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Estate of Barela v. City and County of Denver

United States District Court, D. Colorado

March 16, 2016

ESTATE OF LORETTA BARELA, MARIE CRUZ, EDDIE ROSA, RAY ROSA, CLEOTILDE ROLL, as parent and next friend of JAZMIN TRUJILLO, Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY AND COUNTY OF DENVER, TIMOTHY HUCKSOLL, individually, BRIDGET RHODES, individually, TIMOTHY PACKMAN, individually, SCOTT CRAWFORD, individually, OFFICER SUSAN MERCADO, individually, OFFICER JENNIFER FRANCE, individually, and CHRISTOPHER PEREA, Defendants.

ORDER OVERRULING OBJECTIONS AND ADOPTING RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

Robert E. Blackburn United States District Judge

The matters before me are (1) the City and County of Denver’s Motion To Dismiss [#42][1] filed April 3, 2015; (2) the Motion To Dismiss [#52] of Timothy Packman, filed April 21, 2015; (3) the Denver Defendants’ Motion To Dismiss [#63] filed May 1, 2015; and (4) the related Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge [#90], filed June 23, 2015. The plaintiff filed objections [#95] to the recommendation to which the defendants filed responses [#96 & #97]. I overrule the objections, approve and adopt the recommendation, and grant the motions to dismiss.

As required by 28 U.S.C. § 636(b), I have reviewed de novo all portions of the recommendation to which the plaintiff objects. I have considered carefully the recommendation, objections, and applicable case law, as well as the arguments raised, authorities cited, and evidence presented by the parties. The motions at issue are motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Thus, the facts alleged by the plaintiffs in their complaint [#33] are assumed to be true.

I. FACTS ALLEGED & CLAIMS

This case arises from the November 18, 2012, death of Loretta Barela. In the early morning hours of November 18, defendant Christopher Perea and Ms. Barela were engaged in a violent dispute at their home in Denver, Colorado. At approximately 2:00 a.m., a partially clothed Ms. Barela fled the house seeking help. She awakened a neighbor across the street, Rita Espinoza, by pounding on her door. After opening the door, Ms. Espinoza retreated into her home in search of a shirt for Ms. Barela. When she returned to the front door, Ms. Espinoza saw Christopher Perea dragging Ms. Barela by her hair across the street and into the couple’s home.

At 1:56 a.m., Ms. Espinoza dialed 911 and stated to the responding dispatcher, defendant Timothy Hucksoll:

My neighbor came and was pounding on my door and she had pants on and no shirt on. Her boyfriend came out and was pulling her across the street. He locked the door and hitting her. And she’s a very small woman and he’s a pretty big man.

[Id. at ¶ 8]. Mr. Hucksoll told Ms. Espinoza that “they would ‘get the officers to go over there.’” [Id. at ¶¶ 9, 40]. Ms. Espinoza watched the Barela home for 45 minutes and noted that no officers arrived. At 2:45 a.m., Ms. Espinoza called 911 a second time.

The 911 dispatcher, defendant Bridgett Rhodes, responded:

Alright. Yeah, no. We haven’t forgotten about you. We’ve just been extremely busy tonight…We do have a call for officers to head out and check on them - or check her I should say.

[Id. at ¶¶ 11, 46]. At the time, police officers had not been dispatched to the Barela home. The plaintiffs allege that the dispatchers mis-categorized and under-prioritized the call concerning Ms. Barela.

At 3:03 a.m., police were dispatched to the Barela home. Approximately one hour and six minutes passed between the first call to 911 by Ms. Espinoza and the time when police were dispatched to the Barela home. The plaintiffs allege that during the time between Ms. Espinoza’s first phone call to 911 and the time when the police were dispatched, defendant dispatcher Timothy Packman reset a system timer three times and dispatcher defendant Scott Crawford reset the system timer once. Resetting this timer delayed the dispatch of police officers to the home of Ms. Barela. Officers arrived at the Barela home about four minutes after they were dispatched. Ms. Espinoza observed the officers knock on the door of the Barela home and shine lights into the house before departing without further investigation, approximately eighteen minutes after they arrived. The plaintiffs allege that defendant police officers Jennifer France and Susan Mercado were the officers who conducted this investigation at the Barela home.

At 8:15 a.m. that morning, Christopher Perea contacted the Denver police to report that Ms. Barela was dead. He said he believed he had killed her. Ms. Barela later was pronounced dead at the scene. Her death was a result of blunt force injury and strangulation. Her estimated time of death was between 4:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. Christopher Perea was convicted of first degree murder and is serving a life sentence.

Based on these facts, the plaintiffs assert five claims: (1) a Fourteenth Amendment due process claim against the dispatchers who handled the calls of Ms. Espinoza and the police officers who responded to the Barela residence; (2) a Fourteenth Amendment equal protection claim against the dispatchers who handled the calls of Ms. Espinoza; (3) a claim of deliberately indifferent training and supervision and deliberately indifferent failure to adopt policies necessary to prevent constitutional violations against the City and county of Denver; (4) a claim of willful and wanton conduct resulting in wrongful death against the dispatchers; and (5) a claim of ...


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