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Neal v. Ficcadenti

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

July 10, 2017

Robin Kirkland Neal, Plaintiff,
Daniel Ficcadenti, in his individual capacity as an officer of the St. Paul Police Department, and the City of St. Paul, Defendants.

          Oliver E. Nelson III, for Plaintiff.

          Margaret E. Jacot, St. Paul City Attorney for Defendants.


          SUSAN RICHARD NELSON, United States District Judge


         This matter comes before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. No. 18]. For the reasons stated herein, Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.


         This lawsuit arises from an unfortunate case of mistaken identity. Late in the evening of June 6, 2012, officers of the St. Paul Police Department (“SPPD”) received a dispatch report that a witness had seen a man retrieve a firearm from a black, four-door sedan parked outside of Born's Bar on Rice Street. (See DeTomaso Aff. [Doc. No. 21], Ex. A at 3.) The suspect was described as a black male in his forties, of heavier build, and wearing a baseball cap and red and white shirt. (See id.) Born's Bar is located in a rough area of town and SPPD officers are frequently called to the area generally-and to the bar specifically-to address criminal activity. (See Tschida Aff. [Doc. No. 22] ¶ 2.)

         Upon receipt of the dispatch report, several SPPD officers proceeded to the scene, where squad car video recorded much of the subsequent events. (See generally DeTomasso Aff., Ex. B.; Tschida Aff., Ex. B.; Ficcadenti Aff. [Doc. No. 24], Ex. C.) Officer (now Sergeant) Michael DeTomaso was one of the first officers to arrive at the scene. (DeTomaso Aff. ¶ 5.) He spotted a black, four-door sedan parked outside of Born's Bar, with multiple black males inside it. Officer DeTomaso exited his squad car, drew his pistol, and ordered the driver of the sedan to exit with his hands up. (Id., Ex. B at 23:22:28.) The driver-who was wearing a blue shirt and ball cap-complied with these instructions and was taken into custody without incident. (Id. at 23:22:56.)

         By this time, several other officers had arrived at the scene, including Defendant Officer Daniel Ficcadenti. (Ficcadenti Aff. ¶ 5.) Shortly after the driver was placed in custody, officers directed the two remaining passengers to exit the sedan.[1] (DeTomaso Aff., Ex. B at 23:23:20.) Both men exited the vehicle at approximately the same time. Plaintiff Robin Neal was seated in the front passenger seat, and emerged wearing a black shirt and dark shorts. (Ficcadenti Aff. ¶ 6.) The other passenger, Anthony Lee, was wearing a blue shirt. (Id.) Neal, Lee, and the driver were all in their early fifties.

         The officers yelled to the passengers to come forward one at a time, and started directing Neal (who they generally identified as “black shirt”) to walk towards them. (DeTomaso Aff., Ex. B. at 23:23:41.) Review of the squad car footage shows that Neal remained standing behind the sedan for several seconds before walking around to the front of the car. (See Id. at 23:23:53-23:24:06.) Although his hands remain generally over his head, at times he appears to drop them toward his sides. (See id.) At one point, Neal turns completely so that his back is facing the officers, and lowers his hands. (See Id. at 23:24:16.) The scene is one of some confusion-at least two officers, located in different positions on the street, appear to be shouting instructions to Neal, the sedan is floodlit by a bright police spotlight, squad car lights are flashing, and a police K-9 dog can be heard barking repeatedly in the background.[2] (See id.)

         Eventually, Neal began to walk towards Officer Ficcadenti with his hands raised and without any apparent resistance. (Id. at 23:24:22.) Once he arrived, instead of handcuffing him, Officer Ficcadenti used an arm-bar takedown technique[3] to throw Neal to the ground and on to his stomach, where Ficcadenti then proceeded to handcuff him. (See Id. at 23:24:27.) At that point, Ficcadenti noticed that Neal had suffered cuts to his forehead, and an ambulance was called to assess his injuries.[4] (See Ficcadenti Aff., Ex. C at 23:27:36.)

         Shortly after Officer Ficcadenti took Neal into custody, Officer DeTomaso detained the other passenger without incident. (DeTomaso Aff., Ex. B at 23:24:38.) At approximately the same time, officers received an updated dispatch report indicating that the suspect they were searching for had just exited Born's Bar. (Tschida Aff., Ex. B at 23:24:20.) Officers Michael Tschida and Jordan Walker subsequently detained the individual and discovered a hammer in his waistband. (See Tschida Aff. ¶ 7.) No weapons were found on any of the occupants of the sedan.

         The evidence indicates that Officer Ficcadenti had been trained in use of force techniques, and that he had knowledge of the St. Paul Police Department Manual (“SPPD Manual”). (Nelson Aff., Ex. D (“Ficcadenti Dep.”) at 15:24-17:10.) Officer Ficcadenti testified that the SPPD Manual provides that “physical force may not be resorted to unless other reasonable alternatives have been exhausted or would be clearly ineffective under the particular circumstances, ” and that he had been trained to follow that principle. (Id. at 25:3-16.) The SPPD Manual further requires that officers only resort to physical force “when other options have failed or are unreasonable to resort to under the circumstances. Any physical force used by the officer must be necessary and reasonable under the circumstances.” (Id. at 26:6-12.) Physical force is “reasonably necessary” when “no reasonably effective alternative appears to exist and the amount of force used is reasonable to effect the lawful purpose intended.” (Nelson Aff., Ex. G (“SPPD Manual”) § 246.01.)

         At his deposition, Officer Ficcadenti testified that he never attempted to use other, non-physical options to arrest Neal, such as ordering Neal to turn around so that he could be handcuffed, or having him get on his knees with his hands behind his head. (See Ficcadenti Aff. at 45:13-23; 46:11-16.) Officer Ficcadenti testified, however, that his arrest of Neal was in compliance with the policies set forth in the SPPD Manual, because his actions were not intended to cause Neal injury, and did not in fact cause significant injury. (See Id. at 49:10-18.) Likewise, Officer DeTomaso testified that Ficcadenti's use of an arm-bar was necessary because of the fluidity of the situation confronting the officers, the need to quickly restrain an individual who may have been armed, and because of the need to remove a distraction that was preventing focus on the remaining, un-detained passenger. (DeTomaso Aff. ¶¶ 11, 12.)

         On May 7, 2015, Neal filed suit against Officer Ficcadenti in his individual capacity, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He alleges that Officer Ficcadenti violated the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against excessive force when he used the arm-bar takedown technique on June 6, 2012. (See Compl. [Doc. No. 1] ¶¶ 24-30.) Neal also brings a claim under Monell v. New York City Dep't of Social Servs., 438 U.S. 658 (1979) against the City of St. Paul, alleging that the City should be held liable for Officer Ficcadenti's conduct because the City allegedly has failed to train its ...

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