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Coleman v. Compton

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

June 7, 2016


          OPINION & ORDER

          JAMES D. PETERSON District Judge

         Plaintiffs Sidney Coleman and Lakesha Johnson, appearing pro se, are jointly proceeding with claims that defendant Madison Police Department officers violated their Fourth Amendment rights in several ways in conjunction with the search of their motel room for a crime for which plaintiff Coleman was a suspect. Defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment, and plaintiffs have filed a motion for recruitment of counsel and motion for protective order to deny defendants’ request to depose plaintiff Johnson.

         After considering these filings, I conclude that there are disputed issues of material fact with regard to plaintiffs’ claims that Coleman was seized without a warrant, Johnson was seized without probable cause or a warrant and subjected to a DNA swab, defendants searched the motel room, and defendants unreasonably pointed their guns at Johnson and plaintiffs’ two-year-old child. I will grant plaintiffs’ motion for recruitment of counsel and deny their motion for a protective order.


         A. Parties

         Plaintiffs Sidney L. Coleman and Lakesha M. Johnson are both Madison residents.[1]The defendants were employees of the Madison Police Department (MPD). David J. Compton was a sergeant. Tracie A. Jokala, Jamie Grann, Kymtana Woodly, Kelly L. Beckett, Jerry B. Johnson, and Kathleen Riley were detectives. Michael G. McEvoy was an investigator. Benjamin D. Schwarz, Mark D. Allen, Dave Mertz, Jeff Felt, Kelly Powers, and Zach Haggerty were police officers.

         B. Stabbing investigation

         On January 12, 2011, at about 5:00 p.m., MPD dispatch advised officers of a stabbing reported to have taken place at a gas station on South Park Street in Madison. Dispatch provided the following additional information: (1) the suspect was a black man, approximately six feet tall and weighing about 175 pounds, wearing a "funny-looking" winter hat, a blue t-shirt, and a black leather coat; (2) the suspect had fled in a black BMW; (3) a light-skinned black woman accompanied the suspect in the BMW; and (4) the victim was still at the scene and had been stabbed near his armpit.

         Defendants Johnson, Beckett, Jokala, Grann, and Woodly went to the gas station. The gas station clerk told the officers that the suspect had stabbed the victim in the parking lot near a gas pump, using a knife that appeared to have a black blade.

         Defendant Grann reviewed video surveillance of the incident with the clerk on an in-store monitor. The clerk pointed out the man he identified as the suspect. The suspect’s vehicle appeared on the video, as did the woman who was with the suspect. Although defendants’ proposed findings are not completely clear, they learned from either the clerk or the video that the suspect left the scene in a black two-door BMW, possibly a 1990s model, with a ragtop. The license plate was dirty and started with an "A."

         Defendants Grann and Beckett returned to the police station, where they edited and emailed clips of the surveillance video, together with an incident summary, to other MPD officers. At about 8:30 p.m., Officer Jeff Pharo responded to Grann’s email, stating that he had observed a similar car the previous evening, with occupants similar to those described in Grann’s email. Pharo recalled that the vehicle had Alabama license plates that started with the letters "AZ."

         Using a MPD database, defendant Jokala completed a query of vehicles that were similar to the suspect’s vehicle. She discovered past MPD contact with a black 1998 BMW bearing Alabama license plate AZ38190. The vehicle was registered to Terrie Coleman of Alabama, who had a son named Sidney L. Coleman. Officers pulled up a booking photo of Sidney Coleman. MPD records showed that Coleman had a girlfriend named Lakesha Johnson. Defendants Beckett, Jokala, Grann, and Johnson all agreed that the photo of Coleman appeared to strongly resemble the suspect depicted in the digital footage from the gas station.

         Defendants Johnson and Woodly went to UW Hospital and met with the victim in the emergency room at approximately 7:20 p.m. Woodly collected a DNA buccal sample from him. Johnson and Woodly learned that the victim had an arterial bleed in the area of his stab wound.

         The victim told defendant Johnson what happened at the gas station. As the victim was walking inside to pay for gasoline, a black car almost hit him. He complained to the driver. The driver continued on and almost hit him a second time. In response, the victim hit the driver’s side door and window of the car with his fist. The driver got out of the car and approached the victim. They threw punches at each other and then disengaged. The victim saw the suspect holding a knife. The suspect got back in the car and left the gas station. A few minutes later, the victim began to feel itching and pain coming from his left chest and armpit area. He noticed he was bleeding. He realized he had been stabbed, so he notified the store clerk. The victim said he did not know the suspect.

