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Siler v. City of Kenosha

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

February 19, 2019

GABRIELLA SILER, a minor, by her mother and guardian, Ikesha King, and
v.
CITY OF KENOSHA and PAUL PABLO E. TORRES, Defendants. ESTATE OF AARON SILER, by special administrator, Lisa Cerna, Plaintiffs,

          DECISION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          DAVID E. JONES UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Aaron Siler was shot and killed by Kenosha Police Officer Paul (Pablo) Torres on March 14, 2015, after Siler fled from an attempted traffic stop. The shooting occurred after Officer Torres located Mr. Siler hiding in an auto body repair shop. With the two men separated by a parked SUV, Mr. Siler refused to get on the ground and appeared to be reaching for something located on the repair shop's floor. When Mr. Siler made a move toward the front of the SUV and away from an open, overhead garage door, Officer Torres fired seven shots, believing that Siler was about to attack him.

         Two-and-a-half years later, Mr. Siler's daughter and estate sued Officer Torres under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for using unconstitutionally excessive force. Officer Torres has moved for summary judgment, arguing that his use of deadly force was reasonable and that he is otherwise entitled to qualified immunity. Because a reasonable jury could find that the use of deadly force was objectively unreasonable in this case, Officer Torres is not entitled to summary judgment on the plaintiffs' excessive-force claim. However, the plaintiffs have failed to establish that Officer Torres violated Mr. Siler's clearly established constitutional rights. Officer Torres is therefore entitled to qualified immunity from the plaintiffs' excessive-force claim, and his summary-judgment motion will be granted.

         I. Factual Background

         At approximately 9:35 a.m. on March 14, 2015, City of Kenosha Police Officer Pablo Torres was on vehicle patrol when dispatch requested assistance apprehending Aaron Siler. See Defendant Torres' Reply to Defendant Torres' Proposed Findings of Fact ¶ 8, ECF No. 64. The 911 dispatcher told Officer Torres that Mr. Siler was wanted for strangulation and suffocation. Def.'s Facts ¶ 9.[1] The dispatcher also told Officer Torres that Mr. Siler had taken a vehicle without consent and that Officer Torres should use caution because Mr. Siler was known to have violent tendencies. Def.'s Facts ¶ 10. Officer Torres indicated that he was in the vicinity and could handle the call. Def.'s Facts ¶ 11.

         Officer Torres used his squad's computer to look up information about Mr. Siler. Def.'s Facts ¶ 12. He confirmed the information from dispatch and learned that Mr. Siler was 6′4″ and 26 years old. Def.'s Facts ¶¶ 12-13. At the time, Officer Torres was 5′7″ tall, weighed 155 pounds, and was 42 years old. Def.'s Facts ¶¶ 7, 14.

         As Officer Torres approached a stop light, Mr. Siler passed right in front of him. Def.'s Facts ¶ 15. Officer Torres activated his emergency lights and sirens, but Mr. Siler did not stop. Def.'s Facts ¶¶ 16-19. Instead, Mr. Siler sped off, traveling over 80 miles per hour, driving on the wrong side of the road, and ignoring stop signs and traffic controls. See Def.'s Facts ¶¶ 20-23. The vehicle chase ended after three minutes when Mr. Siler sideswiped another vehicle and crashed his car. Def.'s Facts ¶¶ 25-26.

         Mr. Siler abandoned his vehicle and fled on foot. Def.'s Facts ¶ 27. Officer Torres gave chase, noting that Mr. Siler was much taller and heavier than he was. Def.'s Facts ¶¶ 28-29. During the chase, Officer Torres yelled out, “stop, ” “police, ” and “get on the ground.” Def.'s Facts ¶ 34. Mr. Siler did not obey any of the commands. Def.'s Facts ¶ 35. Rather, he continued to run, scaling two fences along the way. Def.'s Facts ¶¶ 32-33. Officer Torres lost sight of Mr. Siler for a bit as Siler outpaced him. Def.'s Facts ¶ 40. Eventually, Officer Torres located Mr. Siler and followed him toward an auto body repair shop. Def.'s Facts ¶¶ 40, 42.[2] Juan Carlos Salinas was standing near the repair shop's garage entrance on the south side of the building. Def.'s Facts ¶ 44. Mr. Salinas gestured to Officer Torres that the person he was looking for was inside the garage. Def.'s Facts ¶ 45.

