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Sieff v. Juell

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

March 8, 2017

Philip Sieff, as trustee for the next-of-kin of Dawn Marie Pfister, Plaintiff,
v.
Brady Juell, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          Paul A. Magnuson United States District Court Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Brady Juell's Motion for Summary Judgment. For the following reasons, the Motion is denied.

         BACKGROUND

         At approximately 7:30 a.m. on February 7, 2014, Chaska Police Sergeant Brady Juell received a report from dispatch that a speeding vehicle had forced several cars off the road on Highway 212 near Norwood Young America, and was heading eastbound towards Chaska. (Juell Statement (Docket No. 59-7) at 6.) Sergeant Juell responded, drove to Highway 212, and intercepted the erratically driven vehicle. (Id.) The vehicle passed Sergeant Juell driving approximately 45 miles per hour with its hood flipped up, blocking the windshield. (Id. at 7.) Sergeant Juell observed a male in the driver's seat, later identified as Matthew Serbus, and a female in the passenger's seat, later identified as Dawn Pfister. (Id.) He then turned on his lights and sirens, and attempted to initiate a traffic stop. (Id.)

         Serbus failed to pull over and led Sergeant Juell on a chase through Chaska, Chanhassen, and Eden Prairie. During the chase, Sergeant Juell observed Pfister reach out the window and attempt to put the hood down with an ice scraper. (Id. at 8.) Eventually, an additional ten law-enforcement officers joined Sergeant Juell. Minnesota State Trooper Mark Lund and Carver County Sheriff's Corporal Nathan Mueller were two of those responding officers. Both Lund and Mueller's dash cameras captured the incident.

         Lund initially positioned himself ahead of the chase intending to deploy stop sticks to deflate the vehicle's tires, but the vehicle passed him before he had the opportunity. (Lund Statement (Docket No. 52-1) Ex. 12 at 4.) Lund pursued, took the lead in the chase, and planned to perform a Precision Immobilization Technique (“PIT”) maneuver. (Id.) Before he could do so, the vehicle crashed into a barrier wall and came to a stop on the highway. (Lund Video (Docket No. 52-13) at 8:05.)

         Lund stopped, exited his squad car with his weapon drawn, and ordered Serbus and Pfister out of the car. (Id. at 8:15.) Serbus emerged from the driver's side door and Lund yelled for Serbus to show him his hands. (Id. at 8:21.) Serbus ignored the order and went back into the vehicle. (Id. at 8:30.) Lund continued to shout orders at Serbus and relayed to his fellow officers that Serbus had something in his right hand, although he could not “tell if it's a gun” but instructed them to “bring rifles.” (Id. at 8:40.)

         Serbus and Pfister eventually emerged out of the driver's side door. (Id. at 10:00.) The two stood near each other outside the vehicle when Serbus reached his hand towards his back pocket and Lund shouted to his fellow officers “He's going for a gun. He's got her as body armor.” (Id. at 10:18.) Chaska police officer Trenton Wurtz radioed that it appeared to be a hostage situation. (Id. at 10:31.) Serbus and Pfister then staggered a few steps away from the vehicle. Both appeared to be wobbling and struggling to stand up. (Id.) Several officers saw Serbus and Pfister kiss, embrace, and whisper to each other. (See, e.g., Meyer Dep. (Docket No. 52-4) at 52.) Others thought Serbus and Pfister were like “Bonnie and Clyde.” (Bramwell Stat. (Docket No. 52-5) Ex. 9 at 8.)

         As Lund continued to shout for Pfister to lay down, Serbus raised his hand, and Lund shot at Serbus and missed. (Id. at 11:00.) Serbus and Pfister continued to wobble with each other for several seconds before Pfister attempted to go to the ground, but she either stood back up, or Serbus pulled her back up. (Id. at 11:27.) Seconds later, Serbus raised his hand another time and Lund noticed and announced that Serbus had a knife. (Id. at 11:35.) Serbus and Pfister then staggered further into the road at which point Lund stated, “I gotta drop him, guys.” (Id. at 11:50.) That is when the first round of shots rang out. (Id.)

         Multiple officers fired eleven shots at Serbus over a 15-second period, hitting Serbus several times. (Id. at 11:56; Serbus Autopsy (Docket No. 59-28).) Although none of the bullets hit Pfister, Pfister remained next to Serbus, wobbling back and forth on the road until the two finally fell to the ground, Pfister on top of Serbus. (Id.; Pfister Autopsy (Docket No. 59-2).) Sergeant Juell and Carver County Sheriff's Sergeant Lance Pearce were approaching Serbus and Pfister when Pfister reached over Serbus, grabbed the knife, and attempted to stand up. (Lund Video at 12:10.) As she got up, Sergeant Juell fired four shots at Pfister, killing her. (Id. at 12:20.) Serbus then attempted to stand back up, at which point multiple officers fired multiple shots at Serbus, killing him. (Id. at 12:24.)

         On February 2, 2015, Plaintiff Phillip Sieff, acting as trustee to the next-of-kin of Dawn Pfister, sued Sergeant Juell and the City of Chaska (the “City”) under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that Sergeant Juell used excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment when he shot and killed Pfister, and that the City failed to properly train its police officers to avoid the improper use of deadly force. On December 30, 2016, Sergeant Juell and the City filed this Motion for Summary Judgment arguing that qualified immunity shields Sergeant Juell from suit, and that the record evidence does not establish that the City failed to adequately train its officers. On January 9, 2017, Sieff stipulated to the dismissal of his claim against the City. The Court dismissed the failure-to-train claim and terminated the City two days later. Only the claim against Sergeant Juell remains.

         DISCUSSION

         Summary judgment is proper if there are no disputed issues of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The Court must view the evidence and inferences that may be reasonably drawn from the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Enter. Bank v. Magna Bank, 92 F.3d 743, 747 (8th Cir. 1996). The moving party bears the burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). A party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment may not rest on mere allegations or denials, but must set forth specific facts in the record showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986). A police officer is “entitled to summary judgment based on qualified immunity unless (1) the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, establishes a violation of a federal constitutional or statutory right, and (2) the right was clearly established at the time of the violation.” Capps v. Olson, 780 F.3d 879, 884 (8th Cir. 2015).

         A. ...


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