         The victim described the suspect as a black man, about five-feet-ten-inches to six-feet tall, weighing between 120 to 135 pounds with a dark complexion and no facial hair. According to the victim, the suspect was wearing a black t-shirt and black pants and had short hair. The victim described the vehicle driven by the suspect as a black BMW two-door with a soft top and tinted windows. He believed the vehicle was a 2005 or 2006 model.

         Defendants Johnson and Woodly returned to the precinct. Based on information gathered by defendants Grann, Beckett, and Jokala, Johnson assembled two sequential photo lineups including plaintiff Coleman that he intended to show to both the victim and to the gas station clerk. At approximately 9:50 p.m., defendants Johnson and Woodly showed the gas station clerk a sequential lineup with six photos. For five of the six photos, the clerk said the person shown was not the suspect. With Coleman’s photo, the clerk said "It’s possible, it’s possible I’d have to look at the camera again to be sure, but he looks similar to the guy who was here." After the photo lineup was administered, the clerk told the detectives that at the time of the attack, the suspect wore a hat, a blue shirt, and a coat.

         C. Search and arrest

         Defendants Grann and Beckett compiled a list of addresses used by plaintiffs Coleman and Johnson during past law enforcement contacts. They began searching several of these addresses as well as area parking lots for the BMW. Grann told defendants Johnson and Woodly that Coleman was known to have frequented area hotels. Johnson and Woodly joined the search.

         At about 10:45 p.m., defendants Johnson and Woodly turned into the parking lot of the Road Star Inn on Seybold Road. There they saw an unoccupied black, two-door older model BMW with a soft top backed into a parking stall. Johnson walked up to the BMW and saw that the back plate read AZ38190, matching the car registered to Terrie Coleman. Johnson and Grann notified other officers that they had found the suspect’s vehicle and advised them to come to the scene.

         In response, multiple officers responded to the area of the Road Star Inn, including defendants Beckett, Jokala, Grann, Compton, Felt, Powers, Schwarz, and Mertz. Defendant Johnson showed the motel clerk a picture of plaintiffs Coleman and Johnson. The clerk told defendant Johnson that Coleman was currently a paying guest, but that he did not know whether there were any other people in the room. He showed the detectives the guest information/stay information sheet, which listed a "Sidney L. Green" as a guest in room 215, showed that he had checked in that morning, and listed only one adult. The signature for the room read "Sidney Coleman." The clerk showed defendant Johnson a photocopy of a Wisconsin identification card belonging to Sidney Lee Coleman.

         Defendants state that they planned to have officers maintain surveillance on the BMW and wait for plaintiff Coleman to come to the parking lot before arresting him. But at about 11:50 p.m., officers observed a black man walking in the parking lot near the BMW. Defendant Grann and others approached this person and briefly detained him until they determined that he was not Coleman. Because of this mistake, officers believed they had lost the element of surprise, and were concerned that Coleman had seen what had happened in the parking lot and might attempt to flee the motel, destroy evidence, or present a danger to others in his room. The officers decided to immediately proceed to room 215 and attempt to make contact with Coleman.

         Defendants Johnson, Grann, Compton, Felt, and Mertz went to the room. Defendants Jokala and Beckett took positions near the rear of the motel in case Coleman fled in that direction. Defendant Woodly stayed near the BMW. Defendants Powers and Schwarz were positioned in the parking lot.

         At about midnight, defendant Johnson knocked on the door of the room and announced the presence of Madison police officers. Plaintiffs say that Johnson yelled at Coleman to come out of the room, and that they were awoken by defendant Johnson’s loud knocking and yelling. Coleman, wearing only a t-shirt and underwear, opened the door. All five of the defendants at the door pointed their guns at Coleman. Coleman was told to walk backward into the hallway toward defendant Johnson. Coleman was directed out of the room at gunpoint. Defendant Johnson handcuffed him.

         Defendant Grann asked Coleman if there was anyone else inside the room. Coleman told him that his girlfriend and their two-year-old son were inside the room. Grann asked Coleman if officers could go inside the room to check for any other occupants and Coleman responded "yeah." Defendant Compton ordered the woman, plaintiff Johnson, to come out of the room and she complied, exiting the room wearing what appeared to be the same shirt Coleman had been wearing on the surveillance video. Plaintiff Johnson states that to gain her compliance, all five of the officers present pointed their guns at her and forced her to face the wall. Plaintiff Johnson suffers from ADHD and mild mental retardation. She says that the officers "insisted" she come with them. Defendant Johnson asked plaintiff Johnson if anyone else was in the room and she stated that her two-year-old son was inside.