         Inside the garage were two vehicles: a pick-up truck parked straight ahead, and an SUV parked to the right at an angle. See Exhibit C to Torres Decl., ECF No. 48-3. Upon entering the garage, Officer Torres observed another man, Antonio Salinas Jaimes, holding a baseball bat. Def.'s Facts ¶¶ 47-48. Officer Torres yelled, “Where is he at?” Plaintiffs' Statement of Additional Facts ¶ 4, ECF No. 55. Mr. Salinas indicated that the man was hiding in a back room. See Exhibit G to Safran Decl., ECF No. 56-7 at 8-9. Officer Torres pulled out his service weapon, [3] see Safran Decl., Ex. G at 9, and yelled repeatedly at Mr. Siler to come out, Pls.' Facts ¶ 4.

         Mr. Siler eventually exited the back room and ran along the passenger side of the SUV toward the open garage door; however, he stopped when Officer Torres blocked his path. See Safran Decl., Ex. G at 12; see also Exhibit F to Safran Decl., ECF No. 56-6 at 9. While standing near the back-driver side of the SUV, Officer Torres ordered Mr. Siler to get on the ground. Def.'s Facts ¶ 60. Mr. Siler didn't comply. Def.'s Facts ¶ 63. And so began a standoff between Officer Torres and Mr. Siler, who were standing on opposite sides of the SUV. Def.'s Facts ¶ 61. When Officer Torres moved toward the front-driver side of the SUV, Mr. Siler moved to the back-passenger side; when Officer Torres moved to the back, Mr. Siler moved to the front, always very quickly. Def.'s Facts ¶ 64. All the while, Officer Torres was ordering Mr. Siler to get on the ground, Def.'s Facts ¶ 61, and the garage door remained open, see Def.'s Facts ¶ 65; see also Exhibit B to Torres Decl., ECF No. 48-2 (photograph depicting back-passenger side of SUV and open garage door).

         After going back-and-forth several times, the two men stopped near the front fender of the SUV, separated only by the vehicle's hood-Officer Torres on the driver side, and Mr. Siler on the passenger side. See Def.'s Facts ¶¶ 68-69; see also Torres Decl., Ex. C. At that time, Mr. Jaimes and Mr. Salinas were in the same room of the garage as Officer Torres, Mr. Siler, and the SUV. Def.'s Facts ¶ 70. Mr. Jaimes was somewhere to Officer Torres's left, and Mr. Salinas was somewhere behind Officer Torres. Id. According to Officer Torres and Mr. Salinas, Mr. Siler looked angry. See Def.'s Facts ¶ 71.

         Officer Torres pointed his gun at Mr. Siler and ordered him to get on the ground. Def.'s Facts ¶ 72. Mr. Siler didn't comply, yelling, “fuck you, ” “no, ” and “shoot me.” Id. He also began looking to the ground and then up at Officer Torres. Def.'s Facts ¶ 73. Officer Torres could not see Mr. Siler's hands. Def.'s Facts ¶ 74. Mr. Siler then bent over and, when he stood up, Officer Torres could see a black, cylindrical object pressed against Mr. Siler's forearm. Def.'s Facts ¶ 75. Officer Torres believed at the time that the object was a steel pipe; he later learned it was the handle of a floor jack, to which it was attached. See Def.'s Facts ¶¶ 76, 80-82; see also Exhibit D to Torres Decl., ECF No. 48-4 (photograph depicting floor jack in foreground); Exhibit A to Declaration of Emanuel Kapelsohn, ECF No. 67-1 (photograph depicting the handle).[4] Officer Torres still could not see Mr. Siler's hands. Def.'s Facts ¶ 75. He ordered Mr. Siler to “drop it” and “get on the ground.” Def.'s Facts ¶ 77. Mr. Siler continued to shout, “fuck you, ” “no, ” and “shoot me.” Def.'s Facts ¶¶ 78-79.

