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7th Circuit affirms ruling for officers on excessive force claims

December 13, 2012

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals found no reason to disturb a judgment in favor of several officers involved in a standoff and shooting death of a Fort Wayne man in 2005. Rudy Escobedo’s estate challenged the jury verdict and summary judgment for the defendants on excessive force claims.

In the early morning of July 19, 2005, Rudy Escobedo became suicidal and ingested cocaine. After calling his sisters, he called 911 to report he was suicidal. He barricaded himself in his bedroom in his 7th floor apartment in Fort Wayne. Officers tried to negotiate Escobedo out of his apartment to no avail. Eventually, a tactical team, knowing Escobedo was armed, threw several cans of tear gas into his apartment and entered his apartment. The officers threw two flash-bang devices in the apartment, with one thrown into his bedroom. The police believed Escobedo was going to shoot based on his actions in the bedroom, and two officers opened fire, killing him.

Escobedo’s estate sued the city of Fort Wayne and several of the officers involved. After a variety of motions were filed and a partial summary judgment was granted and appealed, the case went to trial on the excessive force claims, and the jury found in favor of the defendants. The District Court also granted judgment as a matter of law in favor of the defendants after the jury entered its verdict.  

Escobedo’s estate appealed on several grounds, including that the 7th Circuit should reverse the grant of judgment as a matter of law to the defendant commanders on qualified immunity grounds because the court improperly weighed evidence and concluded that Escobedo posed a threat to the public. The estate cited the 7th Circuit’s opinion involving this case from 2010 that upheld denial of qualified immunity to the defendants on their motion for summary judgment.

“However, facts emerged at trial that caused the district court to conclude that ‘the police had a much greater concern that Escobedo was an imminent threat to others,’ thus changing its conclusion on the qualified immunity question,” Judge Daniel Manion wrote. “When we affirmed the district court’s summary judgment ruling, the facts concerning the degree of danger Escobedo presented were not nearly as developed as they were after trial.”

In its 45-page opinion released Thursday, Estate of Rudy Escobedo (deceased) (Raquel Hanic, Personal Representative of Estate) v. Officer Brian Martin, et al., 11-2426, the 7th Circuit found the District Court did not improperly admit evidence unknown to the officers at the time they used force against Escobedo; that the court committed harmless error when it prohibited the estate from introducing evidence at trial of Escobedo’s death for purposes of calculating damages; there was no error in granting judgment as a matter of law on qualified immunity grounds to the defendant commanders nor to officer Scott Straub; and that the District Court did not err when it granted summary judgment in favor of officers Brian Martin and Jason Brown on the estate’s excessive force claim for shooting Escobedo.

 

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