was obscured beneath his torso." Id. at 727. The officers contend that Mark raised up as they ordered him multiple times to show his hands and stay down. They also allege that he lifted his torso and moved his right arm, which had been obscured. Interpreting this as threatening, Officers Krech, Bauer, and Ofstead fired a combined 17 rounds, 12 of which struck Mark. He died shortly thereafter.

         Tawana brought this § 1983 action against the City and Officers Krech, Bauer, and Ofstead. The officers were sued in both their individual and official capacities. The suit alleged that the officers violated Mark's right under the Fourth Amendment to be free of excessive force in the course of an arrest and were liable for wrongful death under Minn. Stat. § 573.02. It also alleged vicarious liability against the City under Minnesota state law.

         Following discovery, the defendants moved for summary judgment. They argued that the totality of the circumstances, especially Mark's perceived non-compliance, created a reasonable belief that Mark posed a serious threat, rendering their use of deadly force objectively reasonable and entitling them to qualified immunity. Tawana argued in opposition that there were multiple genuine issues of material fact that, if resolved in her favor, supported a finding that the officers acted unreasonably.

         Tawana contended that the officers should have known that they were dealing with a hostage situation, that the difference between Mark's and Ballinger's shirt colors should have made clear that Mark was not the hostage taker, and that the officers shot Mark without giving him enough time to comply with their potentially conflicting orders. Crucially, Tawana also asserted that a statement that Officer Krech made to the Minnesota Bureau of Crime Apprehension (BCA) shortly after the incident suggested that the officers had shot Mark despite his compliance.

         The BCA had conducted interviews with the officers on the scene the day of the shooting. Officer Krech stated the following ...

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