United States District Court, D. Minnesota
Sonia Mertes, Trustee for the Heirs and Next-of-Kin of Luke Capouch, Plaintiff,
City of Rogers and Joseph Zerwas, Jr., Individually, and in his Official Capacity, Defendants.
C. YIRA, AND JULIE W. HANJANI, FOR PLAINTIFF.
BAKKE, JOSEPH E. FLYNN, AND PIERRE N. REGNIER, JARDINE LOGAN
& O'BRIEN PLLP, FOR DEFENDANTS.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
RICHARD NELSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
case is about the tragic suicide of Luke Capouch, a promising
young man from Elk River, Minnesota. Capouch took his own
life shortly after being released from the Rogers Police
Department, where he had been briefly detained following an
arrest for shoplifting. Plaintiff Sonia Mertes (Capouch's
mother) subsequently brought this lawsuit seeking to hold the
City of Rogers accountable for Capouch's death.
Specifically, Mertes alleges that certain threatening and
abusive behavior exhibited by one of the City's police
officers, Defendant Joseph Zerwas, Jr., during Capouch's
time at the police station led Capouch to take his own life.
Zerwas, along with his co-Defendant, the City of Rogers, now
move for summary judgment. Mertes opposes the motion.
Court is deeply sympathetic to Mertes's plight. However,
because there is no evidence that Zerwas, or any of the
officers who encountered Capouch during his arrest, knew (or
could have known) that Capouch was at risk of committing
suicide after he left the police station, the law forbids
holding Zerwas (and, by extension, the City of Rogers) liable
for Capouch's subsequent decision to take his own life.
Accordingly, the Court is dutybound to grant Defendants'
motion, and to dismiss Mertes's complaint with prejudice.
time of his death, Luke Capouch (“Capouch”) was a
19-year-old high school graduate who had just started working
as a train conductor for the Canadian Pacific Railway.
(See Capouch Incident Rep. [Doc. No. 50-3] at 1
(Capouch's age); J. Capouch Dep. [Doc. No. 49-4] at 33
(Capouch's graduation status); H. Mertes Dep. [Doc. No.
49-5] at 47-48 (Capouch's occupation).) He was, by all
accounts, a happy, humorous, and well-liked young man.
(See generally S. Mertes Dep. [Doc. No. 49-6] 22-23,
29-33 (Capouch's mother); H. Mertes Dep. at 36-37
(Capouch's father-in-law); J. Capouch Dep. at 31-33
(Capouch's biological father); Bandescu Dep. [Doc. No.
49-7] at 9-11 (Capouch's friend); Patka Dep. [Doc. No.
49-8] at 11-13 (Capouch's friend); Patterson Dep. [Doc.
No. 49-13] at 12-13 (Capouch's friend).) In fact, at
their depositions, Capouch's close friends and family
uniformly testified that, as far as they knew, Capouch had
never exhibited depressed or suicidal tendencies at any point
over the course of his life. (Id.) However, it
appears that, during the year or two before his death,
Capouch gambled more than he should have, which occasionally
left him short off money. (See, e.g., J. Capouch
Dep. at 113-14; Patterson Dep. at 9-10.)
Joseph Zerwas, Jr. worked as a police officer for Defendant
City of Rogers for approximately fourteen years, from some
point in 2001 through February 26, 2015. (See Zerwas
Dep. II [Doc. No. 55-1] at 7.) He now works as a part-time
officer for the City of Corcoran. (Id. at 8.) During
his time working for the Rogers Police Department, Zerwas,
like all his fellow Rogers police officers, received training
in “recognizing warning signs of suicide risk.”
(Id. at 28-33; see also Beahen Dep. [Doc.
No. 49-3] at 31-34 (describing department-wide training).) At
the time of the Capouch incident, Officer Zerwas worked
alongside City of Rogers Police Chief Jeffrey Beahen and City
of Rogers police officer Daniel Rose.
