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Jones v. Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department

United States District Court, District of Nevada

November 6, 2014

JOHN LEROY JONES; ROSIE LEE MATTHEWS and THE ESTATE OF ANTHONY JONES, Plaintiffs,
v.
LAS VEGAS METROPOLITAN POLICE DEPARTMENT; MARK HATTEN; TIMOTHY ENGLISH; RICHARD FONBUENA; STEVEN SKENADORE AND DOES 1-10, inclusive, Defendants

For Johnathan Jones, also known as John Leroy Jones, Rosie Lee Mathews, Plaintiffs: Dale K. Galipo, LEAD ATTORNEY, PRO HAC VICE, Law Offices of Dale K. Galipo, Woodland Hills, CA; Peter Goldstein, LEAD ATTORNEY, Law Offices of Peter Goldstein, Las Vegas, NV.

For Estate of Anthony Jones, Plaintiff: Dale K. Galipo, LEAD ATTORNEY, PRO HAC VICE, Law Offices of Dale K. Galipo, Woodland Hills, CA; Peter Goldstein, Law Offices of Peter Goldstein, Las Vegas, NV.

For Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, Mark Hatten, Timothy English, Richard Fonbuena, Steven Skenandore, Defendants: Craig R. Anderson, LEAD ATTORNEY, Marquis & Aurbach, Las Vegas, NV.

ORDER GRANTING SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Dkt. #32)

ANDREW P. GORDON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

This § 1983 case stems from the death of Anthony Jones in the early morning of December 11, 2010. The autopsy report listed " cocaine and ethanol intoxication" as the cause of death, with cardiomegaly (enlarged heart), high blood pressure, and police restraining procedures as " significant contributing" conditions. These restraining procedures--which included two officers using taser guns on Jones as he repeatedly resisted arrest after fleeing a traffic stop, one officer using his baton to try to wrestle Jones's arm out of a threatening position, and a fourth officer using his hands to grab Jones's ankles to stop Jones from kicking--prompted Jones's estate and parents to sue both the individual officers and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (" Metro").

Plaintiffs allege, among other things, that the officers used excessive force when trying to restrain Jones and that Metro's policies regarding the procedures are unconstitutional. Having reviewed the defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment and related briefs, I find that plaintiffs cannot maintain their claims. Plaintiffs do not have standing to bring their first, second, and third claims for relief. They provide insufficient evidence to support their fourth claim for relief. And Nevada's discretionary immunity statue bars their fifth, sixth, and seventh claims for relief. Accordingly, I grant defendants' motion.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The Traffic Stop

Shortly after 1:05 a.m. on Saturday, December 10, 2011, Metro Officer Mark Hatten pulled over Anthony Jones for driving a vehicle without headlights and turning right on red without coming to a complete stop. Officer Hatten remembers that when he asked Jones why he was driving without headlights, Jones " looked straight ahead" and " didn't answer." [1] When he asked Jones more basic questions, intended to " make [Jones] feel at ease, " Jones responded in a way Officer Hatten described as " vague, " " odd, " and " nervous." [2]

Because he had already seen Jones try to conceal his left hand between the door panel and his left thigh when Officer Hatten first approached Jones's vehicle, these answers caused Officer Hatten to become " concerned that [Jones] was hiding something in the vehicle, maybe a weapon." [3] So he asked Jones to step out from behind the wheel. Jones complied. Then he asked Jones to place his hands behind his back, and told him, " I'm just going to pat you down for any weapons." [4] To which Jones responded, " What's the problem, Officer?" and instead of putting his hands behind his back, brought them up towards his waistband.[5]

Officer Hatten interpreted this movement as an effort to possibly reach for a concealed weapon.[6] So he pulled out his firearm, created a distance of about 25 feet between himself and Jones and ordered Jones to " Show me your hands!" Using his police radio, he also issued a " Code Red." [7]

Soon sirens could be heard, which, according to Officer Hatten. seemed to agitate Jones.[8] Of even more concern to Officer Hatten. however, was that Jones started moving towards his own car.[9] Not wanting Jones to re-enter it. Officer Hatten, still holding his firearm, attempted to grab the back of Jones's jacket with his free hand.[10] But as soon as he did, Jones sprinted across Lake Mead Blvd.[11]

The Chase

Jones was 6'0" and weighed 236 pounds. Officer Hatten, in contrast, was 5'7'' and weighed 170 pounds. So after Officer Hatten informed dispatch that he was about to pursue Jones on foot, he intentionally did not try to apprehend Jones on his own. He knew their difference in size and strength would make it difficult to arrest Jones without back-up.[12] Instead, his plan was to follow close enough behind to simply keep a visual on Jones.[13]

But then Officer Hatten saw Jones lose his footing and tumble in the backyard of an abandoned home on Hart Street.[14] Thinking he might have a tactical advantage now that Jones was on the ground. Officer Hatten closed in and grabbed Jones with his left hand.[16] But Jones resisted, even though Officer Hatten had, with his right hand, pressed his firearm against Jones's back and warned that if Jones did not " get on the ground . . . I will shoot you." [17]

Officer Hatten Tases Jones

Freeing himself from Officer Hatten's control. Jones eventually stood up and turned to face Officer Hatten, at which point Officer Hatten holstered his firearm and took out his taser gun. " [G]et on the ground, " he said, " or I'm going to tase you." [18] But instead of getting on the ground, Jones advanced toward Officer Hatten; in response, Officer Hatten deployed his taser against Jones in " dart-mode." [19]

Seemingly unfazed, Jones continued to advance.[20] So Officer Hatten deployed his taser again, this time in the more powerful " drive-stun" mode.[21] Yet this too appeared to have no effect on Jones, who was now only about a foot away from Officer Hatten.[22] Then, with a third tase, Jones's body finally locked up, and Officer Hatten guided him to the ground.[23]

Jones kept resisting, however. In particular, he would not remove his hands from underneath his body.[24] Officer Hatten responded by tasing Jones again and wrestled with him until additional officers arrived.[25]

Officer Fonbuena Uses His Baton on Jones

Officer Richard Fonbuena arrived and observed that Jones " was a real strong individual" and was " resisting pretty good." [26] Seeing Jones lying on his stomach still fighting with Officer Hatten. Officer Fonbuena ordered Jones to stop resisting and show the officers his hands.[27] When that didn't work, he used his expandable baton to try to pull Jones's right arm out ...


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