United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
THE ESTATE OF DAVID HARJO, through his duly appointed personal representative, Tim Harjo, Plaintiff,
CITY OF OKLAHOMA CITY, et al., Defendants.
TIMOTHY D. DEGIUSTI UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the Court are Defendant City's Motion for Summary
Judgment [Doc. No. 47] and the Motion for Summary Judgment of
Defendants Beasley and Thompson [Doc. No. 49]. All defendants
seek a judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P.
56 on Plaintiff's claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and
state law regarding the death of David Harjo. Plaintiff has
filed timely responses [Doc. Nos. 59 & 61], and
Defendants have filed reply briefs [Doc. Nos. 63 & 65].
Thus, the Motions are fully briefed.
and Procedural Background
Estate of David Harjo, through its personal representative
Tim Harjo, filed this action in state court on July 30, 2015,
against the City of Oklahoma City alleging that the death of
David Harjo was caused by an injury sustained in the custody
of two of the City's police officers. Following a motion
for dismissal, Plaintiff amended its pleading to assert two
alternative claims: 1) against the City for negligence or
misconduct of the police officers, seeking damages pursuant
to the Governmental Tort Claims Act (“GTCA”),
tit. 51, § 151 et seq.; and 2) against the
police officers, Jonathan Beasley (“Sgt.
Beasley”) and Jeremiah Thompson (“Officer
Thompson”), for intentional use of force in violation
of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, seeking damages
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Defendants removed the case to
federal court based on subject matter jurisdiction under 28
U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1343, and 1367.
stated, Mr. Harjo's death on April 17, 2014, was caused
by an acute subdural hematoma or hemorrhage due to blunt
force head trauma. Plaintiff claims Mr. Harjo suffered his
fatal injury at the hands of the City's police officers.
According to Plaintiff's pleading, Officer Thompson and
Sgt. Beasley transported Mr. Harjo from Deaconess Hospital,
where he received emergency treatment for chest pain on April
13, 2014, to the Public Inebriate Alternative Facility or
“detox” center; and then transported Mr. Harjo
back to the hospital a short time later because the detox
center refused to admit him. Plaintiff alleges Mr. Harjo was
examined upon his return to the hospital and found to have
suffered a head injury and subdural hematoma that resulted in
his death three days later.
move for summary judgment on the grounds that Plaintiff lacks
any evidence to establish Mr. Harjo's fatal injury
occurred while he was in police custody and thus Plaintiff
cannot prevail on either an excessive force claim against the
individual officers or a claim against the City.
Specifically, Defendants contend the facts developed during
discovery do not support a reasonable inference that Officer
Thompson inflicted any blow or head trauma to Mr. Harjo, and
a video recording of Sgt. Beasley's only contact with Mr.
Harjo at the detox center negates any claim against him.
Plaintiff vigorously disputes the first contention but
abandons its claim against Sgt. Beasley, affirmatively
stating in response to his Motion: “No Claim Is Pursued
Against Beasley.” See Pl.'s Resp. Br.
[Doc. No. 59] at 23. The City asserts additional grounds for
summary judgment based on certain exemptions provided by the
GTCA. Plaintiff disputes the applicability of these
exemptions under the circumstances of this case.
judgment is appropriate “if the movant shows that there
is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A material fact is one that “might
affect the outcome of the suit under the governing
law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477
U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute is genuine if the evidence is
such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for either
party. Id. at 255. All facts and reasonable
inferences must be viewed in the light most favorable to the
nonmoving party. Id.
movant bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence
of a dispute of material fact warranting summary judgment.
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23
(1986). If the movant carries this burden, the nonmovant must
go beyond the pleadings and “set forth specific
facts” that would be admissible in evidence and that
show a genuine issue for trial. See Anderson, 477
U.S. at 248; Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; Adler v.
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 664, 671 (10th Cir.
1998). “To accomplish this, the facts must be
identified by reference to affidavits, deposition
transcripts, or specific exhibits incorporated
therein.” Adler, 144 F.3d at 671; see
Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A). “The court need consider
only the cited materials, but it may consider other materials
in the record.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3).
of Undisputed Facts
Harjo's death was caused by an acute subdural hemorrhage
due to blunt force head trauma; other significant medical
conditions were cirrhosis, alcoholism, and pneumonia.
Plaintiff claims Mr. Harjo suffered his fatal injury in the
custody of Officer Thompson, who transported Mr. Harjo from
the emergency department of Deaconess Hospital to the detox
center shortly before midnight on April 13, 2014. An
ambulance had brought Mr. Harjo to the hospital earlier that
evening for evaluation of a complaint of chest pain; no
medical personnel documented a head injury at that time. The
ambulance workers were familiar with Mr. Harjo from prior
encounters related to his alcoholism; they noticed a
different demeanor on this occasion in that he was less
belligerent and did not need to be restrained, but they noted
no recent injury to his head.
hospital nurse assigned to Mr. Harjo's case, Wynesha
Kirk, has testified that Mr. Harjo was responsive and
ambulatory during his assessment, throughout his hospital
stay, and when she discharged him. Ms. Kirk noted abrasions and
bruising on Mr. Harjo's forearms, but no injury to his
head. After his discharge, another hospital employee, Mark
Woodruff, transported Mr. Harjo by wheelchair to the police
car and placed him in the back seat with assistance from
Officer Thompson. There is conflicting testimony regarding
Mr. Harjo's responsiveness at that time. However, a video
recording made by a hospital security camera shows Mr. Harjo
slumped in the wheelchair and appearing to drag his feet
while being transported to the car; Mr. Woodruff was pulling
the wheelchair backwards to prevent Mr. Harjo from slipping
down. Mr. Woodruff bumped Mr. Harjo's head with the car
door during the transfer process, but the degree of force was
not significant and did not cause a visible injury.
Officer Thompson's request, Sgt. Beasley met him at the
detox center to help remove Mr. Harjo from the police car. A
video recording taken by an outdoor security camera at the
detox center shows the two officers lifting Mr. Harjo from
the back seat of Officer Thompson's patrol car and
placing his body on the ground, where it remained until an
ambulance arrived. The detox center refused to accept Mr.
Harjo. An ambulance transported Mr. Harjo back to Deaconess
Hospital shortly before 1:00 A.M. on April 14, 2014. An
abrasion on Mr. Harjo's forehead was first documented by
medical staff at that time. Sgt. Beasley had also noticed a
small amount of dried blood on Mr. Harjo's forehead. The
autopsy report notes a “[l]inear healing abrasion, 1
cm, right forehead, with underlying right frontal
subscalpular [sic] hemorrhage.” See ...