A reasonable jury could find that, by intruding into Robert Reed’s home without a warrant and without any exigent circumstances to excuse their warrantless entry, Officer Curtis and Officer Gray committed a constitutional violation … a reasonable jury could find that Officer Curtis violated Mr. Reed’s constitutional right to be free from excessive force when he pointed his gun at Mr. Reed’s head and that Officer Gray violated Mr. Reed’s right to be free from excessive force when he pulled Mr. Reed into the driveway and pushed him against the car. 

 

Robert Sean Reed v. Campbell County Kentucky

No. 22 – 5751

Sixth Circuit Appellate Court

August 30, 2023

Domestic Dispute Called in by a Known Caller

Shortly before 9:00 p.m. on Saturday April 11, 2020, the Campbell County dispatch center received a 911 call.  The caller reported that “[T]he people that live behind me, I don’t know if they’re having a domestic dispute or what” and that while in her backyard she “just heard him yelling and what sounds like him hitting something. . . .  I don’t know if he’s hitting dogs or if he’s hitting humans.”  She gave the dispatcher the address as 7 South Cottonwood.  She identified herself by her first name.  The dispatcher then communicated to police:  “7 South Cottonwood for a domestic.  Caller’s advising it sounds like they’re outside (inaudible) verbal and physical.”  Officers Michael Curtis and Kyle Gray responded to the call at 7 South Cottonwood.  They wore body cameras, which were engaged and recording throughout the incident.

A domestic dispute call was received from a neighbor of 7 South Cottonwood.  The events that followed would lead to a forced entry and a lawsuit.  What would you have done?

Upon Arrival No Domestic is Observed

When Officer Curtis and Officer Gray arrived at 7 South Cottonwood, they did not see or hear anything amiss.  Officer Curtis walked around the right side of the house and told Officer Gray “I don’t see anything or hear anything,” before returning to the front of the house.  Officer Gray went onto the front porch and looked through a window, through which he could see that there was a light on in the house, though he could not see anyone from his vantage point.    He said to Officer Curtis “I can’t tell if somebody is on the back porch or not.”  The officers then walked around the left side of the house.  Officer Gray asked, “I thought they said they were outside, no?” and Officer Curtis responded, “That’s what they said.”  The officers saw nothing out of the ordinary in the left side of the yard.

Initial Contact at the Front Door

The officers then returned to the front door.  Officer Gray opened the screen door and knocked.  Officer Curtis was positioned to the right of the front door and could see through the front window.  Officer Curtis told Officer Gray that he saw “a guy coming to the door” and “a female in the back bedroom.”  Officer Curtis later testified at his deposition that the woman “seemed kind of standoffish, kind of timid,” which he had seen before in domestic violence victims, but he did not express that to Officer Gray at the time.  Officer Curtis also conceded in his deposition that the woman was “kind of just standing there in the background,” she was not crying, and he could not observe any injuries on her.

Officers are Denied Entry as Mr. Reed Demands a Warrant

Mr. Robert Reed then answered the door.  Officer Gray asked Mr. Reed, “Do you mind stepping out here and talking to me for a second, sir?”   Mr. Reed asked “Uh, you got a warrant?”  Officer Gray replied, “nope.”  Mr. Reed then asked, “What is this about?”  Officer Gray then explained that “somebody called and said that somebody was fighting and arguing over here.”  Mr. Reed said, “Wasn’t here.  Sorry, Officer.”  Officer Gray then asked if anyone else was inside the house.  Mr. Reed said, “Yes, but do you got a warrant?” and added that the officers “don’t have probable cause Officer Gray responded that they did have probable cause and that the officers had been “nothing but nice and respectful.”  Mr. Reed replied, “I know, but I just don’t want to deal with any officers in my house.  I don’t know who called; I don’t really care.”  Officer Gray then said, “if there’s any other adults in the house, I need to talk to them,” and warned that “if not, then we can come in, because it’s called exigent circumstances.”  Mr. Reed then responded, “if you don’t have a warrant, goodbye,” and closed his front door.  Throughout the entire conversation, Mr. Reed had remained in the confines of his home.

