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Watson v. Adams

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Florence Division

March 15, 2017

Daniel Watson as the Personal Representative of the Estate of David W. Watson, Plaintiff,
v.
Robert A. Adams, in his individual capacity as a police officer with the Town of Chesterfield; Eric Hewett, in his individual capacity as Chief of Police for the Town of Chesterfield; Leslie Davis, in his individual capacity as Lance Corporal with the South Carolina Highway Patrol; Town of Chesterfield; and South Carolina Department of Public Safety, Defendants.

          ORDER AND OPINION

          Bruce Howe Hendricks, United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on three motions for summary judgment: (1) Motion for Summary Judgment by South Carolina Department of Public Safety (ECF No. 125); (2) Renewed Motion for Summary Judgment by Leslie Davis (ECF No. 127); and (3) Motion for Summary Judgment by Robert A. Adams, Town of Chesterfield, and Eric Hewett (ECF No. 128). For the reasons set forth below, the motions are denied in part and granted in part.

         BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         This action arises out of the seizure and arrest of David W. Watson (“Watson”), a former detective with the Cheraw Police Department. The defendants in this case are three law enforcement officers, Leslie Davis (“Davis”), Robert Adams (“Adams”), and Eric Hewett (“Hewett”) (collectively, “Law Enforcement Defendants”) as well as the state and local authorities who employ or employed them. Defendant Adams was or is a police officer under the command of Defendant Hewitt, who was or is the chief of police for the defendant Town of Chesterfield. Defendant Davis was a lance corporal in the South Carolina Highway Patrol, employed by the defendant the South Carolina Department of Public Safety (SCDPS).

         Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Plaintiff and according him the benefit of all reasonable inferences, the facts of this case may be summarized as follows. At approximately 10:30 p.m. on June 2, 2012, Watson was sitting in his unmarked police vehicle in the parking lot of a Bojangles restaurant located at 1202 West Boulevard in Chesterfield, SC. Watson's vehicle was a white Ford Taurus without a permanent tag or other markings that would distinguish it as a police vehicle. It did however, have darkly tinted windows. Earlier that day, Watson had been at the house of Mary Florence (“Florence”), his estranged wife. (ECF No. 70-3 at 2-3.) According to Florence, Watson had “a reasonable amount” to drink that day and did not display any signs of intoxication when he left her house between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. (Id. at 2.)

         At approximately 10:49 p.m., Davis called Chesterfield Dispatch Emergency Services 911 (“Dispatch”) to report a phone call he received. Davis told Dispatch, “My grandmother just called me. She's sitting in Bojangles. There's a white car with tinted windows come up and just parking outside. Nobody can see in it and they just want somebody to come by and check it out.” (ECF No. 12-2 at 2.) He stated that the car was parked outside and has “just been backing up . . . around a[n] 18-wheeler . . . [and] they just can't figure out what [the driver of the car] is doing.” (Id.) It is undisputed that Davis fabricated at least the source of this information-neither of his grandmothers were living at the time.[1]

         Dispatch relayed the information received from Davis to Adams. Specifically, Dispatch said that Davis claimed his grandmother called him from Bojangles, reporting “a white car, a four-door car with tinted windows that's out there in the gravel parking lot part.” (ECF No. 12-3 at 2.) Dispatch explained to Adams that the car “keeps backing up and going forward and backing up and going forward and been out there for a long time, and they don't know what it's doing. They want . . . somebody to go out there and check it.” (Id.) Adams then asked, “And [Davis] called?”, to which dispatch responded, “Yeah, his grandma called him. . . . She's in there, but she called him.” (Id.)

