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Jones v. Hileman

April 29, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reagan, District Judge


A. Introduction

On August 27, 2007, Plaintiffs Robert Jones, individually and as the personal representative of Melvin Jones, and Kay Jones filed the above-captioned action stemming from events surrounding the tragic suicide of their son, Melvin Jones, on October 20, 2006 (Doc. 2). On September 30, 2008, the Court dismissed Plaintiffs' wrongful death claims (Count 3) against Defendants Foster, Watkins, Hileman, Stamp, McGee, Union County, and the City of Anna on the grounds that each is entitled to statutory immunity (Doc. 59).*fn1 Additionally, the Court dismissed Plaintiffs' wrongful death claims against Defendants Lawrence, Wright, and Barr on the grounds that each is entitled to state sovereign immunity (Doc. 60).

On November 5, 2008, Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint alleging deprivation of their Fourth Amendment rights under 42 U. S. C. §§ 1983 (Counts 1 and 2), wrongful death (Count 3), and deliberate indifference to a serious medical need (Count 4) (Doc. 69). Despite the Court's previous finding that the Defendants were immune from the wrongful death claims, Plaintiffs attempted to re-plead them.

On February 2, 2009, the Court again found that state sovereign immunity protects Defendants Lawrence, Wright, and Barr from suit with respect to Plaintiffs' wrongful death claims and dismissed Count 3 as to Lawrence, Wright, and Barr (Doc. 93). Additionally, the Court found that Defendant Lawrence is entitled to qualified immunity with respect to the deliberate indifference claim and therefore dismissed Count 4 against him.

Lawrence, Wright, and Barr now move for summary judgment on all remaining claims (Doc. 94). Plaintiffs filed a response in opposition on March 9, 2009 (Doc. 102). Defendants submitted their reply on March 16, 2009 (Doc. 104). Having fully reviewed the parties' filings, the Court hereby GRANTS the Defendants' motion for summary judgment.

B. Factual Background

The following facts are undisputed, unless otherwise indicated. At approximately 2:00 p.m. on October 20, 2006, Melvin Jones visited his parents' home in a rural area near Anna, Illinois in Union County. His father, Robert Jones, was at home and was baby-sitting his grandson, Matthew. Soon after arriving, Melvin said he was going to engage in target practice and walked to the backyard with a .22-caliber rifle. At that time, Melvin called 911 and informed the emergency dispatcher that he intended to commit suicide, but wanted an ambulance sent to the residence to ensure that his father, who had a history of heart trouble, could receive medical treatment if needed. Unaware of this call, Robert joined Melvin behind the garage, at which time Melvin informed him of his suicidal intentions.

Robert immediately began to discuss the situation with Melvin, who stated that he was dissatisfied with the course his life was taking and was distraught over the size of medical bills he owed. But while Melvin was willing to talk with his father about these problems, he refused to let go of the rifle and kept his distance from Robert.

Defendants Hileman and Stamp, both Union County police officers, soon arrived at the scene. Robert informed them of the situation, and Deputy Hileman began talking with Melvin. Defendant Barr, an officer with the Illinois State Police (ISP), arrived next. Sergeant Barr immediately called the ISP district headquarters and informed them of the situation so that a Tactical Response Team could be dispatched to the scene (Doc. 95-8, Exh. B, pp. 25-26). He then spoke with Sergeant Stamp regarding the situation and was informed that Melvin was suicidal.

Sergeant Barr was not in uniform, because he was working as an undercover investigator that day. However, Sergeant Barr joined Deputy Hileman, introduced himself to Melvin, and began conversing with him as to why he wanted to commit suicide. Melvin explained the problems he was having and told the officers on multiple occasions that he had no intention of harming anyone other than himself. Sergeant Barr tried to keep the dialogue going in order to convince Melvin not to kill himself. Sergeant Barr further claims that he wanted to keep Melvin relaxed until a trained negotiator could arrive (Doc. 95-8, Exh. B, p. 36). During the entire period, Melvin alternated between pointing the rifle at himself and laying it across his lap. Meanwhile, more officers continued to arrive at the scene.

Robert also interacted with Melvin and these officers, though at times, he moved towards the house and the driveway, where other officers were arriving. Robert contacted Melvin's girlfriend, Katie, and offered the phone to him so that they could speak to one another. Later, Robert also contacted Wanda Kay Jones ("Kay"), Melvin's mother, but Melvin refused to speak with her.

When Defendant Lawrence arrived, Sergeant Barr informed him that Melvin was holding a rifle and was suicidal. In light of these circumstances, Trooper Lawrence obtained his own rifle and set up a perimeter position behind Melvin's car, where he had a clear line of sight (Doc. 95-14, Exh. D, p. 12). At that point, Trooper Lawrence trained his rifle on Melvin so as to protect the officers on the scene, as well as Robert, just in case Melvin pointed his rifle at anyone (Doc. 95-14, Exh. D, pp. 16, 19, 21).