Officers Make a Forced Entry and Do Not Make an Arrest

As Mr. Reed closed the door, Officer Gray warned him, “don’t do that.”  Officer Curtis immediately joined Officer Gray at the front door and kicked the door down.    Officer Curtis shouted “open the g*****n door!” and stepped into the home, drew his firearm, and pointed it at Mr. Reed’s head.  Officer Curtis then put the gun away, grabbed Mr. Reed by the arm, and pulled Mr. Reed onto the porch.  Officer Gray then grabbed Mr. Reed’s arm, led him to the driveway, and pushed him on the chest to back him up against the car.  Officer Gray instructed Mr. Reed to turn around, and Mr. Reed repeatedly refused and asked if the officers had a warrant.  Officer Gray then grabbed Mr. Reed’s right shoulder, physically turned him around, and patted him down.  Other officers arrived and spoke with members of Mr. Reed’s family, who had emerged from the home.  Once the officers were satisfied that everyone in Mr. Reed’s house was safe, they documented the damage to Mr. Reed’s door and left the scene.  There were no arrests made or citations issued in connection with the incident.

Reeds File a Lawsuit

Mr. Reed filed a complaint against Officers Officer Gray and Officer Curtis in their individual and official capacities and against Campbell County.  He raised nine claims:  excessive force, unlawful entry, false arrest, unlawful Terry stop, a Monell claim for failure to train, assault and battery, common law false arrest/imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and punitive damages.  The defendants moved for summary judgment, and Mr. Reed moved for summary judgment for all of his claims except for his Monellclaim and his claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress and punitive damages.

Qualified Immunity is Denied Though Some Claims are Dismissed

The district court dismissed the claims against Campbell County, and against the officers in their official capacities, It dismissed the Terry claim as “duplicative” of the false arrest claim.  It dismissed Mr. Reed’s claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress and punitive damages.  And as is relevant to this appeal, it declined to award qualified immunity to Officers Officer Gray and Officer Curtis on the individual capacity unlawful-entry, excessive-force, and false-arrest claims as well as the state-law assault and battery and false-arrest claims.  The officers timely filed a notice of appeal.

Unlawful Entry

The Fourth Amendment provides that “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause . . . .”  U.S. Const. amend. IV.  At its core, the Fourth Amendment protects the right of an individual to “retreat into his own home and there be free from unreasonable governmental intrusion.” Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 590 (1980) (quoting Silverman v. United States, 365 U.S. 505, 511 (1961)).  It is therefore “a “basic principle of Fourth Amendment law’ that searches and seizures inside a home without a warrant are presumptively unreasonable.”  Id. at 586 (quoting Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443, 477 (1971)); see also Michigan v. Fisher, 558 U.S. 45, 47 (2009).

The Fourth Amendment, however, “does not prohibit all unwelcome intrusions ‘on private property’––only ‘unreasonable’ ones.”  Caniglia v. Strom, 141 S. Ct. 1596, 1599 (2021) (quoting Florida v. Jardines, 569 U.S. 1, 6 (2013)).  Thus, there are some exceptions to the warrant requirement for searches or seizures within a home, including an exception for “exigent circumstances.”  Lange v. California, 141 S. Ct. 2011, 2017 (2021).

Was Someone Inside was in Danger?

The parties agree that the defendants made a warrantless entry into Mr. Reed’s home.  We must assess whether a reasonable jury could believe that exigent circumstances existed that would have excused the lack of a warrant, and therefore we must consider whether the officers had an “objectively reasonable basis for believing that ‘a person within the house is in need of immediate aid.’”  Gradisher, 794 F.3d at 584 (quoting Fisher, 558 U.S. at 49).

No

We hold that, taking Mr. Reed’s version of the facts, a reasonable jury could find that the officers did not have an objectively reasonable basis for believing that someone in Mr. Reed’s home was being (or in danger of being) harmed.

