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Edwards v. Harmon

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

December 16, 2019




         This case arises out of an encounter between Jeriel Edwards and police officers with the City of Muskogee Police Department. The Plaintiff sued a number of individuals and entities, including the remaining four Defendants in the case: Steven Harmon, Bobby Lee, Greg Foreman, and Dillon Swaim. The claims against these Defendants are made pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and the Defendants have filed a summary judgment motion asserting qualified immunity. For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that Defendants Steve Harmon, Bobby Lee, Greg Foreman and Dillon Swaim's Brief in Support of their Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket No. 54] should be GRANTED.

         I. Procedural History

         On October 23, 2018, the Plaintiff filed the present case in this Court. In his Second Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleged two causes of action against the various Defendants, but only the first implicates these four defendants.[1] The Plaintiff's First Cause of Action is raised pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as to all four Defendants, alleging unconstitutional use of excessive and unreasonable force.

         II. Law Applicable

         Summary judgment is appropriate if the record shows that “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A genuine issue of material fact exists when “there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). The moving party must show the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986), with the evidence taken in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970). However, “a party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by . . . citing to particular parts of materials in the record . . . or . . . showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute[.]” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c).

         III. Factual Background

         The undisputed facts reflect that on October 25, 2016, City of Muskogee Police Officer Greg Foreman was flagged down by a citizen who asked him to check out a vehicle in the driveway behind a Wendy's restaurant in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Defendant Foreman pulled into the restaurant parking lot, located the vehicle in the driveway behind the restaurant, and got out of his patrol car to approach the vehicle. Defendant Foreman believed that Mr. Edwards was under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both, and that it was likely PCP. Video footage of the encounter from Defendant Foreman's body camera reflects that when Defendant Foreman approached the vehicle, he asked Mr. Edwards several questions that produced no response, prompting Defendant Foreman to ask, “Can you talk?” Starting at the 2:43 mark on the video, Defendant Foreman instructed Mr. Edwards to put his car in park at least four times before he complied, also once asking how much he had had to smoke, while Mr. Edwards repeatedly moved his hands in and out of his pockets. Defendant Foreman asked Mr. Edwards for identification, but it was not until the 3:54 mark that Mr. Edwards was able to retrieve his wallet from his pocket. The parties agree that Mr. Edwards seemed confused, had trouble understanding what was happening, and kept putting his hands in his pockets. For nearly a minute after retrieving his wallet, Defendant Foreman instructed Mr. Edwards to keep his hands out of his pockets and put his wallet down on the console of his car before he complied. The Plaintiff nonetheless asserts that Mr. Edwards responded immediately to all attempts to engage and obeyed all commands. Defendant Foreman, believing Mr. Edwards to be under the influence of PCP, thought it best to remove Mr. Edwards from the car and place him under arrest and in handcuffs.

         As Mr. Edwards was getting out of the vehicle, Defendant Foreman instructed Mr. Edwards to turn around and put his hands behind his back. Defendant Harmon arrived around this time and also began instructing Mr. Edwards to comply with Defendant Foreman's instructions to put his hands behind his back. Defendants asserts that Mr. Edwards did not comply with this instruction, while Mr. Edwards contends that the officers prevented him from complying. Defendant Foreman then reached for Mr. Edwards's right hand to attempt to handcuff him, and also radioed for help with Mr. Edwards. Defendant Harmon then pushed Mr. Edwards back into the space between the car door and the car, and Defendant Foreman ordered Mr. Edwards to get on the ground, a safety tactic officers use to subdue a suspect actively resisting arrest. Defendants Harmon and Foreman then forced Mr. Edwards to the ground, which Plaintiff asserts they did without waiting for Mr. Edwards to comply.

