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Coats v. Pope

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

July 3, 2019

LaKrystal Coats, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Demetric Cowan, Plaintiff,
Ray Pope, in his individual capacity; FNU Nichols, in his individual capacity; FNU Cardarelli, in his individual capacity; FNU White, in his individual capacity; Gerald Brooks, in his official Capacity as Chief of Police of the City of Greenwood; Sidney Montgomery, in his individual capacity; Roy Murray, in his individual capacity; Pamela Osborne, in her individual capacity; and Tony Davis, in his official capacity as Sheriff of Greenwood County, Defendants.


          Shiva V. Hodges, United States Magistrate Judge

         LaKrystal Coats (“Plaintiff”), as personal representative of the estate of her husband Demetric Cowan (“Decedent”), filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and South Carolina state law, alleging constitutional violations and tort law causes of action arising from Decedent's arrest and subsequent detention and death at Greenwood County Detention Center (“GCDC”). Plaintiff filed this case against the following City of Greenwood police officers in their individual capacities: Officer Ray Pope (“Officer Pope”), Sergeant Steven Nichols (“Sergeant Nichols”), Officer Daniel Cardarelli (“Officer Cardarelli”), and Officer Brandon White (“Officer White”) (collectively “Arresting Officers”). Plaintiff also sues the following GCDC officers in their individual capacities: Sergeant Sidney Montgomery (“Sergeant Montgomery”), Officer Roy Murray (“Officer Murray”), and Officer Pamela Osborne (“Officer Osborne”) (collectively “GCDC Officers”). In addition, Plaintiff sues Gerald Brooks (“Police Chief”) in his official capacity as City of Greenwood Chief of Police and Tony Davis (“Sheriff”) in his official capacity as Sheriff of Greenwood County (all defendants collectively “Defendants”).

         This matter is before the court on motions for summary judgment by Sergeant Montgomery, Officer Murray, and Sheriff [ECF No. 32]; Arresting Officers and Police Chief [ECF No. 33]; and Officer Osborne [ECF No. 35]. Having been fully briefed [ECF Nos. 38, 41, 43, 44], the motions are ripe for disposition.

         Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), and Local Civ. Rule 73.02(B)(2)(d) (D.S.C.), this matter has been referred to the undersigned for all pretrial proceedings. Having carefully considered the record, the undersigned recommends the district judge grant Defendants' motions for summary judgment.

         I. Factual Background

         The following facts are taken in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, to the extent supported by the record.

         A. The Traffic Stop

         On March 12, 2016, at 9:20 p.m., Officer Pope initiated a traffic stop after observing Decedent's car cross the center lane. [Pope Aff. at ¶ 3 (available at ECF No. 33-2)].[1] After Decedent stopped the car, Officer Pope and Sergeant Nichols smelled marijuana emanating from the car. Id. at ¶¶ 5-6. They removed Decedent from the car after he repeatedly refused to exit or to take his hands out of his pockets, and they placed him face-down on the ground. [Id.; Pope Dep. 14:16-15:2 (available at ECF No. 38-4)].

         While on the ground, Decedent continued to resist the officers' instructions and, prior to being handcuffed, he attempted to place a bag of ecstasy 47 pills under the car. Pope Aff. at ¶ 8. While face-down and being handcuffed, Decedent stated he was choking, although no officer was restricting his airway or otherwise harming him. [Nichols Stmt. at 2 (available at ECF No. 38-6)]. Arresting Officers assumed Decedent was not choking and assisted him to his feet. Pope Dep. 15:9-11.

         Officer Pope checked Decedent's mouth, toward the back and underneath the tongue, primarily for evidence of additional marijuana, and did not observe anything unusual. Pope Aff. at ¶ 10. Sergeant Nichols spoke with Decedent for several minutes, then placed him in the back seat of Officer Cardarelli's patrol car. [Nichols Stmt. at 2; Nichols Dep. 25:16-18 (available at ECF No. 38-5)]. At that time, Decedent was talking and breathing normally and indicated he was claustrophobic, and the officers ensured the window was rolled down during the transport to GCDC. Nichols Dep. 25:12-14; Pope Dep. 19:21-24, 21:11-14; Nichols Stmt. at 2.

         A search of Decedent's person and car revealed marijuana, the 47 ecstasy pills, a set of scales, and cash. Pope Aff. at ¶¶ 8-9. Officer Pope issued Decedent citations for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest and informed Decedent he would be seeking warrants for possession with intent to distribute ecstasy and possession of marijuana. Id. at ¶ 11.