         At some point that evening, Davis texted Hewett, “You need to check on your boy, ” apparently referring to Watson. (ECF No. 70-5 at 4.) Hewett subsequently contacted Davis-whereupon Davis told him that someone reported a white car driving erratically in the Bojangles parking lot and that he thought it might be Watson. (Id.) Hewett then spoke to Adams and Watson in turn, the order is uncertain. After speaking with Dispatch, Adams suspected that the car at Bojangles might belong to Watson. (ECF No. 128-2 at 9.) Adams called Hewett to ask “how to handle this.” (Id.) Hewett told Adams to “do your job” and offered to call Watson to check his location. (Id.; ECF No. 72-3 at 14.) Hewett spoke with Watson at approximately 10:39 p.m. (ECF No. 72-3 at 13.) Based on their conversation, Hewett believed Watson was inebriated. (Id. at 17.) To prevent Watson from driving, Hewett planned to contact Florence and have her drive Watson home. (Id. at 15.) However, Hewett never learned Watson's location because Watson “got pissed off” after hearing that Hewett planned to call Florence. (Id.)

         After speaking with Hewett, Adams drove to Bojangles, where he observed a white car leaving the parking lot that matched the description given by the dispatch operator. Adams' Incident Report offers the following account of what occurred when Adams arrived at Bojangles:

RO [Adams] noticed a white vehicle matching the description leaving Bojangles turning east on Main St. RO stopped at the stop sign on Tammy St and then proceeded east on Main St. RO intended to perform a traffic stop to id the subject and inquire why the subject was in the parking lot at that time of night. As RO got close to subject vehicle, it slowed and gave a signal to turn right into a driveway at 911 W. Main St. RO turned on the Blue Lights and followed the vehicle into the rear of the house. RO exited the patrol vehicle and approached the white car. The driver opened the door to exit and RO noticed that it was David Watson[, ] an investigator with Cheraw PD. RO then noticed that Watson was wearing shorts and a T shirt with no shoes on. RO watched as he got out of the vehicle, he grabbed the door for support and was unsteady on his feet. Watson closed the door of his vehicle which was an unmarked Cheraw PD vehicle. Watson then leaned back on the vehicle while RO talked with him. RO noticed that Watson had slurred speech and there was an odor of alcohol coming from the vehicle as well as from his person. Watson admitted that he had been drinking earlier that day and suggested that officers not do this. Trooper Davis from SCHP pulled in behind RO for assistance and began to walk up during the time of Watson exiting the vehicle. RO told Watson to wait at the vehicle for a moment and Watson followed RO toward patrol vehicle. Watson had wide and erratic step, which inferred that he was impaired. RO then turned the blue lights off for the purpose of giving a field sobriety test. RO instructed Watson to stand at the rear of his car. RO turned to respond to Chief Eric Hewett on the phone when RO looked back at Watson he was going inside the door of the house. RO ran to the door calling his name. When RO got to the storm door Watson was closing the wooden door and locked it. Watson would not respond to RO and would not unlock the door. RO had requested that Chief Hewett come and assist.

(Adams' Incident Report, ECF No. 128-2 at 23.)

         While the Incident Report offers one version of the events that transpired the evening of June 2, 2012, the Court also has the benefit of the video recordings from Adams' and Davis' police cars. Specifically, Adams' police car camera began recording before he pulled into the drive way and Davis' police car camera began recording once he arrive on the scene. The Court has reviewed the video evidence, and, based on that review, the following is a description of what can be seen during the stop and arrest of Watson. This first account is taken from Adams' recording.

         Adams is following a car that appears to be staying within its lane without any difficulty. At 20 seconds into the video, the car puts on its blinker and turns into a driveway. Adams then turns on his blue lights and follows the car into the driveway, parking behind the car. The door of the white car opens and Watson exits without any apparent difficulty. He shuts the door behind him, standing straight up. Adams then comes into view, approaching Watson. They have the following conversation:

ADAMS: What's up David?
WATSON: Hey, what's up, man.
ADAMS: How much you had to drink tonight?
WATSON: No, I'm good.
ADAMS: You sure? We got a call that you was backing around in the parking lot -
WATSON: No, I just -
ADAMS: --hanging around out there at Bojangles . . . woman in there was worried, 'cause you was acting strange. Backing around-
WATSON: No, I just went up there to get on the Internet . . .
ADAMS: That's what you were doing in the parking lot?
WATSON: Yeah.
ADAMS: Well . . . Uh . . . Mary Florence didn't come and get you? You talk to her?
WATSON: Yeah, she just called.
ADAMS: How 'bout step back here with me . . . You sure you ain't had nothing to drink?
WATSON: No, I'm good.
[unintelligible conversation . . . ]
WATSON: That's where I get on the internet.