         Over the next four minutes, officers attempted to handcuff Mr. Edwards. On the video, officers can repeatedly be heard instructing him to put his hands behind his back while they struggled and appeared to be grappling with the Plaintiff's hands and arms, and Mr. Edwards can be heard asking, “Why are you punching me, sir?” During this time, it is undisputed that Defendant Harmon delivered three punches to Mr. Edwards's ribs, a technique taught for use when a subject is resisting being handcuffed. Footage is grainy and not clearly trained on Mr. Edwards as Defendants Foreman and Harmon struggled with Mr. Edwards. Defendants assert that they could not control Mr. Edwards's hands and arms and that he was extremely strong, but Mr. Edwards contends that they did have control of his hands and arms and were preventing him from complying with their commands.

         During the struggle, Defendant Foreman smelled an odor he associated with persons under the influence of PCP, and Plaintiff does not dispute his knowledge that such substance could cause suspects to fight officers and be at a higher risk of excited delirium, which could result in death. At the 6:24 mark on the body cam footage, Defendant Foreman deployed his Taser in an effort to get Mr. Edwards into custody. Defendant Foreman first deployed the Taser into Mr. Edwards's back then immediately moved the connecting wires to his calf to obtain neuromuscular incapacitation, a technique referred to as “stapling.” Defendants assert the Taser had no effect on Mr. Edwards, while he contends that it had a “debilitating” effect on him and that he never resisted arrest. After deploying the Taser, the video shows Mr. Edwards attempting to sit up on his right side, with his right arm propping him up and his left arm stretched in front of him. Defendant Foreman again instructed Mr. Edwards to put his hands behind his back, and Mr. Edwards responded that they were, although they were not. Around the 6:45 minute mark, Mr. Edwards appeared to attempt to stand up, and what followed was a struggle among all parties on the video. Another officer appears on the video at the 7:09 mark to assist Defendants Foreman and Harmon, and Mr. Edwards shortly thereafter can be seen in a partially seated position near his vehicle while officers continued to attempt to get him in handcuffs and instruct him to stop resisting. He can be heard stating, “I'm not resisting, ” and “Let go of me.”

         Shortly after the 8:00 mark on the video, Defendant Lee began applying a lateral vascular neck restraint to Mr. Edwards, although Plaintiff asserts it was not properly applied and that Defendant Lee did so immediately upon his arrival and without reason. A number of officers seem to have arrived within this time frame, as the Plaintiff is surrounded by them at this point. At the 8:23 mark, officers were then able to get the first handcuff on Mr. Edwards's right arm. The neck restraint was discontinued as officers attempted to move Mr. Edwards to a facedown position and attach the second handcuff. Video footage is unsteady but shows at least six officers attempting to attach the second handcuff to his left arm, which is done at the 9:03 mark. Defendant Swaim had arrived during this time and assisted in placing the second handcuff; he also later removed the Taser prongs from Mr. Edwards's back. At the 9:10 mark an officer announces that Mr. Edwards has been handcuffed. The officers surrounding Mr. Edwards then stepped away, and Mr. Edwards can be seen lying partially face down, with more weight on his left side, while one officer keeps hands on his right arm and back. Another officer then places a knee over Mr. Edwards's right shoulder while all the officers discuss calling EMS for Mr. Edwards. Defendants assert, and Plaintiff does not dispute, that after he was secured by the handcuffs no additional force was used on him. This means that all allegations of excessive force apply to the time period prior to the handcuffs being secured on Mr. Edwards.

         Following the incident, Mr. Edwards was charged in Muskogee County District Court in Case No. CF-2016-1198 with: (i) DUI Drugs - felony, (ii) possession of a controlled dangerous substance (PCP) - felony, (iii) resisting an officer - misdemeanor, and (iv) possession of a controlled dangerous substance (Xanax) - felony. See Docket No. 54, Ex. 10, p. 3-4. The form on which Mr. Edwards entered a plea is a form for entering a plea of guilty, but the word “guilty” is stricken out and the word “no contest” was handwritten as to the heading and all questions concerning the type of plea he was entering. Id. at p. 16-21. The Judge signed a document which states that “The Defendant's plea(s) of no contest is/are knowingly and voluntarily entered and accepted by the Court, ” where “no contest” was handwritten. Id. at 23. The notice of the right to appeal likewise has the word ...

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