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Lewis v. City of Burnsville

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

October 31, 2019

Linda Lewis, individually, and as Trustee For the Next-Of-Kin of Jamie Joseph Lewis, Plaintiff,
City of Burnsville, a municipal corporation, and Steven Stoler, Brett Levin, Michelle Frascone, and John Smith, all in their official and individual capacities, Defendants.

          Michael Kemp, Hansen, Dordell, Bradt, Odlaug & Bradt, P.L.L.P., St. Paul, MN, for Plaintiff Linda Lewis.

          Leah M. Tabbert, Minnesota Attorney General's Office, Saint Paul, MN, for Defendant Michelle Frascone.


          Eric C. Tostrud United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Linda Lewis is the mother of Jamie Lewis and is the appointed Trustee for Jamie's next of kin. Compl. ¶ 3 [ECF No. 1]. She filed this action in April 2019, after police officers employed by the City of Burnsville shot and killed Jamie while he was in the midst of a mental-health crisis. She brought various state-law negligence and federal civil-rights claims against the City of Burnsville (the “City”) and responding officers Steven Stoler and Brett Levin[1] (collectively the “Officers”), as well as Defendant Michelle Frascone, who works for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (“BCA”) and was involved with the BCA's investigation of the killing. The City and the Officers answered Linda's Complaint, see ECF No. 6, but Frascone moved to dismiss, see ECF No. 19, asserting sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as well as a failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Linda brings only one of her four claims against Frascone, a claim alleging a civil-rights conspiracy pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1985, and she sues Frascone in both her official and individual capacities. See Compl. ¶ 6, Count II. Frascone's motion will be granted.

         I [2]

         Because most of the facts alleged in the Complaint relate solely to the acts by, or information about, other Defendants, they are described briefly here, in only enough detail as is necessary to explain the factual allegations and legal claims against Frascone, the only Defendant who has moved to dismiss the Complaint.

         The events giving rise to Linda's claims occurred mainly on or shortly after the night of September 26, 2016. See generally Compl. and ¶ 11. Jamie had been struggling with depression for some time, and he was unable to regularly take prescription medication due to its cost. Id. ¶ 11. Earlier in the week of September 26, Jamie had lost his job and his relationship with his girlfriend had ended, and for several days he had been making suicidal comments. Id. ¶¶ 11, 13. The night of the 26th, Jamie went to his ex-girlfriend's house and spoke with her for several hours about their recently ended relationship. Id. ¶ 13. He expressed that he had no options left. Id. ¶ 14. He had been convicted of a felony years before and was legally prohibited from possessing guns, but he referred to a handgun he was carrying and stated that he was not going to prison. Id. He then “opened up several beer bottles” and left his ex-girlfriend's apartment, bringing his handgun with him. Id. ¶ 15. (The complaint does not say whether Jamie consumed beer in his ex-girlfriend's apartment. It says only that Jamie was “drinking a beer” when officers located him. Id. ¶¶ 40, 42.) Jamie's ex-girlfriend called 911 to report that Jamie had just left her apartment and intended to kill himself. Id. ¶ 16. She described the relevant parts of their conversation, including that he had a gun and did not want to go back to prison. Id.

         More than a dozen City police officers responded to that call, including Stoler and Levin. Id. ¶ 17. The Complaint describes in greater detail their search for Jamie, which took more than an hour, and the fact that within 90 seconds after an infrared camera deployed by helicopter located the heat signature of a person-Jamie-lying prone on the ground, he had been shot multiple times. Id. ¶¶ 17-22. When Levin and Stoler approached Jamie, he posed no threat to anyone other than himself, he did not attempt to flee or actively resist, and he pointed nothing in the direction of officers. Id. ¶¶ 34-41. Jamie did not respond to their shouting; at one point, Stoler mistook the beer Jamie was drinking as a weapon, and Stoler responded by shooting Jamie multiple times through the back side of his body, killing him. Id. ¶¶ 40-44.

         Linda alleges, by way of background, that City officers have a history of responding excessively and unreasonably to individuals who are experiencing mental health crises, and cites a similar prior incident that occurred six months before Jamie's death. See generally id. ¶¶ 23-30. But despite that demonstrated “need to train officers not to automatically shoot anyone engaged in a metal health crisis, ” neither Stoler nor Levin received anything more than minimal and insufficient training, resulting in Jamie's death. Id. ¶¶ 31-33.

         BCA, and thus Frascone, did not become involved until the investigation shortly after the shooting. Id. ¶ 47. She, along with a BCA colleague named Brent Peterson, interviewed Levin as part of that investigation. Id. During that interview, Levin relayed the information he had received prior to the shooting, including that Jamie may have intended to kill himself. Id. ¶ 48. The Complaint then alleges as follows with respect to Frascone:

Hearing this statement that Mr. Lewis may have intended to harm himself, Defendant Frascone suggested to Defendant Officer Levin that Mr. Lewis's intent may have been not merely to end his own life, but to murder other people as well. No other information available to any police or investigators at that time, including Defendants, suggested this.

Id. ¶ 49. Following Frascone's “suggestion, ” Levin “adopted this revised statement as his own, and made it part of his official report on the incident, ” and his statement contributed to the decision to “clear the officers of the shooting.” Id. ¶¶ 49, 50, 52, 54. According to Linda, Frascone's suggestion, and Levin's decision to revise his statement accordingly, “was intended to obstruct the proper course of the investigation, to clear officers of wrongdoing, and to ensure that Defendants were not held liable for the death of Mr. Lewis.” Id. ¶ 55.

         In addition to the various claims Linda brings against only the City, Stoler, and Levin, she is suing all Defendants, including Frascone, for conspiring to obstruct justice, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1985, by “reporting in the official statement unsupported or incorrect facts, which would tend to increase the likelihood of a finding that the shooting was justified and decrease the likelihood that Defendants would be found liable for [Jamie's] death.” Id. ¶ 63. The alleged conspiracy was undertaken “to influence the verdict, presentment, or indictment of any grand or petit juror who might consider criminal or civil liability of ...

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