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Clark v. Clark

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

June 13, 2019

Gregory Clark Plaintiff - Appellant
Austin Clark, Deputy, in his individual capacity only Defendant-Appellee

          Submitted: January 17, 2019

          Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri - Cape Girardeau

          Before SMITH, Chief Judge, COLLOTON, and ERICKSON, Circuit Judges.

          Erickson, Circuit Judge.

         On January 25, 2016, Ste. Genevieve County Deputies Austin Clark ("Deputy Clark") and Matthew Ballew responded to a 9-1-1 report of gunshots from the vicinity of a rest area. When they arrived at the rest stop to investigate, the officers encountered Gregory Clark ("Gregory") seated at a table adjacent to the building. After calling in Gregory's identification, a brief, somewhat adversarial discussion about Gregory's race ensued. Gregory drove away in his vehicle after the officers went inside the building to continue their investigation. The officers then followed Gregory for approximately 19 miles on the highway, at which point Gregory stopped his vehicle on an exit ramp. After further discussion and investigation, Gregory was allowed to leave. Gregory filed this action against Deputy Clark, alleging constitutional violations under the First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court[1] granted summary judgment in favor of Deputy Clark on all claims on the basis of qualified immunity. We affirm.

         I. Background

         On the afternoon of January 25, 2016, the principal of Bloomsdale Elementary School called 9-1-1 and reported gunshots coming from the direction of the nearby woods. Approximately 12-15 minutes later, Ste. Genevieve County Deputies Clark and Ballew arrived at a rest area located about 150 yards from the school.

         Appellant Gregory Clark was the only person at the rest area at the time. Gregory was talking on his phone at a table when Deputy Clark and another officer approached him (not in uniform, but with badges and sidearms). Assuming they were police officers, Gregory voluntarily handed the officers his driver's license, his retired military identification, and his concealed carry permit. Gregory informed the officers that he was armed. The officers asked Gregory whether he had heard "anything" or any "gunfire." Gregory said that he had not. The officers then asked Gregory where he was going. He responded that he was on his way to Chicago. Deputy Clark ran Gregory's identification, which came back clean. When Gregory inquired as to the reason his information had been run, Deputy Clark replied that his "boss likes to know who he is talking to." Gregory followed up by asking if "[Deputy Clark would] have done that to anyone else." Gregory admits that his question was directed at whether he was being subjected to racial profiling. Deputy Clark responded angrily by saying "don't play the race card with me." Without any further discussion, Deputy Clark handed the three cards back to Gregory and ended the encounter.

         The police officers searched for a suspect inside the building, but found no one. When they came back out of the building, they saw Gregory driving away. The officers followed him onto the highway heading northbound toward Chicago. Gregory noticed the officers following him. He made a U-turn about two miles later, trying to avoid them because he "didn't know what could happen" and "was in fear of [his] life." The officers continued to follow Gregory.

         As the officers were following Gregory, Deputy Clark observed Gregory making "exaggerated movements," leaning toward the passenger seat and center console. Because Gregory's vehicle had heavily tinted rear windows, it was difficult to see exactly what Gregory was doing inside the car. After driving approximately three to five more miles, Gregory spotted several more police cars in the area so he turned on his hazard lights and pulled off the highway onto an exit ramp.

         After stopping his vehicle, Gregory put both hands outside the driver's side window. Deputy Clark and two other officers approached the vehicle with guns drawn in the "low ready" position. Deputy Clark then raised his gun and ordered Gregory out of the vehicle. Gregory complied. Deputy Clark patted Gregory down and another officer moved him away from the vehicle. Deputy Clark began searching inside the vehicle. Gregory told Deputy Clark that the gun he had told them about at the rest area was in the center console. When Deputy Clark retrieved the gun, he noticed it was cold and missing two bullets.

         Deputy Clark questioned Gregory about why the gun was missing two bullets. Gregory indicated that he had not fired the weapon in years and could not explain the two missing rounds. During this conversation, another officer examined the gun and verified that it had not been fired recently. The gun's serial number was run by dispatch. When it came back as stolen, Gregory was handcuffed. Further inquiry revealed that Gregory was the person who had mistakenly reported the gun as stolen when he had merely misplaced it, at which point the officers remaining at the scene removed the handcuffs, returned Gregory's gun and told Gregory he was free to leave.

         Gregory sued Deputy Clark, alleging: (1) he was unlawfully seized when Deputy Clark detained him at the rest area while running his identification; (2) a second unlawful seizure occurred when Deputy Clark detained him on the highway; (3) Deputy Clark used excessive force when he pointed his gun after he voluntarily pulled over; (4) the vehicle search was unconstitutional; (5) the theft of two bullets constituted a substantive due process violation; (6) the entire detention and inquiry at the rest area was based solely on race and violated the equal protection clause; and (7) the entire course of events that took place after inquiring whether he was being singled out because of his race was in retaliation for exercising his First Amendment rights. Deputy Clark successfully moved for summary judgment on all counts. Gregory now appeals the district court's ruling on claims (1), (2), (3), (6) and (7).

         II. Discussion

         We review the grant of summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity de novo, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Peterson v. Kopp, 754 F.3d 594, 598 (8th Cir. 2014). Qualified immunity protects government officials "from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have ...

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