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Thorne v. Steubenville Police Officer

November 29, 2006

DANIEL THORNE, JR., ET AL., PLAINTIFF,
v.
STEUBENVILLE POLICE OFFICER, JOHN LELLES, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Algenon L. Marbley

Magistrate Judge Abel

OPINION & ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter comes before the Court on the following motions: (1) Motion for Summary Judgment by the City of Steubenville, Ohio ("Steubenville" or "City"), Officer John Lelles ("Officer Lelles"), Officer Edward Karovic ("Officer Karovic"), Mayor Domineck Mucci, ("Mayor Mucci"), City Manager Bruce Williams ("City Manager Williams"), and Police Chief William McCafferty ("Chief McCafferty") (collectively, "Defendants"); and (2) Defendants' Motion to Strike Exhibits Submitted in Support of Plaintiffs' Responsive Brief in Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. For the reasons set forth herein, the Court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment and GRANTS Defendants' Motion to Strike.

II. STATEMENT OF FACTS

A. Background

In this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action, Plaintiffs, Daniel "Danny" Thorne, Jr., and his parents, Mr. Daniel Thorne, Sr. and Mrs. Sharon Thorne (collectively, "Plaintiffs"), allege that Officers Lelles and Karovic, Steubenville police officers, violated Danny's Fourth Amendment rights when they seized him in his family's backyard, allegedly beat him with a Maglite flashlight, and arrested him for underage drinking. The Plaintiffs' Complaint alleges the following facts.

1. The Arrest

On June 6, 2004, between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m., Officers Karovic and Lelles responded to a reported fight occurring at a party in the 300 block of Buena Vista in Steubenville. Other officers were already on the scene, and Officer Pete Basil ("Officer Basil") directed Officers Karovic and Lelles to search for four male suspects who had fled on foot. Officer Basil described one of the suspects as a white male wearing a red shirt.

After determining that the other officers did not need assistance at the scene of the party, Officers Karovic and Lelles began to search between the surrounding houses for the suspects. Officer Lelles observed evidence of footprints in the dew on the grass, and Officer Karovic heard voices coming from a nearby yard, which was blocked by an approximately six-foot-high wooden fence. Officer Karovic then looked over the fence where he observed a white male in a red t-shirt talking on a mobile phone.*fn1 The white male was Plaintiff, Daniel "Danny" Thorne, Jr. ("Danny"), and he was standing in the backyard of his family's home.

Officer Karovic claims that upon viewing Danny over the fence, he called for Danny to come over, and identified himself as a police officer. He asserts, however, that Danny responded by ducking behind the deck of the Thornes' above-ground pool. Further, Officer Karovic testified that, though he repeatedly asked Danny to come out of hiding, Danny would not reveal himself and failed to respond to any of his repeated commands. Danny admits that he hid from Officer Karovic, but he denies that he heard either Officer Karovic or Officer Lelles identify themselves as police officers until after he hid under the deck.*fn2 Further, Danny claims that he hid underneath the deck because he did not know the two men who were in his backyard, and he was scared.

At that point, Officer Karovic circled around the pool and observed Danny "crawling underneath" the deck to the other side, close to the rear of the fence. Officer Karovic then circled the pool a second time, and Danny started to crawl back toward the house. Officer Karovic testified that he tried to grab Danny to stop him, but Danny evaded him. Officer Karovic claimed his "danger cues were up" because he did not know who Danny was, and did not know why he was avoiding the officers.

Danny then called his father, Daniel Thorne, Sr. ("Thorne, Sr.") on his mobile phone requesting help. Thorne, Sr. subsequently yelled out of the window of his house for Danny to get to the side door. Officer Karovic testified that at that time, he was able to grab Danny with a firm grip and take him to the side door of the Thorne house. Officer Karovic testified that it was his intent to seize Danny in furtherance of the investigation of the nearby disturbance. Danny testified that Officer Karovic did not make contact with him until they both reached the side door of the house. Further, Danny testified that when he was running from under the deck to the side door of the house, he observed for the first time that Officer Karovic was in uniform. He claims, however, that he does not recall either Officer Karovic or Officer Lelles saying anything to him while he was running toward the house.

Danny asserts that while they waited for Thorne, Sr. to open the side door to the house, Officer Karovic hit Danny three times above his right eye with an approximately eighteen or twenty-inch Maglite flashlight.*fn3 Officer Karovic denies hitting Danny and states that he had a firm grip on Danny's arm. Thorne, Sr. did not witness Officer Karovic's alleged striking of Danny, but he testified that before opening the door, he heard his son say "quit hitting me," and that upon opening the door, he saw Officer Karovic's Maglite near or laying on Danny's face. On the other hand, Officer Lelles testified that he did not see Officer Karovic hit Danny, and noted that he never heard Danny say, "quit hitting me." Further, the Thorne family's neighbor, Penny Keeder testified that she witnessed the events that occurred between Danny and Officer Karovic and did not see Officer Karovic hit Danny.*fn4

At that point, Thorne, Sr. let Danny into the house. Thorne, Sr. had a brief conversation with Officer Lelles, which led Thorne, Sr. to invite both Officer Lelles and Officer Karovic into the house through the front door. Once inside the Thornes' house, Officer Lelles asked to see Danny, explaining to Thorne, Sr. that Danny had run from the police. Upon hearing this, Thorne, Sr. began yelling at Danny.

Officer Lelles testified that at that time, he noticed that Danny's eyes were "dilated" and "bloodshot," and that Danny smelled of alcohol. Officer Lelles testified that he asked Danny if he had been drinking, and Danny responded in the affirmative. Danny, however, does not remember this discussion and denies that it occurred. Moreover, Thorne, Sr. testified that when Officer Lelles asked Danny if he had been drinking, Danny did not respond.