Officers Did Not Corroborate the Domestic Violence Before Entry

The officers proffered the following factors as indicative of exigent circumstances:  the 911 caller reported a potential verbal and physical altercation outside of Mr. Reed’s house, Officer Curtis saw a woman in the house who looked “timid,” Mr. Reed “refused to give others in the house the option of coming to the door so Officer Curtis and Officer Gray could ask about their welfare,” Officer Curtis was concerned that Mr. Reed would retaliate against the woman he saw in the house if he believed she made the 911 call, and Officer Curtis feared that Mr. Reed was arming himself.  We must also consider other factors:  everything was quiet on the scene when the officers arrived, there was no sign of a dispute either inside or outside of the house, and the officers saw no one who appeared to be injured or upset.

A 911 Call in and of Itself Does not Justify a Warrantless Entry

The 911 call alone is insufficient to justify the officers’ warrantless entry.  The 911 call report was vague regarding sounds of yelling and hitting of dogs or humans.  The officers needed more than just that phone call to make a warrantless entry into a home.  But when they investigated, they did not find more.  When they arrived at the scene, they heard nothing and saw nothing amiss.  The circumstances at the scene therefore contradicted the 911 caller’s report of the verbal and physical altercation outside.

A Refusal to Enter is Not an Exigent Circumstance

No Supporting Case Law

The officer’s point to Marsha Reed’s presence in the home and to Mr. Reed’s refusal to let them speak to others inside the home as indications that there were exigent circumstances.  The officers’ inability to see potential victims inside the home may contribute to exigency.  Baker v. City of Trenton, 936 F.3d 523, 532 (6th Cir. 2019); Schreiber v. Moe, 596 F.3d 323, 330–31 (6th Cir. 2010).  But this case is significantly different from those the defendants point to.  In Schreiber, a 911 caller reported a domestic dispute between a daughter and her father.  596 F.3d at 330.  The caller heard screaming while on the phone with the daughter and feared she was being beaten.  When the officer reached the scene, he heard a male voice shouting inside the home, verifying the 911 caller’s observation that there had been shouting and suggesting that there was an altercation of some kind occurring inside the home.  When the officer knocked on the door and asked about the girl’s welfare, the father told the officer to leave and “bombarded him with a slew of profanities.”  These observations corroborated the 911 caller’s report and, combined with the fact that the officer could not see the child to verify her safety, constituted an “objectively reasonable basis for believing” that the child was in danger of an imminent injury.

In Baker v. City of Trenton, 936 F.3d 523, 532 (6th Cir. 2019), an individual called 911 to report that a friend of his had pulled a knife on him and took his cell phone.  He reported that the friend was also yelling at his mother and threatening her with a knife or possibly a shotgun in their home.  Calls to the friend’s home were met with busy signals.   In each of these cases, the 911 caller made a significantly more detailed report and there were other indications that there was an altercation occurring and an individual within the home that was in immediate need of help – an individual that the officers could not see.

In this case, the officers arrived at the scene to find no evidence corroborating the 911 call, and even though the officers were not able to speak with Marsha Mr. Reed, they were able to see her through the front window.  Officer Curtis testified that she was not injured or crying, as far as he could tell.  Officers may not need to see “outward manifestations of violence” to find that there are exigent circumstances, Schreiber, 596 F.3d at 331, but they do need something beyond the present 911 call––whether or not the phone call is anonymous, see Williams, 9 F.4th at 435–36; McClain, 444 F.3d at 563–64; Thacker v. City of Columbus, 328 F.3d 244, 254 n.2 (6th Cir. 2003).  The presence of a woman inside a home who appeared “timid” to a police officer, without more, does not constitute exigent circumstances.  The officer’s perception of timidity by the woman is purely subjective and, most importantly, conveys no emergency or imminent risk or harm which could justify not applying for a search warrant.  One of the officers could have remained at the scene while the other applied for a warrant.

Officers Cannot Pour Facts into What is Occurring to Justify the Entry

The officers contend that they were worried Mr. Reed was arming himself or could have retaliated against Mrs. Mr. Reed for calling the police.  A reasonable jury could conclude, however, that this was pure speculation on an unreasonable “hunch.”  Gradisher, 794 F.3d at 584.  The scene was calm, Mr. Reed denied that a domestic dispute had occurred, and the officers did not see Mrs. Mr. Reed injured or in distress.  “[G]eneric possibilities of danger cannot overcome the required particularized showing of a risk of immediate harm.”  Morgan v. Fairfield County, 903 F.3d 553, 562 (6th Cir. 2018).