         Mr. Siler bent down again as if he was grabbing something. Def.'s Facts ¶¶ 87, 90. But Officer Torres still could not see Mr. Siler's hands. Def.'s Facts ¶ 88.[5]Mr. Siler looked straight at Officer Torres. Def.'s Facts ¶ 91. Mr. Siler then took a step to his right, toward the front-passenger corner of the SUV (and away from the open garage door) but not past its front bumper. See Def.'s Facts ¶¶ 92-93, 100. Officer Torres shot at Mr. Siler. See Def.'s Facts ¶¶ 111-17. The entire sequence inside the garage lasted less than thirty seconds. Def.'s Facts ¶ 59.

         Officer Torres was later told that he fired his gun seven times-successively without pause or delay between shots-hitting Mr. Siler with six bullets: three in the right shoulder and three in the chest. Def.'s Facts ¶¶ 112-14.[6] The medical examiner indicated that the shots to the shoulder were consistent with Mr. Siler being upright, Pls.' Facts ¶ 35, but the shots to the chest had a downward trajectory, see Pls.' Facts ¶ 36; Def.'s Facts ¶ 113. There was approximately ten to twelve feet between Officer Torres and Mr. Siler at the time of the shooting. Def.'s Facts ¶ 97; see Exhibit E to Torres Decl., ECF No. 48-5 (photograph depicting front-driver side of SUV). Mr. Siler died from the gunshot wounds. Def.'s Facts ¶ 117.

         II. Procedural Background

         On September 28, 2017, Mr. Siler's minor daughter and estate filed this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City of Kenosha and Officer Torres. See Federal Complaint, ECF No. 1. The matter was randomly assigned to this Court, and all parties consented to magistrate judge jurisdiction. See Consent to Proceed Before a Magistrate Judge, ECF Nos. 7, 8 (citing 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73(b)). The plaintiffs claim that Officer Torres used excessive force against Mr. Siler and deprived Mr. Siler's daughter of the love, comfort, society, and companionship of her father. Compl. ¶¶ 431-37. The plaintiffs also claim that the excessive force occurred as a direct result of the City's unconstitutional policies. Compl. ¶¶ 442-59. However, the claims against the City have been bifurcated for discovery and trial. See Minute Sheet for Telephonic Motion Hearing, ECF No. 27.

         On November 20, 2018, Officer Torres filed a motion for summary judgment on the plaintiffs' excessive-force claim. See Defendant Paul Torres' Summary Judgment Motion, ECF No. 45. That Motion is now fully briefed and ready for disposition. See Defendant Paul Torres' Brief in Support, ECF No. 47; Plaintiffs' Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Summary Judgment Motion, ECF No. 53; Defendant Paul Torres' Reply Brief, ECF No. 63.

         III. Summary Judgment Standard

         “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). “Material facts” are those that, under the applicable substantive law, “might affect the outcome of the suit.” See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute over a material fact is “genuine” “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id.

         A moving party “is ‘entitled to a judgment as a matter of law'” when “the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of [its] case with respect to which [it] has the burden of proof.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Still,

a party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.

Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

         To determine whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the court must review the record, construing all facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and drawing all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. See Heft v. Moore, 351 F.3d 278, 282 (7th Cir. 2003) (citing Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255). “However, [the court's] favor toward the nonmoving party does not extend to drawing inferences that are supported by only speculation or conjecture.” Fitzgerald v. Santoro, 707 F.3d 725, 730 (7th Cir. 2013) (quoting Harper v. C.R. Eng., Inc., 687 F.3d 297, 306 (7th Cir. 2012)). That is, “to survive summary judgment, the non-moving party must establish some genuine issue for trial ‘such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict' in her favor.” Fitzgerald, 707 F.3d at 730 (quoting Makowski v. SmithAmundsen LLC, 662 F.3d 818, 822 (7th Cir. 2011)).

         IV. ...


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