Defendant Wright soon arrived at the scene and set up an inner perimeter in order to protect the officers and keep civilians out of the area (Doc. 95-17, Exh. F, pp. 12, 15). Sergeant Wright also contacted ISP district headquarters to ensure that the Tactical Response Team, including a trained Crisis Negotiator, would be sent to the scene (Doc. 95-20, Exh. G; Doc. 95-17, Exh. F, p. 12). Sergeant Wright himself had received training as a Crisis Negotiator and had been certified as a Crisis Negotiator during the 1990s (Doc. 95-18, Exh. F, pp. 33--36; Doc. 95-20, Exh. G). However, Sergeant Wright was not certified at the time of the incident at issue here and has not been certified since approximately 2003 (Doc. 95-20, Exh. G).

When Kay Jones arrived, she wanted to go talk to Melvin, but Sergeant Wright prevented her from approaching. In fact, Sergeant Wright informed her that if she attempted to go up there, she would be placed in handcuffs and arrested (Doc. 95-12, Exh. C, p. 21; Doc. 95-18, Exh. F, p. 42). Consequently, Kay remained in the driveway and was never permitted to speak with Melvin.

Meanwhile, the officers claim that Robert was disrupting their efforts to manage the scene and speak with Melvin. At one point, Robert purposely moved into Trooper Lawrence's line of sight so as to block his view of Melvin. Despite Trooper Lawrence's repeated signals to move out of his way, Robert refused to comply with Trooper Lawrence's directions and even flipped him off (Doc. 95-4, Exh. A, pp. 82--86). Consequently, Trooper Lawrence radioed other officers and informed them that Robert was hindering his ability to provide cover.

Additionally, Trooper Lawrence and Sergeant Barr claim that Robert's presence appeared to aggravate Melvin. According to Sergeant Barr, anytime his father approached, Melvin would raise his voice, his grip would tighten on the rifle, and he would point the gun to his own head or chest (Doc. 95-8, Exh. B, pp. 22--24; Doc. 95-9, Exh. B, pp. 30--34). However, when Robert would walk away, Melvin relaxed and placed the gun across his lap (Doc. 95-9, Exh. B, p. 33). Trooper Lawrence claims that he noticed the same behavior from Melvin (Doc. 95-15, Exh. D, p. 27). Robert admits that he probably did contribute to the tension of the situation, but claims it was minimal in comparison to the officers' actions (Doc. 95-4, Exh. A, p. 87).

Additionally, Robert tried to position himself to kick the gun out of Melvin's hand at an inattentive moment, but Sergeant Barr yelled at him to stop, which alerted Melvin to Robert's movements (Doc. 95-4, Exh. A, pp. 76--78). This upset Robert, who thought this might have worked, but Sergeant Barr tried to explain that he was concerned about an accidental discharge that could hurt Robert, Melvin, or the officers (Doc. 95-4, Exh. A, p. 78--79; Doc. 95-10, Exh. B, pp. 69--71).

The officers decided that Robert should be removed from the scene so that they could speak with Melvin without his interference. The officers claim that they told Robert repeatedly not to go back up to speak with Melvin (Doc. 95-17, Exh. F, p. 21). According to Sergeant Wright, when Robert made yet another attempt to walk toward Melvin in defiance of their orders, he was handcuffed and arrested by other officers (Doc. 95-17, Exh. F, pp. 21--26). Though Sergeant Wright himself did not make the arrest, he helped make the determination that Robert would be arrested if he continued to disobey orders (Doc. 95-17, Exh. F, p. 21).

Robert provides a slightly different version of the events. He does not indicate that he was told to stay away from Melvin. Rather, he says that one of the officers motioned him to come to the driveway to talk about the situation, "and as soon as I got up even with the garage two other deputies flew out of nowhere and put me in handcuffs" (Doc. 95-4, Exh. A, pp. 86--87). Robert claims, however, that he had followed all of the officers' instructions, except when he refused to move out Trooper Lawrence's line of sight (Doc. 95-5, Exh. A, p. 92).

After being handcuffed, Robert was instructed to sit on the ground, but refused to do so because it was wet and he could not physically do it (Doc. 95-4, Exh. A, p. 89). Instead, he offered to sit on the porch steps (Doc. 95-4, Exh. A, p. 89). At that point, an officer was directed to arrest Robert and take him to jail for obstruction of justice (Doc. 95-4, Exh. A, p. 89).

Minutes after Robert was removed from the scene, Melvin fatally shot himself in the chest. Robert was later released, and no charges ...

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