Entry was Unlawful

In light of the lack of evidence corroborating the 911 report, a jury could conclude that the officers did not have a reasonable basis for believing that there was someone inside of Mr. Reed’s home who needed immediate aid.  Thus the officers violated Mr. Reed’s constitutional rights by entering his home without a warrant.

False Arrest Claim

The officers also appeal the district court’s denial of qualified immunity on Mr. Reed’s false arrest claim.  The Fourth Amendment prohibits “unreasonable” “seizures.”  U.S. Const. amend. IV. Officers need “probable cause to believe that a criminal offense has been or is being committed” to support a warrantless arrest, Devenpeck v. Alford, 543 U.S. 146, 152 (2004), or “a particularized and objective basis for suspecting [a] particular person of criminal activity” to support an investigatory stop, U.S. v. Collazo, 818 F.3d 247, 257 (6th Cir. 2016) (quoting United States v. Shank, 543 F.3d 309, 313 (6th Cir. 2008)).  And “warrantless seizures of persons in their homes violate the Fourth Amendment, absent exigent circumstances . . . regardless of whether the officers at issue were conducting an arrest or an investigatory detention.”  United States v. Saari, 272 F.3d 804, 809 (6th Cir. 2001).

Mr. Reed was Seized at the Moment the Officers Forced Entry

Both sides agree that the officers seized Mr. Reed without a warrant when they broke down his door, took him from his home at gunpoint, escorted him onto his driveway, and held him there for about twelve minutes.  Mr. Reed argues that even if it was a detention and not an arrest, the officers lacked reasonable suspicion to detain him.

Obstructing Official Business Does Not Justify a Warrantless Entry

Because it is a Misdemeanor

The officers contend that this was a temporary investigatory detention, and that Officer Gray and Officer Curtis had “reason to suspect that Mr. Reed was intentionally obstructing them from performing their official duties” in violation of Kentucky Revised Statute § 525.015.   They then suggest that they had reasonable suspicion to believe that Mr. Reed had assaulted or was about to assault someone in the home, in violation of Kentucky Revised Statute § 508.030.   Even assuming the officers did have reasonable suspicion to believe that Mr. Reed was committing either of these offenses, they are misdemeanors.  Ky. Rev. Stat. § 525.015(3) (“Obstructing an emergency responder is a violation for a first offense, and a Class B misdemeanor for a second or subsequent offense”); Ky. Rev. Stat. § 508.030(2) (“Assault in the fourth degree is a Class A misdemeanor.”).  The Supreme Court has long held that there is a presumption against warrantless entries to investigate minor crimes or to arrest individuals for committing them. Welsh v. Wisconsin, 466 U.S. 740, 750 (1984). In order for the arrest or investigatory detention to have been permissible, then, there had to have been exigent circumstances excusing the lack of a warrant.  But as delineated above, a reasonable jury could conclude that there was no objectively reasonable basis for believing that the officers’ warrantless entry was justified by exigent circumstances, and therefore the detention was a constitutional violation.

Was the Force Objectively Reasonable?

We analyze claims that an officer used excessive force when arresting a person “under the Fourth Amendment’s ‘objective reasonableness’ standard.”  Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 388 (1989).  We must “ask ‘whether the officers’ actions are “objectively reasonablein light of the facts and circumstances confronting them, without regard to their underlying intent or motivation.’”  Coffey v. Carroll, 933 F.3d at 588 (quoting Graham, 490 U.S. at 397).  Factors relevant to this inquiry include “the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight.”  Id. (quoting Graham, 490 U.S. at 396).  Each officer can be held liable only for his own wrongdoing, and so we review the actions of each officer separately.  See Binay v. Bettendorf, 601 F.3d 640, 650 (6th Cir. 2010).  We also review separately each use of force by the same officer.  See Barton, 949 F.3d at 952–55.

