Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Roell v. Hamilton County

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

September 5, 2017

Nancy Roell, as executrix of the estate of Gary L. Roell, Sr., Plaintiff-Appellant,
Hamilton County, Ohio/Hamilton County Board of County Commissioners; Jim Neil, in his official capacity as the Hamilton County Sheriff; Joseph Huddleston, Matthew Alexander, and Willy Dalid, individually and in their official capacities as employees of Hamilton County, Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued: June 13, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio at Cincinnati. No. 1:14-cv-00637-Sandra S. Beckwith, District Judge.


          Alphonse A. Gerhardstein, GERHARDSTEIN & BRANCH, CO LPA, Cincinnati, Ohio, for Appellant.

          Pamela Sears, HAMILTON COUNTY PROSECUTOR'S OFFICE, Cincinnati, Ohio, for Appellees.

         ON BRIEF:

          Alphonse A. Gerhardstein, GERHARDSTEIN & BRANCH, CO LPA, Cincinnati, Ohio, for Appellant.

          Pamela Sears, Jerome A. Kunkel, HAMILTON COUNTY PROSECUTOR'S OFFICE, Cincinnati, Ohio, George D. Jonson, Linda L. Woeber, MONTGOMERY, RENNIE & JONSON, Cincinnati, Ohio, for Appellees.

          Before: MOORE, GILMAN, and COOK, Circuit Judges.


          RONALD LEE GILMAN, Circuit Judge.

          Gary Roell, who suffered from chronic mental illness, caused a disturbance at his neighbor's condominium while experiencing a condition known as excited delirium. Hamilton County sheriff's deputies arrived to find Roell half-naked, muttering unintelligibly, and standing next to a broken window holding a hose and the remnants of a hanging plant. While attempting to subdue Roell, the deputies physically struggled with him and unsuccessfully tased him multiple times. Roell stopped breathing during the encounter with the deputies and was pronounced dead shortly thereafter. His death was documented by the coroner as natural, resulting from his excited delirium.

         Roell's wife, Nancy Roell, appeals the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the individual deputies on her claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. She also appeals the grant of summary judgment in favor of Hamilton County on her claims under both § 1983 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (the ADA). For the following reasons, we AFFIRM the judgment of the district court.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual background

         Roell suffered from mental illness, including schizoaffective disorder and paranoid delusions, for many years. Although Roell's symptoms could be successfully controlled by medication, he had a history of noncompliance with his drug regimen. When he did not take his medication, Roell's mental health deteriorated and his unpredictable behavior rendered him a danger to both himself and to others.

         Roell stopped taking his medication in June 2013 and began exhibiting signs of mental decompensation by early August. Sometime in the late evening hours of August 12 or the early morning hours of August 13, Roell entered a state of excited delirium. Nancy Roell was out of town during this time, participating in a church mission in New Jersey. In the midst of his excited delirium, Roell damaged his and Nancy's condominium by scattering debris, clothes, and other household items inside and around the building. Roell then went to the condominium of his neighbor, Rachana Agarwal, and threw a flower pot through her window.

         Agarwal was awakened by the noise of shattering glass and went downstairs to find Roell standing outside of her condominium by the broken window. She attempted to talk to Roell, who was screaming something about "water." Roell then pulled the screen from Agarwal's window and threw it at her. At that point, Agarwal became scared and ran back inside the condominium, where she told her son, Soham, to call 911. Soham dialed 911 and handed the phone to Agarwal, who told the operator that her neighbor was "acting crazy." Agarwal testified that, during this time, Roell appeared to be angry, his face red and his eyes bulging, and he kept muttering unintelligible things about water. Roell was also pacing back and forth in front of Agarwal's broken window, periodically peering into her condominium.

         Deputies Matthew Alexander, Willy Dalid, and Joseph Huddleston responded to the dispatch of a "neighbor trouble" call. First to arrive at Agarwal's condominium were Deputies Alexander and Huddleston, who were told by Agarwal that Roell was "in the back breaking things." They entered the gated patio area and saw Roell standing by Agarwal's broken window holding a garden hose with a metal nozzle in one hand and a garden basket in the other. The garden basket was a hanging plant surrounded by peat moss and held together with plastic wire. Roell was wearing a t-shirt but was otherwise naked. According to Deputy Alexander, Roell was screaming "no" and something about water when he and Deputy Huddleston arrived.