         Defendants Mertz and Compton entered the room to perform a protective sweep of the room. Defendants say that Mertz and Compton had their guns drawn in a "low ready/tactical position" with the weapons pointed to the ground, pursuant to department procedures. They saw a child on the bed. Defendants say that as soon as they determined there was no threat to officer safety, they put their guns away, and did not point their guns at the child. Plaintiffs say that Mertz and Compton did point their guns directly at the child.

         Because Coleman was only wearing a t-shirt and underwear, defendant Grann asked him if he wanted the officers to get him pants and a coat and he said he did. Defendant Compton asked plaintiff Johnson to get these clothes, and Johnson agreed. She walked into the room, picked up a pair of dark blue jeans that were lying across a chair and handed the jeans to Compton. Compton performed a cursory weapon patdown of them and felt a hard object in the back pocket. After manipulating the object for a moment, he thought the object was a folding knife based on its dimensions. Compton told defendant Johnson that he had discovered a folding knife in the pants. Defendant Johnson flashed his flashlight into the pocket and saw a black-handled folding knife. He was unable to see blood or biological evidence on it.

         While in the room, defendant Johnson saw a dark leather-type jacket with white stitching hanging on the back of the chair. On the table, he saw a black baseball cap with furry flaps attached to it. He also saw food items on top of the microwave, including a bag shown as being purchased by Coleman on the gas station surveillance video.

         Defendant Compton placed the jeans on the bed and asked plaintiff Johnson to find another pair of pants for Coleman. She proceeded to a duffel bag and removed a different pair of jeans. She also gave Compton a pair of high-top tennis shoes. Compton took these items into the hallway, and with the assistance of defendant Jokala, Coleman put on the pants and shoes.

         Defendants Grann and Beckett escorted Coleman to defendant Schwarz’s squad car and told Coleman that we would be taken to the South District police station for questioning. Grann asked Coleman if they could search the room for evidence, and Coleman said they could not. Plaintiffs say that defendant Mertz reentered the room anyway. After speaking with the district attorney’s office, defendant Johnson decided not to take the pants and knife with them before getting a search warrant.

         Officers asked plaintiff Johnson to come to the South Police District station along with her son to answer questions they had. Defendants say that plaintiff Johnson was not under arrest and that she agreed to go, but plaintiff Johnson states that they insisted she go and she felt that she had no choice. Plaintiffs say that Coleman told defendants about plaintiff Johnson’s mental disabilities and pleaded with them not to question her. It is undisputed that plaintiff Johnson was not handcuffed.

         Defendant McEvoy arrived after Coleman’s arrest. He secured the motel room with a lock and hasp at about 2:00 a.m. McEvoy turned over the key to defendant Johnson.

         D. Questioning

         Coleman was taken to the South District police station and placed in a holding cell at about 1:00 a.m. The cell did not have a door that locks. Defendant Schwarz handcuffed Coleman’s left wrist to a round bolt attached to a bench. Coleman says that he was handcuffed "in a very uncomfortable position" and felt pain when he tried to move. Defendants Haggerty and Allen guarded the door.

         Coleman was removed from the holding cell from about 2:30 a.m. to about 3:20 a.m. for questioning, and was again handcuffed in the cell after questioning. Defendants Grann and Jokala questioned Coleman in an interview room. Coleman was restrained in handcuffs during the interview, but he was free to move about, which he did. Grann read Coleman Miranda warnings. Grann asked Coleman if he understood his rights as he had explained them to him, and Coleman responded "Yeah." Coleman agreed to talk to Grann and Jokala, and signed consent forms allowing police to search the BMW and the motel room. Coleman also verbally stated that they could search the car and room. Coleman was returned to the holding cell. At about 5:20 a.m., he was taken to the Dane County jail. Plaintiff spent no more than three hours and 25 minutes in the holding cell.

         Plaintiff Johnson and plaintiffs’ son were also taken to the South District police station. They initially sat together in a dimly lit interview room and were offered refreshments. The child went to sleep on the couch in the room. While plaintiff Johnson was questioned in a ...

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