Officer Michael Curtis

A reasonable jury could conclude that Officer Curtis used excessive force when he pointed a gun at Mr. Reed’s head, grabbed Mr. Reed by the arm, and pulled him out of his home and onto the porch.  The severity of the crime at issue was minimal.  The officers contended that they reasonably suspected Mr. Reed was obstructing their investigation in violation of Kentucky Revised Statute § 525.015, which makes obstruction of a public official a violation for a first offense or a misdemeanor for a second offense.  There are good reasons to conclude that, even if this offense could have justified the officers’ seizure, Mr. Reed did not violate the statute.  “When law enforcement officers who are not armed with a warrant knock on a door . . . the occupant has no obligation to open the door or to speak. . . . And even if an occupant chooses to open the door and speak with the officers, the occupant need not allow the officers to enter the premises and may refuse to answer any questions at any time.”  Kentucky v. King, 563 U.S. 452, 469–70 (2011).  If the state could criminalize refusing entry to one’s home to police officers, it would eviscerate the core protections of the Fourth Amendment; the exercise of “Fourth Amendment rights can hardly be grounds for police to circumvent the core right protected by the Amendment.”  Williams v. Mauer, 9 F.4th 416, 434 (6th Cir. 2021).  In addition, because the officers’ investigation failed to corroborate the 911 caller’s report, Officer Curtis had little reason to believe that Mr. Reed had committed an assault in violation of Kentucky Revised Statute § 508.030.  See Williams, 9 F.4th at 439 (reasoning that because “the information known to [the police officers] did not support a conclusion that there was a ‘real exigency’ within [the] home that required a warrantless entry,” the use of force was not reasonable to ensure the safety of the occupants of the home).

Court Determines that there was No Reasonable Basis to Believe Someone Inside was in Danger

Officer Curtis also had no reasonable basis to believe that Mr. Reed posed a threat to safety.  Mr. Reed denied that a dispute had occurred, declined to interact further with the police because they did not have a warrant, and remained within the safety of his home.  The officers contend that they feared Mr. Reed would obtain a weapon.  But “[W]e do not credit an officer’s subjective fear that an individual has a weapon where objective indicia are absent.”  Id.; see also Browning v. Edmonson County, 18 F.4th 516, 528 (6th Cir. 2021) (“[T]he remote risk that [the suspect] could have been armed does not establish that he posed a reasonable threat of danger.”).

Officers Cannot Justify a Warrantless Entry Simply Based on an Occupant’s Refusal

Finally, Mr. Reed did not resist being detained.  The officers frame Mr. Reed’s behavior as “openly hostile” because “[t]he first words out of his mouth in response to a simple greeting were, ‘You got a warrant?’”  The question of Mr. Reed’s hostility is a question for the jury; a reasonable jury could watch the body camera footage and conclude that Mr. Reed was not hostile.  True, Mr. Reed did not facilitate the officers’ request to speak with others in the house and attempted to end the encounter.  But withdrawal into the home does not constitute resistance.  In Goodwin v. City of Painesville, we concluded that an individual who refused to comply with an order to leave his home was engaging only in “passive resistance that was not sufficient to legitimize the officer’s use of force.”  781 F.3d at 323–24.  We determined that “[A] holding that a simple refusal to exit one’s own home—and surrender the heightened Fourth Amendment protections it provides—constituted active resistance of an officer’s command sufficient to justify a tasering would undermine a central purpose of the Fourth Amendment.”  Id. at 327.  Likewise, we conclude that refusing to permit police officers to enter one’s home or refusing to continue an interview with an officer outside of one’s home also cannot constitute “active resistance” sufficient to justify a use of force.  “[A]t the very core [of the Fourth Amendment] stands the right of a man to retreat into his own home and there be free from unreasonable governmental intrusion.”  Payton, 445 U.S. at 589–90 (quoting Silverman, 365 U.S. at 511 (second alteration in original)).  It would undermine the foundational principles of the Fourth Amendment to say that retreating into one’s home constitutes active resistance justifying the use of force.  Mr. Reed’s retreat into his home was passive resistance at worst and is better characterized as no resistance at all.  And the body camera footage shows that Mr. Reed did not physically resist when Officer Curtis pulled him from his home.