         Deputy Huddleston proceeded to ask Roell what he was doing. Although Deputy Huddleston could not recall Roell's response, he testified that Roell immediately turned and approached him and Deputy Alexander in an aggressive manner. Roell still had the hose and the garden basket in his hands. Deputy Alexander similarly recalled that he and Deputy Huddleston told Roell to "show us your hands" and that Roell, "immediately, within seconds, " charged at them at a "pretty brisk walk." Deputy Alexander also said that Roell approached them still holding the hose and the garden basket.

          Soham Agarwal was watching the events unfold from inside the condominium and heard Roell screaming about how "he didn't have water and we had water." In addition, Soham observed the deputies telling Roell to calm down, to stop resisting, to come over to them, and to drop whatever he had in his hands. Soham recalled that Roell repeatedly shouted that he did not have a weapon. But Soham also testified that, despite Roell's assertions that he was unarmed, Roell was facing the deputies swinging the hose "as if he was trying to hit somebody." Rachana Agarwal, also watching from the inside of her condominium, confirmed that the deputies told Roell to calm down and that Roell was swinging the hose nozzle at the deputies. Agarwal observed the deputies and Roell approach each other, with Roell proceeding at a pace between a walk and a sprint, still holding the hose.

         As Roell approached the deputies, Deputy Huddleston told Roell to stop and to get on the ground or he would be tased. Deputy Huddleston then unholstered his X2 Taser and arced it as a warning. Arcing a taser does not deploy the device; it simply creates a sound. Roell flinched when Deputy Huddleston arced his taser but kept approaching. Deputy Huddleston once more arced his taser and commanded Roell to get on the ground. Roell again flinched but continued to approach the deputies. Deputy Huddleston then holstered his taser and reached out to grab one of Roell's arms. At the same time, Deputy Alexander grabbed Roell's other arm.

         Roell swung the garden basket at Deputy Huddleston as they met. Deputy Huddleston, Deputy Alexander, and Roell all fell to the ground outside of the gated patio area during their struggle. Roell was wet and slippery, either from sweat or water, and managed to break free from the deputies' grasp. As Roell tried to enter back through the patio gate, Deputy Huddleston tased him. Deputy Huddleston testified that taser appeared to have some effect because Roell buckled over a little bit. Roell nonetheless continued into the patio and closed the gate. The deputies followed him through the gate while Deputy Huddleston's taser was still on its five-second deployment cycle. By that time, Deputy Dalid had arrived at the scene. All three deputies tried to restrain Roell's arms, but were unsuccessful because he was combative and thrashing around on the ground. Deputy Alexander testified that he was punched in the face by Roell at some point during the struggle.

          While Deputies Alexander and Dalid attempted to hold Roell's arms, Deputy Huddleston tried to deploy his taser in drive-stun mode to the back of Roell's leg. This court has previously explained the use of a taser in drive-stun mode as follows:

In drive-stun mode, 'the operator removes the dart cartridge and pushes two electrode contacts located on the front of the taser directly against the victim. In this mode, the taser delivers an electric shock . . . [, ] but does not cause an override of the victim's central nervous system as it does in dart-mode.'

Cockrell v. City of Cincinnati, 468 F.App'x 491, 492 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Mattos v. Agarano, 661 F.3d 433, 443 (9th Cir. 2011) (en banc)). In deploying his taser in drive-stun mode, Deputy Huddleston hoped to complete the cycle necessary to achieve Roell's neuromuscular incapacitation, believing that one of the barbs from his previous attempt to tase Roell had not connected. The taser failed to incapacitate Roell, however, and he continued to struggle with the deputies on the ground. Deputy Huddleston again holstered his taser and tried to control Roell's legs, while Deputies Alexander and Dalid attempted to control Roell's arms.

         Roell managed to escape the grasp of all three deputies and stood up in a face-to-face position with Deputy Alexander, whose back was against a tree. Deputy Huddleston once more tased Roell using the device's dart-mode, this time deploying two barbs into his back. Although the taser still did not take effect, the deputies were able to get Roell on the ground and handcuff him. Because of Roell's continued resistance, the deputies had to restrain Roell's hands in front of his body by using two sets of handcuffs.

