United States District Court, D. Colorado
ESTATE OF PAUL CASTAWAY, by and through Lillian Castaway a/k/a Lynn Eagle Feather, Plaintiff,
MICHAEL TRAUDT, Defendant.
ORDER GRANTING SUMMARY JUDGMENT
D. Domenico United States District Judge.
threatening and injuring his mother with a knife, Paul
Castaway fled to a nearby neighborhood where he was chased by
Defendant Denver Police Officer Michael Traudt. When Mr.
Castaway turned, walked toward Officer Traudt and refused to
drop the knife, Officer Traudt shot and killed him. Mr.
Castaway's estate brought suit, and the sole remaining
claim alleges unconstitutional use of deadly force in
violation of the Fourth Amendment. Before the Court is
Officer Traudt's motion for summary judgment on qualified
immunity grounds. Because the Plaintiff has not shown a
violation of Mr. Castaway's clearly established
constitutional rights under the facts of this case, the Court
GRANTS the motion.
in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff, the record
shows the following. On July 12, 2015, Paul Castaway attacked
his mother, Lynn Eagle Feather, at her home by placing a
knife to her throat, causing her to flee to the nearby Denver
Indian Center on Morrison Road. Defendant Officer Michael
Traudt and Officer Jerry Lara, who were partnered that day,
were dispatched to respond. As the officers were on their
way, the dispatcher described the incident as a
“stabbing” because the knife had broken Ms. Eagle
the officers arrived at the Indian Center, Ms. Eagle Feather
showed them a small, but visible, puncture wound on her neck.
She told the officers that Mr. Castaway entered her apartment
without her permission, appeared to be drunk or high and
extremely angry, poked her in the throat with a knife, and
threatened her life and the lives of her two young
grandchildren who were with her. She also told Officers Lara
and Tradut she was “scared to death” of her son
and “afraid that he [was] going to take [her]
life”; he was mentally ill, on drugs, and an alcoholic;
he had previously assaulted her; and he needed to go to
prison to get help “before he hurts somebody
else.” Ms. Eagle Feather told the officers that Mr.
Castaway might still be in her apartment.
entering Mr. Castaway's information into a law
enforcement computer database, the officers learned that Ms.
Eagle Feather had a protection order against him, and that he
was wanted on two active arrest warrants: one for
“assault, kidnapping, hit & run/domestic
violence” and one for a failure to appear in a
time, Sergeant Tim Hyatt had arrived and offered to check the
apartment with Officers Lara and Traudt, which they did. But
before they left, Carmelita Nichole Arellano-Black Elk
informed them that Mr. Castaway had left the apartment,
approached her car carrying a knife and threatened to kill
her, and that he might have gone back inside. Once inside the
apartment, Officer Traudt observed signs of an altercation,
including broken glass and the living room in disarray. Mr.
Castaway was not there, and the officers returned to the
Indian Center where Ms. Eagle Feather asked to press charges.
After completing the interview, Ms. Eagle Feather asked the
officers to accompany her back to her apartment to ensure
that Mr. Castaway had not returned because she was afraid
that he would return and kill her. Ms. Eagle Feather
preferred to walk back to her apartment, so the officers
planned to meet her there in their patrol car.
officers were approaching her apartment, Ms. Eagle Feather
pointed out Mr. Castaway across Morrison Road, and the
officers drove to his location. As they started to get out of
the car, Mr. Castaway saw them and started quickly walking
away, eventually breaking into a run. Officer Traudt yelled,
“Denver police. Stop.” But Mr. Castaway ran into
a nearby trailer park through an opening in a chain link
fence. Officer Lara followed Mr. Castaway and Officer Traudt
ran parallel along the fence line, then jumping the fence to
enter the trailer park.
Traudt noticed that Mr. Castaway was carrying a knife in his
right hand, which he estimated to be twelve to eighteen
inches long.The officers ordered Mr. Castaway to drop
the knife and get on the ground, but he instead put the knife
to his own throat while “bobbing” in place.
Officer Traudt drew his gun and yelled, “Drop the
knife! Drop the knife! Drop the knife.” Mr. Castaway
responded, “Kill me, pussy. Kill me, you fucking
pussy” about three or four times before turning and
Traudt re-holstered his weapon and again gave chase. Mr.
Castaway paused briefly for a second time, but when Officer
Traudt ordered him to drop the knife, Mr. Castaway did not
comply and began running away again. During the pursuit,
Officer Traudt noticed that children were present in the
area, and he yelled for them to return to their
homes. Mr. Castaway ran around a corner, and
behind a fence, and both officers lost sight of him.
Traudt and Lara drew their guns and, as they turned the
corner and came within approximately ten feet of Mr.
Castaway, he began advancing towards them with the knife held
to his neck. Children ran to the area behind the officers.
Officer Traudt immediately ordered Mr. Castaway to drop the
knife and Officer Lara ordered him to get on the ground, but
Mr. Castaway did not comply with either command. Officer Lara
holstered his firearm to switch to his TASER, and Mr.
Castaway began quickly walking toward Officer Traudt. Both
officers continued backing up to create space while ordering
Mr. Castaway to stop and to drop the knife.
backward, Officer Traudt brushed into a garbage can and
walked over a speed bump, which he describes as causing him
to lose his footing and to feel like he might be running out
of space to retreat. Mr. Castaway continued advancing, and
when he was approximately five to six feet away,
Officer Traudt fired three shots in quick succession-all of
which struck Mr. Castaway, who fell to the ground and died
from his injuries.
length of the interaction with Mr. Castaway, from the time
the officers first radioed the foot chase until they radioed
shots had been fired, was forty-two seconds.
11, 2016, Mr. Castaway's estate filed this action, by and
through Ms. Eagle Feather, against the City and County of
Denver, Officers Traudt and Lara in their personal and
official capacities, and then-Police Chief Robert C. White in
his personal and official capacities. (Doc. 1.) On October
10, 2016, Defendants moved to dismiss for failure to state a
claim and on qualified immunity grounds. (Doc. 19.) On
September 28, 2017, Judge Wiley Y. Daniel granted the
motion in part, dismissing the entire action except the
excessive force claim brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
1983 against Officer Traudt in his individual capacity. (Doc.
33.) The case was then delayed significantly while Mr.
Castaway's estate obtained certain documentation from the
Denver Probate Court. (See Docs. 63-67.) On
September 12, 2019, Officer Traudt filed this motion for
summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds. (Docs. 83,
89, 91.) The motion is ripe for review.
Summary Judgment Standards
purpose of summary judgment is to assess whether trial is
necessary. White v. York Int'l Corp., 45 F.3d
357, 360 (10th Cir. 1995). Summary judgment is appropriate if
there is no genuine dispute of material fact and the movant
is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(c); Adamson v. Multi Cmty. Diversified Servs.,
Inc., 514 F.3d 1136, 1145 (10th Cir. 2008). A fact is
material if it could affect the outcome of the suit under the
governing law; a dispute of fact is genuine if a rational
jury could find for the nonmoving party on the evidence
presented. Id. If a reasonable juror could not
return a verdict for the nonmoving party, summary judgment is
proper and there is no need for a trial. Celotex Corp. ...