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Jones v. Hileman

May 6, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael J. Reagan United States District Judge


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

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, Defendants Hileman, Stamp, McGee, and Union County moved for summary judgment on all remaining claims (Doc. 96). Plaintiffs filed a response in opposition on March 9, 2009 (Doc. 103). 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. Sergeant Stamp primarily remained at the house, either speaking to Robert Jones or else helping other officers secure the scene. 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. 84-8, Exh. G, pp. 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 had been 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. Deputy Hileman and Sergeant Barr tried to keep the dialogue going in order to convince Melvin not to kill himself. Deputy Hileman "was in charge of dialogue with Melvin Jones . . . throughout the incident" (Doc. 96-2, Exh. 1, p. 25). Sergeant Barr claims that they hoped to keep Melvin relaxed until a trained negotiator could arrive (see Doc. 84-8, Exh. G, p. 36). During the entire period, Melvin alternated between pointing the rifle at himself and laying it across his lap.

Deputy Hileman's only training with suicide prevention was obtained while he studied at the police academy in 1996 (Doc. 96-2, Exh. 1, pp. 43--44). Consequently, his memory of the instruction was "a little hazy," but he did implement his training to the extent that he employed a positive dialogue with Melvin (Doc. 96-2, Exh. 1, p. 44). Deputy Hileman, however, did have prior experience in negotiating with at least one suicidal subject (Doc. 96-2, Exh. 1, pp. 34--35).

While Deputy Hileman and Sergeant Barr spoke with Melvin, Robert also participated in discussions, 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 Melvin 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.

Meanwhile, Sergeant Stamp and Deputy McGee helped set up a perimeter to secure the scene. 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. 84-9, Exh. H, p. 15--16). 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. 84-9, Exh. H, pp. 16, 19, 21).

When Kay Jones arrived, she wanted to 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. 84-10, Exh. I, p. 21; Doc. 84-5, Exh. D, p. 42). Consequently, Kay remained in the driveway and was never permitted to speak with Melvin.

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. 84-2, Exh. A, pp. 83--84). 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. 84-8, Exh. G, pp. 22--23, 31--32, 34). However, when Robert would walk away, Melvin relaxed and placed the gun across his lap. Trooper Lawrence claims that he noticed the same behavior from Melvin.

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. 84-2, Exh. A, pp. 77--78). This upset Robert, who thought this plan 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. 84-2, Exh. A, p. 77--78; Doc. 84-8, Exh. G, p. 69).

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. 84-5, Exh. D, p. 21). According to Sergeant Wright, Robert made yet another attempt to walk toward Melvin in defiance of their orders, at which point he was arrested (Doc. 84-5, Exh. D, pp. 21--26). Sergeant Stamp and Deputy McGee handcuffed Robert and ...

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