         B. The Detention Center

         At 10:07 p.m., Sergeant Montgomery booked Decedent into GCDC. [Montgomery Aff. at 1 (available at ECF No. 32-2)]. During booking, Sergeant Montgomery questioned Decedent regarding his medical history and then-current condition and completed a Medical Staff Receiving Screening Form. Id. at 2-3, 5. Decedent informed Sergeant Montgomery he had smoked a small quantity of marijuana and taken a small quantity of ecstasy earlier in the day. Id. at 3, 5. Throughout booking, Decedent answered questions appropriately, signed documents, and exhibited normal behavior. Id. Because of the time of day, no medical personnel were present in GCDC. [ECF No. 38 at 4].

         At 10:28 p.m., Decedent was placed in Holding Cell One. Montgomery Aff. at 3. Holding Cell One and Holding Cell Two are adjacent to each other and located directly across from the control room. [Montgomery Dep. 29:9-17 (available at ECF No. 38-7)]. Both cells have large windows, allowing officers in the control room to directly observe the detainees inside. Montgomery Aff. at 3.

         At 1:00 a.m., Decedent asked Officer Murray to turn off the lights in Holding Cell One. [Murray Aff. at 2 (available at ECF No. 32-3)]. Officer Murray informed Decedent he could not turn off the lights, and Decedent appeared to go to sleep. Id.

         At 3:06 a.m., another inmate, Duane Terry (“Inmate”), was placed in Holding Cell One with Decedent. [Montgomery Aff. at 3; Inmate Stmt. at 1 (available at ECF No. 38-11)]. Inmate and Decedent had a brief conversation and Decedent spoke coherently. Inmate Stmt. at 1. Approximately thirty minutes later, Decedent told Inmate he did not feel well. Id. Decedent began to sweat heavily and visibly shake. Id. He attempted to vomit in the toilet and asked Inmate to summon a guard. Id. Decedent then informed Inmate he had swallowed “a bag of cocaine.” Id.

         Around 3:30 a.m., Inmate told Sergeant Montgomery Decedent had vomited. Montgomery Aff. at 3. Sergeant Montgomery instructed Officer Murray to check on Decedent and isolate him in Holding Cell Two. [Murray Dep. 13:8-11 (available at ECF No. 38-12)]. Officer Murray observed Decedent crawling on the floor of Holding Cell One, “acting strange” and shaking. Murray Aff. at 3. Officer Murray directed Decedent to stand up, and Decedent refused. Murray Dep. 13:13-17. Officer Murray opened the cell door, and Decedent began to crawl out of Holding Cell One and into Holding Cell Two with a dazed look on his face. [Murray Incident Rep., ECF No. 38-14 at 2]. Decedent told Murray he was “high” and had been using drugs all day. [ECF No. 1 at 5]. Sergeant Montgomery overheard Decedent's statement. Id. Decedent mumbled and signaled to Officer Murray he would like some water. Murray Dep. 13:24-14:2. Officer Murray gave Decedent a cup of water and secured him in Holding Cell Two. [Murray Incident Rep., ECF No. 38-14 at 2]. Officer Murray created an observation log and began preparing an incident report regarding Decedent's perceived detoxing. [Murray Dep. 15:9-12; Murray Incident Rep., ECF No. 38-14 at 1 (showing title of incident report as “Inmate Detoxing”); Observation Log, ECF No. 38-15 at 1]. At 3:45 a.m., Officer Murray noted on the observation log that Decedent was “laying down.” [ECF No. 38-15 at 1].

         Approximately ten minutes later, Officer Murray observed Decedent lying on the floor and shaking. [Murray Incident Rep., ECF No. 38-14 at 2]. Officer Murray, unsure if Decedent was pretending to have a seizure, instructed Decedent to stop shaking. Murray Dep. 21:15-22:8. When Decedent did not reply, Officer Murray set up a camera in the control room window with a clear view of Decedent inside Holding Cell Two. Murray Dep. 18:25-19:24. Officer Murray returned to the control room and continued preparing the incident report while Sergeant Montgomery monitored Decedent. Murray Dep. 19:25-20:19.

