Argued: September 18, 2019
from the United States District Court for the District of
South Carolina, at Florence. A. Marvin Quattlebaum, Jr.,
District Judge. (4:15-cv-04638-AMQ-KDW)
Michael Warner Battle, BATTLE LAW FIRM, LLC, Conway, South
Carolina; Sandra J. Senn, SENN LEGAL, LLC, Charleston, South
Carolina, for Appellant.
Narendra K. Ghosh, PATTERSON HARKAVY, LLP, Chapel Hill, North
Carolina, for Appellee.
Richard Battle, II, BATTLE LAW FIRM, LLC, Conway, South
Carolina, for Appellant.
Craige, Bradley J. Bannon, Paul E. Smith, PATTERSON HARKAVY
LLP, Chapel Hill, North Carolina; Jonny McCoy, LAW OFFICE OF
JONNY MCCOY, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, for Appellee.
KING and KEENAN, Circuit Judges, and Joseph R. GOODWIN,
United States District Judge for the Southern District of
West Virginia, sitting by designation.
BARBARA MILANO KEENAN, CIRCUIT JUDGE
afternoon of April 16, 2015, a team of plain-clothed law
enforcement officers armed with "assault style
rifles" used a battering ram to enter Julian Ray
Betton's dwelling to execute a warrant authorizing a
search for marijuana and other illegal substances. The
officers did not identify themselves as "police" or
otherwise announce their presence before employing the
battering ram. From the rear of his home, Betton heard a
commotion but did not hear any verbal commands. Responding to
the tumult, Betton pulled a gun from his waistband and held
it down at his hip.
officers, including Myrtle Beach, South Carolina police
officer David Belue, fired a total of 29 shots at Betton,
striking him nine times. Betton suffered permanent paralysis
resulting from his gunshot wounds. While Officer Belue
originally maintained that Betton had been the first person
on the scene to fire a weapon, a later investigation revealed
that Betton never discharged his .45 caliber pistol.
Thereafter, Officer Belue revised his account of the events,
stating that Betton had pointed his weapon at the officers.
filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Officer Belue,
alleging unlawful entry and the use of excessive force in
violation of the Fourth Amendment. Officer Belue moved for
summary judgment on the ground of qualified immunity, and the
district court denied his motion. Officer Belue appeals only
the court's denial of qualified immunity with respect to
the excessive force claim.
the facts in the light most favorable to Betton, as we are
required to do at this stage of the proceedings, we agree
with the district court that disputes of material fact
preclude an award of summary judgment. A jury reasonably
could find under the facts presented that Betton did not pose
a threat to the officers justifying the use of deadly force.
Additionally, based on our decision in Cooper v.
Sheehan, 735 F.3d 153 (4th Cir. 2013), we further hold
that Betton's Fourth Amendment right to be free from the
use of excessive force was clearly established at the time
the incident occurred. We therefore affirm the district
court's order and remand the case for further
Belue was a member of a multi-jurisdictional "drug
enforcement unit" (DEU) in South Carolina charged with
the investigation of individuals participating in illegal
drug activity. In 2015, DEU agents began investigating
Betton, who lived in a duplex-style residence in Myrtle
Beach, South Carolina. Agent Chad Guess led the investigation
and worked with a confidential informant, who had purchased
marijuana from Betton at his home on two occasions. The
informant paid Betton about $100 in each transaction; the
respective amounts purchased were seven grams and eight grams
on this information, Agent Guess obtained a warrant
authorizing a search of Betton's residence for marijuana
and other illegal drugs. This warrant permitted entry into
Betton's residence using a standard "knock and
announce" procedure requiring the officers, before
forcibly effecting entry in the absence of a response, to
knock on the dwelling's entry door and to announce their
presence. See United States v. Dunnock, 295 F.3d
431, 434 (4th Cir. 2002).
to executing the search, Agent Guess led about ten DEU
agents, including Officer Belue, in a pre-search briefing.
The briefing materials included information that the
informant had observed two firearms inside Betton's
apartment and two security cameras at the front door. The
briefing materials also stated Betton's criminal history,
which included convictions for marijuana trafficking in 2003,
cocaine trafficking in 2007, a prior arrest for aggravated
robbery in 2008, and an outstanding arrest warrant for a
probation violation in Ohio.
p.m. on the day of the search, eleven law enforcement
officers in three unmarked cars arrived at Betton's home.
Although the cars' emergency lights were activated, the
sirens were not. The shades on the front windows of the home
were drawn, blocking any view through the windows. The agents
were wearing a variety of plain clothes and bullet-proof
vests. Officer Belue wore a baseball cap, and another agent
wore a black cloth mask obscuring the lower ...