(Adams video, ECF No. 80-17, 22:01:48 - 22:02:33)

         As they are talking, Adams steps closer to Watson, and Watson appears to be slightly leaning against his car. He does not appear to need the car for support; rather, it looks like he is casually standing against the car to allow for more room between him and Adams. When Adams asks Watson to move towards his police car, Watson follows him without any apparent difficulty. They continue their conversation, moving almost out of frame. Adams then takes a phone call and they both move out of frame. At about five minutes into the video, Watson moves back into the frame, walking behind his car to the passenger door. He easily opens the door and grabs something from the passenger seat. He then shuts the door, locks the car, and opens the door to a house. Adams can be heard shouting, “Hey! Hey!” and runs into the frame, towards the house. Adams cannot get into the house because Watson has locked the door. Adams steps away from the house and walks back towards his patrol car, out of frame. At this point, Adams' microphone turns off, and the Court turns to Davis' recording.

         Davis' police car camera records him arriving at the scene just as Adams' initial interaction with Watson is taking place. Before exiting his car, Davis calls into dispatch that he is out for a possible “10-55” (a DUI). Adams approaches' Davis' car and Davis steps out to meet him. Watson steps into the frame. Adams appears to take a phone call as Davis and Watson have the following conversation:

DAVIS: How much you had to drink tonight, David?
WATSON: Leslie.
DAVIS: David.
WATSON: I just went over there and got on the Internet. That's all I did.
DAVIS: How much you had to drink tonight?
WATSON: I haven't had much drinking at all. Leslie don't do this.
DAVIS: It was his stop [Motioning toward Adams. Adams is off the phone and joins Davis and Watson].
WATSON: I mean, what's the stop for?
ADAMS: Well . . . like I said, I had a call there's a suspicious white vehicle in the parking lot, backing around, moving around, lights off, tinted windows and the women inside was a little nervous.
WATSON: Well, I was backing- ADAMS: They wanted us to check it out. So I pulled up there, I was watching the car. And before I got down there to the parking lot, you pulled out . . . and that's why I followed you up here and stopped you.
WATSON: I was backing up to get Internet service.
ADAMS: And you haven't had nothing to drink?
WATSON: No.
ADAMS: I can't believe that, David.

(Davis video, ECF No. 80-18, 23:05:22 - 23:06:26)

         In his conversations with both Davis and Adams, Watson appears to speak clearly and coherently. After speaking with Watson, Davis walks towards his car and can be heard getting into the car. He begins to call Watson's supervisors, explaining that he is with Watson. He can be heard telling Adams, “Don't let him go in the house, ” at the point where Watson enters his house and locks the door. Davis then steps out of the car. He connects with one of Watson's supervisors and tells him Watson was driving his patrol car “hammered.” Adams tells Davis that Watson entered the house and locked the door. Davis reports this to Watson's supervisor.

         Although not shown on the recordings, Adams' Incident Report indicates that a search warrant was eventually obtained. (ECF No. 128-2 at 24.) Chief Hewett was called to the scene and he was able to convince Watson to leave his house. (Id.) Adams placed Watson under arrest for Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol (“DUI”). (Id.) The Incident Report further states:

RO [Adams] advised Watson of his Miranda rights and offered him a Field Sobriety Test which he refused prior to placing him into the vehicle. RO then looked inside Watson's vehicle for any open containers, there were no open containers, but a prominent odor of alcohol in the vehicle. There was a duty weapon lying in the front seat along with 2 laptop computers. Keith Thomas of Cheraw PD took possession of the vehicle and duty weapon. RO transported Watson to the County Jail and charged him with DUI. Upon arrival at the jail RO placed Watson in the datamaster room for examination. RO removed the cuffs and started the video. RO advised Watson of his Miranda rights again. Watson then responded that he understood them. Watson refused to sign any paperwork involved with this arrest. RO then asked if he would give a ...

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