         The camera began recording at 3:55 a.m.[2] [Camera Video at 00:01 (available at ECF No. 38-1)]. At 3:56 a.m., Officer Osborne opened Holding Cell One and escorted Inmate out of the cell to call his wife. [Id. at 00:02; Osborne Dep. 14:23-16:9 (available at ECF No. 38-18)]. Officer Osborne asked Officer Murray what was wrong with Decedent and Officer Murray told her Decedent was detoxing. Osborne Dep. 23:1-5. At 3:58 a.m., while Inmate spoke to his wife, Officer Osborne observed Decedent lying on the floor of Holding Cell Two, shaking in a way that resembled a seizure. Camera Video at 02:57; Osborne Dep. 21:22-22:25. From 3:55 a.m. until approximately 4:09 a.m., Decedent's arms lifted and his body seized and shook for several seconds every minute. Camera Video at 00:12-13:47. Then his arms fell back to the floor and he lay motionless until the next episode. Id.

         At 4:01 a.m., Officer Osborne returned Inmate to Holding Cell One and told Officer Murray they needed to position Decedent away from the wall so he would not hit his head. Id. at 05:47; Osborne Dep. 40:20-41:10. Inmate informed Officer Osborne Decedent had vomited around the toilet in Holding Cell One. Osborne Dep. 41:22-42:8. Officer Osborne advised Officer Murray Decedent had vomited and said they needed to re-position him from his back to his side in case he vomited again to prevent him from choking. Id. 42:13-25.

         At 4:03 a.m., Officer Osborne and Sergeant Montgomery opened Holding Cell Two and checked on Decedent. Camera Video at 07:58. At Sergeant Montgomery's instruction, Officer Murray pointed the camera at the floor from 4:03 a.m. to 4:04 a.m. Id. at 07:58-08:42. Neither Officer Osborne nor Sergeant Montgomery entered Holding Cell Two at that time. [SLED Add. to Osborne Rep., ECF No. 38-22 at 2 (noting GCDC's surveillance camera captured Holding Cell Two's door and “no one entered the cell at the time the body camera was pointed down at the floor”)]. Sergeant Montgomery instructed Decedent to “stop faking it.” Id. at 1. Sergeant Montgomery observed Decedent breathing, moving, and attempting to speak. Montgomery Dep. 66:4-22, 68:2- 6.

         From 4:04 a.m. to 4:05 a.m., Officer Osborne cleaned the vomit in Holding Cell One while Sergeant Montgomery spoke with Inmate, held the Holding Cell One door open, and watched Decedent. Camera Video at 08:45- 09:53.

         At 4:07 a.m., Officer Osborne and Sergeant Montgomery entered Holding Cell Two, moved Decedent away from the wall, and placed Decedent on his side on a mat. Osborne Dep. 44:9-16; Camera Video at 11:52-13:08. When they rolled Decedent onto his side, vomit fell from the corner of Decedent's mouth. Osborne Dep. 44:17-22. Sergeant Montgomery noted Decedent's pulse was slow and instructed Officer Osborne to obtain a cold, wet towel so he could clean Decedent's face and try to elicit a response from him. Montgomery Dep. 67:4-9.

         Sergeant Montgomery and Officer Osborne continued to tend to Decedent until 4:12 a.m., when Sergeant Montgomery left Holding Cell Two to notify the shift lieutenant, who was not in the detention center, of the situation. Camera Video at 16:30; Osborne Dep. 45:8-12. Officer Osborne remained with Decedent and continued to check his pulse. Camera Video at 16:53-17:48. At 4:13 a.m., Officer Osborne indicated she could not find a pulse and did not observe Decedent's stomach rising and falling. Id. at 17:48. Officer Murray activated emergency medical services (“EMS”) at 4:13 a.m. Id. at 18:14. Officer Murray told the EMS dispatcher the officers believed Decedent had taken drugs before arriving at GCDC and may be detoxing. Id. Officer Osborne continued to check Decedent's pulse, pat his face, and attempt to elicit a response. Id. at 18:14-20:14. At 4:15 a.m., Sergeant Montgomery called the shift lieutenant. [Murray Incident Rep., ECF No. 38-14 at 3]. At 4:18 a.m., EMS arrived. Id. Decedent's death certificate lists his time of death as 4:17 a.m. [Death Certificate, ECF No. 32-6 at 1].

         The coroner determined Decedent died from an apparent gran mal seizure followed by cardiac arrest due to cocaine toxicity. [Autopsy Rep., ECF No. 32-4 at 3-4]. A toxicology report found 6.4 mg/L cocaine in Decedent's system, along with cocaine metabolite and tetrahydrocannabinol. [ECF No. 32-5 at 3].

         Plaintiff alleges causes of action for Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process violations, negligence, gross negligence, loss of filial services, infliction of emotional distress, and conscious pain and suffering. [See ECF No.1 at 6-10]. She requests monetary damages. Id. at 11.

         II. Discussion

         A. Standard on ...

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