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Soto v. Gibbons

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

March 15, 2017

JON SOTO, Plaintiff,


          JAMES D. PETERSON District Judge.

         Pro se plaintiff Jon Soto brings this lawsuit against defendants David Gibbons and Kevin Ely, officers employed by the Trempealeau County Sheriff’s Office, for their conduct in entering his home without a warrant in an attempt to arrest him. Officers awoke Jon’s[1]mother, Donna Soto, after they entered the house, and the parties dispute whether the officers mistreated Donna in the process. Donna died two years later from heart-related problems.

         Jon brings a Fourth Amendment claim for the officers’ warrantless entry, and also brings a Wisconsin-law wrongful death claim for defendants’ actions toward Donna. Defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment, contending that exigent circumstances gave them reason to make the warrantless entry into the house, that they did not mistreat Donna, and that her death was unrelated to the incident. I will grant summary judgment to defendants because the record shows that the officers had good reason to enter the house without a warrant, and because Jon fails to present evidence showing that the officers caused Donna’s death.


         I draw the following facts from the parties’ proposed findings of fact and supporting evidence.[2]

         Plaintiff Jon Soto is currently incarcerated at the Fox Lake Correctional Institution. At the time of the events in question here, he was living at the home of is mother, Donna Soto, in Blair, Wisconsin. Donna was 68 or 69 years old at the time of the events in question. Defendants David Gibbons and Kevin Ely are deputies with the Trempealeau County Sheriff’s Department.

         In the early morning of April 13, 2009, Tim Wheeler, the Blair chief of police, responded to a domestic disturbance report at a residence on Pearl Street in Blair. The victim told Wheeler that Jon (her former boyfriend) attacked her with a knife, stabbing her several times, including once in the neck, twice in the shoulder, and once in the abdomen. The victim said that after the attack, Jon told her that he was going to kill himself, and then fled heading east. Jon admits that the attack happened but that it was less serious than defendants portray it: he says that the victim required only one stitch for her injuries.

         Trempealeau County deputies, including defendants, arrived at the scene. Wheeler searched the immediate neighborhood, looking for Jon, but did not find him. Wheeler then organized a search along with defendants to continue to search for Jon. At about 6 a.m., they arrived at the home of Donna Soto (Jon’s mother) on Broadway Street. Wheeler knew that Jon was currently living there.

         The officers searched the perimeter of the house but did not see Jon. They saw two vehicles in the garage, which led them to believe that Donna was home. They also saw several drops of red liquid, which they believed to be blood, on the concrete near the back door, and a drop of the lower portion of the door. Jon says that this was red paint.

         Wheeler knocked on the door several times, identified himself and officers Gibbons and Ely, and informed anyone inside the house that they were looking for Jon, but no one answered the door. They contacted dispatch and had dispatch call the house. Despite the knocking, yelling into the house, and phone call, Donna did not answer the door. Jon says that “Donna wore a hearing aid because she is deaf,” but there is no indication that the officers knew this.

         Given their belief that Donna was home, Jon’s reported conduct, the possible drops of blood outside the house, and the failure of anyone to respond to the door, the officers believed that “the occupants” of the home might be in danger.[3] They entered through an unlocked door.

         They say the following happened: they entered without guns drawn. Wheeler found Donna asleep in her bed, woke her up, and explained that they were looking for Jon. Donna told Wheeler she understood the situation and then gave the officers permission to search the house for Jon. The officers did not push or scream at Donna. After the officers finished searching the house, Wheeler showed Donna the dried red liquid on the porch and door. Donna explained that stains were likely blood stains left by her cat. The officers examined the spots further and concluded that they appeared to be older than the events of that day. The officers continued their search. Jon was later arrested a few blocks away from the house.

         Jon says that defendants’ entry into the house unfolded quite differently. He states that Donna told him that she did not give them permission to search the house, that defendants pushed her onto the bed, and that she was “scared half to death” by the encounter. Soto provides statements from a neighbor and from Donna’s sister stating that Donna told them similar things about the incident.

         Donna did not have heart problems prior to the April 2009 incident. Medical notes show that Donna was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation in November 2009, and underwent numerous rounds of treatment for “persistent” fibrillation. Donna died in May 2011.


         To succeed on a motion for summary judgment, the moving party must show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). “A genuine issue of material fact arises only if sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party exists to permit a jury to return a verdict for that party.” Brummett v. Sinclair Broad. Grp., Inc.,414 F.3d 686, 692 (7th Cir. 2005). All reasonable inferences from the facts in the summary judgment record must be drawn in the nonmoving party’s favor. Baron v. City of Highland Park,195 F.3d 333, 338 (7th Cir. 1999). If the nonmoving party ...

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