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McDermott v. Waukesha County

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

May 31, 2018




         1. INTRODUCTION

         This litigation arises from events surrounding and following a 911 call placed by the plaintiff, Bryan McDermott (“McDermott”), in the early morning hours of April 6, 2015. He alleges that his civil rights were violated when a dispatcher for Waukesha County (the “County”) sent both medical responders and sheriff's deputies to his home in response to his call, despite his request that only medical responders be sent. McDermott further alleges that the responding deputies entered and searched his home without probable cause, used excessive force by employing a taser on him and kicking him in the head, and wrongfully arrested him by handcuffing and transporting him to a nearby hospital, where he was evaluated and eventually released.

         This case was originally assigned to Judge Charles N. Clevert, and upon his retirement, was reassigned to Magistrate Judge Nancy Joseph. Then, upon non-consent to magistrate judge jurisdiction, the case was again reassigned, this time to this branch of the Court. The defendants thereafter filed a motion for summary judgment, and that motion is now fully briefed and ripe for adjudication. (Docket #37-62).

         For the reasons explained below, the defendants' motion will be granted and this case will be dismissed.


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 states that the “court shall grant summary judgment if the movant 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); Boss v. Castro, 816 F.3d 910, 916 (7th Cir. 2016). “Material facts” are those facts which “might affect the outcome of the suit, ” and “summary judgment will not lie if the dispute about a material fact is ‘genuine, ' that is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Thus, to demonstrate a genuine dispute about a material fact, a party opposing summary judgment “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Rather, the non-moving party “must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). The Court construes all facts and reasonable inferences in a light most favorable to the non-movant. Bridge v. New Holland Logansport, Inc., 815 F.3d 356, 360 (7th Cir. 2016). In assessing the parties' proposed facts, the Court must not weigh the evidence or determine witness credibility; the Seventh Circuit instructs that “we leave those tasks to factfinders.” Berry v. Chicago Transit Auth., 618 F.3d 688, 691 (7th Cir. 2010).

         3. RELEVANT FACTS

         Consistent with the standard of review, the following facts are taken from the evidence when viewed in a light most favorable to McDermott. Many of these facts are not necessary to the resolution of the defendants' motion, but their recitation is helpful to place the Court's analysis in context.

         McDermott lives alone in Pewaukee, Wisconsin. (Docket #55 at 1-2). A car accident left him disabled, and he suffers from some significant health conditions, including a traumatic brain injury, chronic pain, and migraine headaches. Id. at 3. He takes several prescription medications to help control his medical conditions. Id.

         On the evening of April 5, 2015, McDermott felt a migraine coming on. Id. at 4. He tried to weather it without taking medication, but as night fell and he could not sleep, he took some diazepam. Id. The diazepam proved insufficient, so in the early morning hours of April 6, McDermott took a nasal spray narcotic painkiller which, in the past, had provided quick relief and allowed him to sleep. Id. Unfortunately, the nasal spray had expired and caused him to feel acutely ill. Id. at 4-5. His vision blurred and he had difficulty moving and speaking. Id. at 5.

         McDermott then called 911 several times, beginning just before 4:30 a.m. Id. at 6. The parties dispute how many times he called; the defendants produced recordings of three calls, but McDermott says he remembers conversations with dispatch that are not on the recordings. (Docket #48 at 3). On his first call, McDermott told the dispatcher he was having a reaction to medication and wanted to know how to reverse the medication's effects. (Docket #55 at 6). He was asked for and gave his address, but when asked for his phone number, he expressed frustration that the dispatcher was not using Caller ID and cursed at her. Id. at 7. McDermott states that, at this point, the dispatcher hung up on him. Id. at 8. The dispatcher called McDermott back and McDermott, again using profanity, insisted that he did not want police officers dispatched to his home because he was afraid they would be violent and he did not want to go to prison. Id. at 8.