October 22, 2014, at around 3:00 P.M., Officers Zerwas, Rose,
and Beahen arrested Capouch for stealing clothes, including a
$330 thermal jacket, from a Cabela's sporting goods store
in Rogers, Minnesota. (See generally Capouch
Incident Rep.) The Officers effectuated this arrest after a
Cabela's security officer called 9-1-1 and informed the
operator that he had personally witnessed Capouch commit the
theft and then drive away in a black Honda Accord.
(Id.) There is no dispute that Capouch committed
this crime. In fact, when the Officers stopped Capouch and
asked whether the Cabela's jacket he was wearing was his,
Capouch did not deny culpability and instead simply stated,
“no you can take the jacket, I don't care, arrest
me.” (Id. at 4.)
placing Capouch under arrest for gross misdemeanor theft,
see Minn. Stat. § 609.52, the three officers
parted ways: Chief Beahen went to the Cabela's to further
investigate the theft(s),  Officer Zerwas stayed with
Capouch's Honda Accord to assist with the vehicle's
impoundment, and Officer Rose drove Capouch to the nearby
Rogers police station to “book, ” i.e.,
make a record of, Capouch's arrest. (See
generally Capouch Incident Rep.) Nothing of note
occurred during Officer Rose's drive back to the police
station. (See generally Officer Rose Police Squad
Car Video [Doc. No. 50-1].)
booking process lasted approximately 45 minutes. (See
generally Booking Room Video [Doc. No. 50-2].) For the
most part, these 45 minutes were quiet and uneventful. That
is, per the video evidence, most of Capouch's booking
process consisted of either Officer Rose quietly typing
information into his computer while Capouch sat nearby, or of
Officer Rose taking Capouch's fingerprints while Capouch
diligently followed the Officer's instructions.
(Id.) However, two verbal exchanges of note took
place during this time period: one brief exchange between
just Capouch and Officer Rose at the beginning of the booking
process, and another, more prolonged, exchange between
Capouch and Officer Zerwas during the last ten minutes of
at an early point in the process, Officer Rose off-handedly
asked Capouch (while Rose was typing on a computer),
“you just short on money, or you just wanted a jacket,
or you just seeing if you can get away with this type of
thing, or . . . ?” (Id. at 5:08.) Capouch
calmly and casually replied, “I've got a little bit
of a gambling problem, man. I've lost a lot of my money
gambling and I didn't go there planning to steal
anything. I was just trying to pass the time until I got
called to work here, and yeah, I've just gotten away with
stealing so much. [Pauses] You know what I
mean?” (Id. at 5:15 - 5:36.)
Rose did not further inquire into Capouch's
“gambling problem” or follow up on this
conversation in any substantial manner, and neither did
and more notably, Officer Zerwas made the following, arguably
threatening, remarks to Capouch about his (recently achieved)
employment with the Canadian Pacific Railway. First,
around 30 minutes into the booking process, while Officer
Rose was still taking Capouch's fingerprints, Officer
Zerwas asked Capouch, “so you work for Canadian
Pacific, huh?” (Id. at 33:36.) Capouch
responded, “Yes sir.” (Id.) Officer
Zerwas then observed, “they're not going to like
this too well, are they?” (Id.) Capouch
responded, “I don't know.” (Id.)
Capouch then provided a few more details about his employment
to Zerwas, including the fact that he had only been working
at Canadian Pacific for four months. (Id. at 34:15.)
about five minutes later, while Officer Rose was typing at
his computer and Capouch was sitting on a bench nearby,
Officer Zerwas and Capouch got into the following
tit-for-tat, which, for ease of reference, the Court will
simply reprint in script form:
Zerwas: [Out of the blue] Yeah, I
know some people at Canadian Pacific. You might want to talk
to somebody when you're there.
Capouch: Who do you know?
Zerwas: People you don't know.
Zerwas: Believe me, yeah.
Capouch: Who do you know then?
Zerwas: That's none of your business.
People, people that work there. But you'll find out. Once
they find out about the charge, you won't be there any
Capouch: That's too bad.
Zerwas: Yeah, they won't allow that.