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Emma Jones, As Administratrix of the Estate of Malik Jones and As v. Town of East Haven

August 1, 2012

EMMA JONES, AS ADMINISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF MALIK JONES AND AS GUARDIAN AD LITEM FOR PRIYA JONES, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE-CROSS-APPELLANT,
v.
TOWN OF EAST HAVEN, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT-CROSS-APPELLEE.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Leval, Circuit Judge:

10-4731(L)-cv / 10-4894-cv

Jones v. East Haven

(Argued: January 18, 2012

Before: WALKER, LEVAL, POOLER, Circuit Judges.

Defendant, the Town of East Haven, appeals from a judgment of the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut (Thompson, J.) based on a jury's verdict awarding damages to Plaintiff under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the killing of her son by an East Haven police 32 officer. The district court denied the Defendant's motion for judgment as a matter of law.

On 33 appeal, Defendant argues that, as a matter of law, Plaintiff's evidence was insufficient to prove 34 municipal liability under the standard of Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 35 (1978). The Court of Appeals (Leval, J.) agrees with Defendant. Accordingly, the judgment of 36 the district court is REVERSED.

Defendant, the Town of East Haven (hereinafter "Town"), appeals from the judgment after a jury trial of the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut (Thompson, 7 J.), awarding damages to Plaintiff under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the killing of her son by an East 8 Haven police officer. The Town contends it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law under 9 Rule 50 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure because Plaintiff's evidence failed to satisfy the 10 standard of Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978), for municipal 11 liability. In 1997, Malik Jones, an African-American male, was shot and killed by Officer Robert 12 Flodquist, a member of the East Haven Police Department (hereinafter "EHPD" or 13 "Department"). Plaintiff Emma Jones, who is the mother of Malik Jones, filed suit against the 14 Town, Officer Flodquist, and Officer Gary DePalma, pursuant to Section 1983, alleging 15 numerous claims, including that the Town's custom, policy, or usage of deliberate indifference 16 to the rights of black people caused the killing of her son in violation of the Fourth, Fifth, and 17 Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. At trial, the jury found in favor of the 18 two police officers, but found the Town liable. The district court denied the Town's motion for 19 judgment as a matter of law and entered judgment against it. On appeal, the Town contends that 20 Plaintiff's evidence was legally insufficient to demonstrate a custom, policy, or usage of 21 deliberate indifference which caused Jones's death. We agree that the evidence was insufficient.*fn1

Accordingly, we reverse the judgment in Plaintiff's favor and direct the entry of judgment for the Defendant Town.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff's evidence at trial was as follows:

A. Shooting of Malik Jones

On April 14, 1997, shortly after 6 p.m. in East Haven, Connecticut, Malik Jones was 7 driving an Oldsmobile Cutlass with Samuel Cruz, also an African-American male, in the 8 passenger seat. Jones was followed by Officer Flodquist, in a police department vehicle, who 9 reported to his dispatcher that he was trying to catch up with the Oldsmobile. Jones then made a 10 U-turn and began heading in the direction of neighboring New Haven. Flodquist informed the 11 dispatcher that the driver of the Oldsmobile was "taking off" on him. Officer DePalma of the 12 EHPD joined the pursuit in another vehicle. The officers followed the Oldsmobile on to, and off 13 of, Interstate 95, and into New Haven.

After entering New Haven, Jones lost control of the Oldsmobile and veered into a vacant 1 lot off Grand Avenue, made a semi-circle, and then exited the lot back onto Grand Avenue. The 2 Oldsmobile came to a stop in the westbound lane of Grand Avenue when its path was blocked by 3 Flodquist's and DePalma's police vehicles. Flodquist approached the driver's side of the vehicle 4 with his weapon drawn and used the butt of his gun to break the driver's window.

5 The witnesses' testimony differed on exactly what happened between the time the 6 Oldsmobile stopped on Grand Avenue and the shooting. They agreed on several facts but 7 disagreed as to the sequence. The witnesses agreed that after Jones came to a stop, when his way 8 was barred by the police vehicles, Jones shifted into reverse. The Oldsmobile moved backwards, 9 in a circular path. At some point Flodquist was in danger of being hit by the front end of the 10 retreating Oldsmobile, as it swerved out to the side. Forensic evidence demonstrated that 11 Flodquist fired four shots after the Oldsmobile had started moving in reverse. Jones was 12 pronounced dead at the scene. It was undisputed that neither Jones nor Cruz was armed. It is 13 also undisputed that Flodquist's gun could hold twelve bullets, and after the shooting only seven 14 bullets remained in the weapon. The witnesses did not agree on whether Flodquist fired four or 15 five shots or exactly when he fired the first shot.

16 Flodquist testified that he was in the path of the moving car and would have been struck 17 by it if he had not moved. He testified that he believed the driver of the car was trying to run him 18 over, which is why he began shooting. He testified that he fired only four shots, all of which 19 were fired after the Oldsmobile started moving on its backwards circular path.*fn2 20 Plaintiff contended that Flodquist fired five shots, and that he fired the first shot immediately after breaking the driver's side window of the Oldsmobile, before the Oldsmobile 2 began moving in reverse, and before any issue arose of Flodquist's ability to get out of the 3 retreating car's path. The passenger Cruz testified, with support from other witnesses, that the 4 car began moving in reverse only after Jones had been shot.

5 A witness testified that after the shooting, DePalma and another EHPD Officer, Ranfone, 6 left Jones face down on the ground with his feet inside the car and his hands cuffed behind his 7 back. Another witness testified that Ranfone aproached a dark-skinned Hispanic man who had 8 witnessed the shooting and told him "You didn't see nothing. Now get out of here."

B. Evidence Relating to Liability of the Town

To establish liability of the Town, Plaintiff contended that the Town had a custom, 11 policy, or usage of deliberate indifference to the rights of black people. The evidence on that 12 question was as follows.

1. East Haven

James Criscuolo, who was the Department's Chief of Police from May 1993 until he 15 retired in July 1998, testified about the policies and practices of the EHPD. Criscuolo testified 16 that in 2000 East Haven's population was approximately 1.4% African-American and that during 17 his time as Chief, the Department was all-white. Criscuolo testified that the Department was 18 covered by the Town's policy prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race or color. He also 19 testified that during his ...


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