         It is Waukesha County's general practice to dispatch both Waukesha County Sheriff's Department (“Sheriff's Department”) deputies and emergency medical services (“EMS”) personnel when someone calls the 911 dispatcher seeking medical assistance. (Docket #50 at 7-8). The County employs this practice in part because deputies are trained in CPR and may be the first to arrive and offer assistance to the person in need of care. Id. at 8. In addition, depending on the nature of the call and concerns for safety, deputies may have to secure the scene before EMS can enter a residence. Id. EMS often stage nearby the scene until deputies determine it is safe to approach. Id.

         In keeping with this practice, sheriff's deputies responded to the dispatcher's radio call and arrived at McDermott's home shortly after his first 911 call. Id. at 8-9. EMS also reported to the scene and staged nearby, waiting for McDermott's home to be deemed safe for entry. Id. at 8. Deputy Ryan Reinders (“Reinders”) yelled to McDermott to open his door. Id. at 10-11. The defendant deputies say that McDermott, who they could view through front and back windows, was erratic, had an unsteady gait, had difficulty walking and balancing, and was agitated and belligerent. Id. at 10. Deputies Reinders and Bryan Skaar (“Skaar”) say they believed McDermott was having a serious medical issue and may have been a danger to himself. Id. at 13-14.

         Alarmed, McDermott called 911 again and told the dispatcher that he wanted the deputies to leave. (Docket #55 at 10-11). The dispatcher told McDermott that the deputies were trained first responders and that they could assist with his medication issue. Id. According to McDermott, he then retrieved his nasal spray and attempted to show it to Reinders through a window, but Reinders refused to acknowledge McDermott and continued to knock, insisting that he be let in. Id. at 11.

         McDermott could see two flashlights in the backyard, belonging to deputies Skaar and Sean Lenardic (“Lenardic”), and upon walking to a window in the back of the house, he could see a deputy's handgun pointed at him. Id. at 12. McDermott then returned to the front door and told Reinders that this was all a mistake and that he needed medical assistance, not law enforcement. Id.

         McDermott walked through his house to his attached garage to retrieve a toiletry bag, in which he kept a piece of paper that contained a list of his constitutional rights. Id. at 13. He placed the toiletry bag on his kitchen table and opened it, removing several bottles of medication. Id. at 13. Skaar says that he believed it was possible the bag contained a firearm. (Docket #44 at 5).

         Meanwhile, the deputies at the front door continued to demand to be let in. Finally, Skaar broke a glass pane on the door, sending shattered glass into the entryway. (Docket #55 at 14). Skaar, Reinders, and Deputy Sonya Sahagian (“Sahagian”) entered through the front door. Id. Skaar instructed McDermott to come toward him, but because McDermott was not wearing shoes and did not want to step on broken glass, he refused to step forward. Id.

         With several deputies screaming commands at him, McDermott says he feared for his life, and he retreated to the lighted kitchen with his hands over his head. Id. at 16. McDermott states that Skaar ordered him to face the kitchen table, lean over it with his legs spread, and place his hands apart on the table, and that he complied; Skaar denies that he gave these instructions and insists McDermott was noncompliant with commands to show his hands. Id. at 17.

         Skaar then deployed his taser, hitting McDermott in the back. Id. at 18. McDermott fell to the ground. Id. The deputies who were present claim that McDermott hit his head on a counter on his way to the ground, but McDermott says this did not happen. Id. Skaar then approached McDermott and removed the taser prongs from his body, and McDermott was handcuffed and searched. Id. at 18-19. Then, McDermott says he could see a hand, arm, and boot approaching his face, and he was kicked hard in the head. Id. at 19. He says he briefly lost consciousness. Id. The defendants deny that either of these things happened. Id. at 19-20.

         Deputies conducted a protective sweep of the home and found no one else there. Id. at 20. McDermott was then restrained on a gurney and taken to Waukesha Memorial Hospital. Id. at 20-21. Meanwhile, a couple of deputies stayed behind to search McDermott's home. Id. at 23. They ran the license plate numbers of ...

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