Thorne, Sr. then stated that he and his wife had provided Danny wine with dinner when they had eaten together at around 7:00 p.m. that evening.*fn5 Officer Lelles then announced his intent to arrest Danny for underage consumption of alcohol, and subsequently arrested Danny for a violation of both Ohio law and Section 529.021 of Steubenville's Codified Ordinances.*fn6 The officers drove Danny to the county jail where he was booked. The charges against Danny, however, were ultimately dismissed.*fn7

Plaintiffs claim that due to the alleged beating Danny suffered at the hands of Officer Karovic, Danny suffered a concussion, which was diagnosed on June 6, 2004. Danny also underwent six months of treatment for a scratched cornea in his right eye, an injury that he did not have before June 6, 2004. Further, Plaintiffs assert that Danny now requires medication to control his continuous and chronic headaches, suffers sever mood swings, and is unable to concentrate in school or at his job.

2. The Internal Investigation

Plaintiffs requested that the Steubenville Police Department perform an internal investigation into the events transpiring at the Thorne residence on the morning of June 6, 2004. Sergeant John C. Sullivan ("Sergeant Sullivan"), internal affairs officer for the Steubenville Police Department, investigated the incident as prompted by Plaintiffs' complaints. Sergeant Sullivan interviewed a number of individuals including Plaintiffs, Officers Basil, Lelles and Karovic, and Penny Keeder. Further, Officer Karovic submitted to a polygraph examination, the results of which confirmed that the he was telling the truth.*fn8 Danny did not submit to a polygraph examination.*fn9 On September 20, 2004, after reviewing all the evidence, Sergeant Sullivan issued a report concluding that Plaintiffs' complaints regarding Officer Karovic's alleged use of excessive force and alleged false arrest of Danny were "unfounded." Captain Sloane and Chief McCafferty subsequently reviewed and approved Sergeant Sullivan's findings on September 27, 2004 and October 4, 2004, respectively.

3. The Steubenville Consent Decree

At the time of the incident, Steubenville was operating under a Consent Decree, which it had entered into on September 4, 1997, pursuant to the settlement of a case brought against them by the United States Department of Justice ("DOJ"). According to the terms of the Consent Decree, Steubenville was required to develop and implement an extensive training policy for all of its police officers as well as an internal affairs policy. The internal affairs officer had no discretion to decide whether to investigate a citizen complaint; Internal Affairs is required to investigate all citizen complaints. Steubenville was also required to track all uses of force and all warrantless searches and seizures.

Moreover, the government and Steubenville jointly selected an independent auditor, Charles D. Reynolds ("Reynolds"), to monitor Steubenville's compliance with the terms of the Consent Decree. Reynolds was required to review and to evaluate all of the City's internal affairs reports, use of force reports, and warrantless search and seizure reports, including all reports generated by the Thorne incident.

In January 2003, Reynolds determined that Steubenville was in substantial compliance with the terms of the Consent Decree. Moreover, after the Thorne incident occurred, Reynolds also found that Steubenville had maintained substantial compliance with the terms of the Consent Decree through the remainder of 2004.

The terms of the Consent Decree provided that the parties could terminate the Decree "at any time after both five years [had] elapsed [from] the date of entry of th[e] Decree, and substantial compliance [had] been maintained for no less than two years." Defs.' Motion at Ex. J ¶ 96 (emphasis in original). Accordingly, on March 3, 2005, finding that the terms had been met, the court ordered the termination of the Consent Decree.

B. Procedural History

On January 3, 2005, Plaintiffs filed the instant complaint (the "Complaint"), asserting the following 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims against Defendants in their individual and official capacities.*fn10 In count one, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants Officers Karovic and Lelles falsely arrested Danny when they improperly and unlawfully detained him at his own residence without probable cause. In count two, Plaintiffs assert that Steubenville ratifies a policy of "deliberate indifference towards its citizens," allowing its police officers to conduct false arrests. In count three, Plaintiffs claim that Defendant Officer Karovic used excessive force against Danny in violation of Danny's Fourth Amendment rights, causing him serious physical and psychological injury. In count four, Plaintiffs assert that Steubenville has maintained a policy of "utilizing excessive force against its citizens during seizures over the years." In count five, Plaintiffs claim that Steubenville has a policy of failing to review and to investigate properly its citizen complaints over the years. Finally, in count six, Plaintiffs assert that Steubenville has a policy and practice "of allowing or tacitly authorizing" its police officers to use inappropriate force in conducting searches and seizures.

Plaintiffs request the following relief: (1) monetary damages in excess of $25,000 against Defendants Officers Karovic and Lelles; (2) monetary damages in excess of $150,000 from Steubenville for allowing and maintaining a policy and practice which permits false arrests to occur; (3) monetary damages in excess of $250,000 from Officers Karovic and Lelles for Danny's alleged physical injuries; (4) monetary damages in excess of $25,000 from Steubenville for allegedly failing to supervise, train, and discipline its police officers; (5) extraordinary damages against Officer Karovic in excess of $1.5 million; and (6) an order enjoining the United States Department of Justice ("DOJ") from vacating the consent decree in place in Steubenville.

On May 8, 2006, Defendants moved for summary judgment on all of Plaintiffs' claims. On June 14, 2006, Plaintiffs moved to bifurcate the issues of officer and municipal liability, but the Court denied Plaintiffs' motion on August 9, 2006. On July 23, 2006, after Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment had been fully briefed, Defendants moved to strike a number of the exhibits cited by Plaintiffs in their Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. The Court entered an order on October 19, 2006, granting in part Defendants' Motion to Strike and reserved its judgment on Defendants' ...


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