Pointing a Firearm at a Person May Constitute Excessive Force

The totality of the circumstances did not justify Officer Curtis’s actions.  Officer Curtis pointed his service weapon at Mr. Reed’s head, which is a considerable use of force.  See Vanderhoef v. Dixon, 938 F.3d 271, 277 (6th Cir. 2019) (“[P]ointing a firearm at an individual and making a demand of that individual . . . communicates the implicit threat that if the individual does not comply with the demands, the [one pointing the firearm] will shoot the individual.” (quoting United States v. Bolden, 479 F.3d 455, 461 (6th Cir. 2007) (alterations in original)).  A reasonable jury could find that Officer Curtis did so after entering Mr. Reed’s home without exigent circumstances and without any basis to think that Mr. Reed committed a serious crime or posed a threat to Officer Curtis’s or others’ safety.  See Wright v. City of Euclid, 962 F.3d 852, 870 (6th Cir. 2020) (“[B]randishing a firearm without a justifiable fear that [the plaintiff] was fleeing or dangerous was unreasonable and constituted excessive force.”).

Grabbing a Person who is Not a Suspect Could Constitute Excessive Force

A jury could also conclude that Officer Curtis’s subsequent actions—grabbing Mr. Reed by the arm and pulling him out of his home—were also unreasonable under the totality of the circumstances.  “[E]ven minor uses of force are unconstitutionally excessive if they are ‘totally gratuitous.’”  Gaddis ex rel. Gaddis v. Redford Township, 364 F.3d 763, 772 (6th Cir. 2004) (quoting McDowell v. Rogers, 863 F.2d 1302, 1307 (6th Cir. 1988)).  Because the jury could conclude that the officers “had no right to be inside [Mr. Reed’s] home” to detain him in the first place, it would follow that Officer Curtis “had no right to use force” because such force would necessarily be gratuitous.  Williams, 9 F.4th at 440.

Officer Curtis’ Force May be Gratuitous

Officer Curtis argues that the “type and degree” of force he used was similar in kind to that used by the defendant officer in Neal v. Melton, 453 F. App’x 572 (6th Cir. 2011), in which we held that there was no unreasonable force when an officer took a non-resisting plaintiff’s arm and escorted him away from a car.  But that case dealt with a traffic stop, not a warrantless entry into a home, and it also did not involve pointing a lethal weapon at the plaintiff’s head.  A reasonable jury could conclude that Officer Curtis’s uses of force were gratuitous.

Officer Kyle Gray

Officer Gray likewise used excessive force against Mr. Reed when he grabbed Mr. Reed by the arm and led him to the driveway, pushed him on the chest towards a car, and placed his hand on Mr. Reed’s shoulder to turn him around.  The analysis of the first two Graham factors are the same; the severity of the alleged crime Mr. Reed was suspected of is minimal and the threat to safety remained nonexistent.

Non-Compliance Alone Does Not Indicate Active Resistance

As far as whether Mr. Reed was actively resisting his detainment, a reasonable jury could conclude that he was not.  Officer Gray repeatedly ordered Mr. Reed to turn around when they were standing in Mr. Reed’s driveway, and Mr. Reed repeatedly asked, “Do you have a warrant?” instead of complying.  But “if there is a common thread to be found in our caselaw on this issue, it is that noncompliance alone does not indicate active resistance; there must be something more.”  Goodwin, 781 F.3d at 326 (brackets omitted) (quoting Eldridge v. City of Warren, 533 F. App’x 529, 535 (6th Cir. 2013)); see also Moser v. Etowah Police Dep’t, 27 F.4th 1148, 1154–55 (6th Cir. 2022); Kent, 810 F.3d at 393–95 (determining that an individual who yelled at officers but did not make threats of harm was not engaging in active resistance, and weighing the fact that the individual was in his home, “one of the most sacred of spaces under the Fourth Amendment’s protections,” id. at 394).

As a result, a reasonable jury could conclude that Officer Gray used excessive force when he grabbed Mr. Reed, pushed him, and turned him by the shoulder.

