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Valdez v. Derrick

United States District Court, D. Colorado

February 10, 2016

MICHAEL VALDEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
PETER DERRICK III, Denver Police Officer, in his individual and in his official capacities; JOHN MCDONALD, Denver Police Officer, in his individual and in his official capacities; ROBERT MOTYKA, JR., Denver Police Officer, in his individual and in his official capacities; JEFF MOTZ, Denver Police Officer, in his individual and in his official capacities; KARL ROLLER, Denver Police Officer, in his individual and in his official capacities; and CITY AND COUNTY OF DENVER, Defendants.

ORDER DENYING MOTION TO DISMISS

RICHARD P. MATSCH, SENIOR DISTRICT JUDGE.

The core facts in the amended complaint are that Michael Valdez (“Valdez”) was a passenger in a friend’s pickup truck on January 16, 2013, when it was chased by police officers ending up in a crash and an exchange of gunfire between the police, the driver and two other occupants of the truck. Valdez alleges that he came out of the cab, lay face down on the ground and was shot in the back by a police officer resulting in serious injuries. He alleges that his fourth finger was shot off. The chase was initiated because of reports that the truck was involved in a shooting incident earlier in the day.

A fair inference from the factual allegations is that the police assumed that Valdez was an occupant of the truck at that earlier time and involved in the reported crime. The plaintiff alleges that he had accepted a ride from his friend, the driver, with no knowledge of what had happened earlier in the day.

Accepting the facts as pleaded, an innocent bystander unfortunate enough to be in the company of criminals was maimed by police, jailed and charged with crimes without probable cause to believe he was guilty of them. Those charges were ultimately dismissed by the prosecutor after Valdez had been two months in jail in extreme pain.

The plaintiff filed this civil action against the individual police officers alleged to be directly involved in the shooting scene.

The plaintiff’s amended complaint alleges multiple claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The First Claim is for excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The Second Claim alleges malicious prosecution in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. The Third Claim is for manufacture of inculpatory evidence in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Fourth Claim is unreasonable seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The Fifth Claim is false imprisonment in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment and the Sixth Claim is for a civil rights conspiracy in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment actionable under § § 1985 and 1986 in addition to § 1983 of Title 42, U.S.C. The City and County of Denver is joined as a defendant in all of the claims upon allegations that these violations resulted from a failure to train, supervise and discipline the police.

The defendants moved to dismiss all claims other than excessive force pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). The individual defendants assert qualified immunity.

The defendants fault the amended complaint for lack of factual allegations to support those claims, identifying the conduct of each defendant officer involved which, if true, would support a finding that the officer acted in a manner that would be contrary to clearly established law as would be known to a reasonably competent police officer in the same circumstances.

The standard for sufficiency under Fed. R. Civ. P. 8 is to plead sufficient facts to provide plausible grounds for a belief that discovery will reveal evidence that supports the claim for relief against the defendant.

All of the individual defendants were officers at the scene of the shootings. The plaintiff alleges that they observed that he was a passenger in the truck and that he was not shooting at the officers.

This was a scene of intense excitement and chaotic circumstances.

The defendants assert that their actions were supported by probable cause. There is no challenge to that justification for the pursuit of the truck matching the description given to the officers of the previous incident and the exchange of gunfire initiated by some of its occupants. It has been conceded that the shooting of Valdez while he lay prone on the ground was excessive force in making an arrest on the assumption that all occupants of the vehicle were involved in the earlier incident. Motyka has been identified as the officer shooting the plaintiff in the back. Valdez was also hit in a finger by a shot from an unknown shooter.

The officers could reasonably believe that Valdez was in the truck at the time of the reported incident giving rise to the chase. Accordingly, there was probable cause for the warrantless arrest for participation in that crime. But the warrant that was issued on the day after the arrest was based on the probable cause affidavit of Detective Gibbs for shooting at Officer Motyka, alleging that Officer Derrick had been “fired upon by the suspects” and that Officer Motyka airs that he has been shot through the windshield of his cruiser.” Exhibit A to Defendants’ Partial Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 15-1). There is nothing to connect Valdez to the shooting and the defendants present at the scene had no basis for believing that Valdez had shot at them. They saw him come out of the cab and lie down. There was no gun on or near him. He was no different from a woman occupant who also came out and lay on the ground. She was not arrested.

The criminal charges filed against Valdez on January 28, 2013, in 13CR222 were for attempted murder and assault on the officers. Valdez was not charged with earlier criminal conduct until the filing of 13CR589 on February 22 2013, which was based on a probable cause affidavit of Detective Robert Martinez, dated February 1, 2013, based ...


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