         Roell appeared "somewhat under control" once he was handcuffed, but he continued to thrash his legs and kicked Deputy Huddleston in the groin. Deputy Huddleston then sent Deputy Alexander to get leg shackles from the one of the patrol cars so that Roell's feet could also be restrained. Once the deputies shackled Roell's legs, they positioned him on his left side. Deputy Dalid was trying to control Roell's upper body by holding on to his right shoulder. Both Deputy Huddleston and Deputy Dalid testified that, once restrained, Roell went limp and began to snore. Roell would wake up, thrash around, and then go limp and lapse back into snoring. Deputy Dalid observed Roell doing this twice before he noticed that Roell had no pulse and had stopped breathing. By that time, Corporal (now Sergeant) Mikal Steers arrived on the scene and began administering CPR to Roell until the life squad arrived. Although Corporal Steers detected a faint pulse on several occasions, he was unable to revive Roell. The emergency medical technicians were also unable to revive Roell, and he was pronounced dead at the hospital emergency room.

         Dr. Jennifer Schott, the deputy coroner, determined that the cause of Roell's death was "excited delirium due to schizoaffective disorder" and that the manner of his death was natural. Included with the Death Record was a report drafted by Dr. Schott, stating that Roell had a history of "physical altercation with police officers" and that the "use of a conducted energy device against decedent" had occurred. Also noted were Roell's various abrasions and contusions, injuries from the taser barbs, and four broken ribs. The report, however, did not find that any of these injuries contributed to Roell's death. In her affidavit, Dr. Schott stated that she performed a microscopic examination of Roell's barb wounds and found no evidence that the conducted energy device used on Roell caused any electrical burns. Nor did Dr. Schott find any evidence that Roell had been asphyxiated, which is consistent with the absence of any evidence that the deputies applied compressive force in attempting to restrain Roell.

         B. Procedural background

         In August 2014, Nancy Roell, as the executrix of Roell's estate, filed suit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio against both Hamilton County and the Hamilton County Board of County Commissioners (collectively, Hamilton County), as well as against Sheriff Jim Neil and Deputies Alexander, Dalid, and Huddleston. She first asserted claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C § 1983, alleging that (1) Deputies Alexander, Dalid, and Huddleston violated Roell's Fourth Amendment right to be free from excessive force, and (2) Hamilton County and Sheriff Neil are subject to municipal liability for the deputies' alleged use of excessive force. Nancy Roell also brought intentional-discrimination and failure-to-accommodate claims against all of the defendants under Title II of the ADA. Finally, she asserted a state-law claim for the wrongful death of Roell against all of the defendants and a state-law claim for assault and battery against Deputies Alexander, Dalid, and Huddleston.

         In February 2016, the defendants filed a "Motion to Dismiss and Motion for Summary Judgment" pursuant to Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which the district court granted in part and denied the remainder as moot. First, the court held that Deputies Alexander, Dalid, and Huddleston were entitled to qualified immunity on Nancy Roell's § 1983 claim, with the result that Sheriff Neil and Hamilton County were also not liable under § 1983. Roell v. Hamilton Cty. Bd. of Cty. Comm'rs, No. 1:14-CV-637, 2016 WL 4363112, at *14 (S.D. Ohio Aug. 16, 2016). The court next ruled that Nancy Roell had failed to establish a viable claim under the ADA because she did not produce any evidence that the defendants intentionally discriminated against Roell because of his disability. Id. Finally, the court held that Nancy Roell had abandoned her state-law claims against Hamilton County and Sheriff Neil. The court then declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state-law claims asserted against the individual deputies and therefore denied as moot the defendants' motion to dismiss and/or for summary judgment as to those claims. Id.

         In rendering its decision, however, the district court did not specify whether it resolved the defendants' motion using the summary-judgment standard or the motion-to-dismiss standard. Id. But the content of the defendants' motion, the extensive discovery period, and the court's consideration of materials outside of the pleadings indicate that the case was decided on summary-judgment grounds. In any event, Nancy Roell appeals only the district court's grants of summary judgment in favor of (1) Deputies Alexander, Dalid, and Huddleston on her § 1983 claim, and (2) Hamilton County on her § 1983 and her ADA claims.

         II. ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.