Officer Curtis was therefore on notice that it is unreasonable and constitutes excessive force to point a firearm at Mr. Reed without a justifiable fear that Mr. Reed was dangerous or fleeing.

Because Mr. Reed was not engaging in active resistance and because Officer Gray was using force against him to effectuate an unlawful seizure, a reasonable jury could conclude that the use of force against him was gratuitous.

Conclusion

A reasonable jury could find that, by intruding into Robert Mr. Reed’s home without a warrant and without any exigent circumstances to excuse their warrantless entry, Officer Curtis and Officer Gray committed a constitutional violation.  It was clearly established before the date of their intrusion that a warrantless entry without exigent circumstances was unconstitutional.  A reasonable jury could also find that it was a constitutional violation to seize Mr. Reed from his home without a warrant, and it was clearly established that such an action violated the Fourth Amendment.  Finally, a reasonable jury could find that Officer Curtis violated Mr. Reed’s constitutional right to be free from excessive force when he pointed his gun at Mr. Reed’s head and that Officer Gray violated Mr. Reed’s right to be free from excessive force when he pulled Mr. Reed into the driveway and pushed him against the car.  It was clearly established that using force against an individual who is not actively resisting the police is unconstitutional.

Holding

For the above reasons, we AFFIRM the district court’s denial of qualified immunity to both Officer Curtis and Officer Gray on the unlawful-entry, false-arrest, and excessive-force claims.

Information for this article was obtained from Reed v. Campbell County, No. 22 – 5751.

Reed v. Campbell County, No. 22 – 5751 was issued by the Sixth Circuit Appellate Court on August 30, 2023, and is binding in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Hardest Job in America! This case is demonstrative of how truly difficult law enforcement is when evaluating a situation in real time without the benefit of a judge or attorney shouting out instructions from the front porch of 7 South Cottonwood in Campbell County, Kentucky. The officers received information from a known caller that there was an ongoing dispute as described by the caller “[T]he people that live behind me, I don’t know if they’re having a domestic dispute or what” and that while in her backyard she “just heard him yelling and what sounds like him hitting something. . . .  I don’t know if he’s hitting dogs or if he’s hitting humans.”. Now upon arrival the officers had to determine if Mr. Reed was holding a person against their will inside the home.  This entire incident could have been resolved amicably if Mr. Reed was cooperative.  If he would have asked his wife to come to the door and give a statement, permitted the officers to enter or provided additional information, this incident and lawsuit would have been avoided.  Mr. Reed did have a constitutional right to request a warrant and shut the door, but make no mistake, this entire incident occurred because Mr. Reed was obstinate.
  2. Exigent Entry – To justify an Exigent Circumstance entry based on someone being in danger inside, law enforcement must have more than a person inside a home being uncooperative. In this case there was a ‘specifically-ambiguous’ call for service that there was ongoing domestic violence.  The caller did not state she witnessed domestic violence only that it could have been domestic violence.  The dispatcher did provide the officers the information received so at that time it was up to the officers to corroborate any criminal activity.  Upon arrival no visual corroboration was obtained and then the knock at the door.  When Mr. Reed arrived at the door his obstinance added to the suspicion by the officers that there was criminal activity afoot inside.  However, that belief was not supported by information or evidence which then made the entry unreasonable.
  3. Pointing a Firearm at a Civilian – “Officer Curtis shouted “open the g*****n door!” and stepped into the home, drew his firearm, and pointed it at Mr. Reed’s head.” On June 18, 2020, the Sixth Circuit issued Wright v. Euclid, No. 19 – 3452. In that case the Sixth Circuit held in pertinent part “An officer’s decision to point a gun at an unarmed civilian who objectively poses no threat to the officer or the public can certainly sustain a claim of excessive force.”. The holding in Wright is an easy decision to follow when evaluating a tense and dynamic situations in the confines of an office but is much different when an officer is dealing with an obstinate suspect at the scene of potential domestic violence.  In this case because the entry to 7 South Cottonwood was determined to be unreasonable, most of the actions that followed are going to be scrutinized at a higher level.  For more information on Wright v. Euclid, No. 19 – 3452 see The Sixth Circuit Holds Mr. Wright was Wronged.

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