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Woodward v. Menlo Park 1983 MSJ

Woodward v. Menlo Park 1983 MSJ

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Published by: Northern District of California Blog on Mar 08, 2011
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02/01/2013

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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURTFOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIAOAKLAND DIVISIONROBERT LEE WOODWARD, Plaintiff,vs.CITY OF MENLO PARK, et al.,Defendants.Case No: C 09-3331 SBA
ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT’SMOTION FOR SUMMARYJUDGMENT
 Dkt. 35Plaintiff brings this
pro se
civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendantsstemming from the alleged use of excessive force against Plaintiff during his arrest on February3, 2007. The parties are presently before the Court on Defendant Officer Ron Venzon’sMotion for Summary Judgment. Dkt. 35. Having read and considered the papers filed inconnection with this matter and being fully informed, the Court hereby DENIES the motion forthe reasons set forth below. The Court, in its discretion, finds this matter suitable for resolutionwithout oral argument. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 78(b).
I.
 
BACKGROUNDA.
 
P
ROCEDURAL
B
ACKGROUND
 
On July 21, 2009, Plaintiff, appearing
pro se
, filed a complaint in this action against theCity of Menlo Park (“the City”), alleging that the City violated his Fourth Amendment rightsguaranteed under § 1983. On August 8, 2009, the City filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff’sclaims, on the ground that no cause of action was alleged upon which the City could be foundliable. Dkt. 8. By order dated November 16, 2009, the Court granted the City’s motion todismiss and granted Plaintiff leave to amend his complaint. Dkt. 18. Plaintiff filed a FirstAmended Complaint (“FAC”) on November 23, 2009, naming as defendants the City, MayorAndy Cohen, the Menlo Park Police Department, Police Chief Bruce Goitia, and Officer Ron
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Venzon. On December 14, 2009, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss certain causes of actionand to dismiss defendants Cohen and Goitia. In response, Plaintiff asserted that his sole causeof action is for excessive force under the Fourth Amendment. On March 8, 2010, the Courtgranted Defendants’ motion, dismissing certain causes of action against Defendants, anddismissing with prejudice defendants Cohen, Goitia, the City, and the Menlo Park PoliceDepartment. Dkt. 30. Thus, the only remaining cause of action before the Court is Plaintiff’sfirst cause of action for excessive force against Officer Venzon (“Defendant”).Now, Defendant moves for summary judgment on the grounds that no triable issues of material fact exist with respect to: (1) Defendant’s assertion that his use of force duringPlaintiff’s arrest was objectively reasonable under the circumstances; and (2) Defendant’sclaim of qualified immunity. Dkt. 35. Defendant also asserts that, in the alternative, Plaintiff’sclaim is barred by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994).
B.
 
F
ACTUAL
B
ACKGROUND
 1.
 
Defendant’s Account of Events
In support of his motion for summary judgment, Defendant submits his declaration,which includes as exhibits the Menlo Park Police Department Misdemeanor Report regardingPlaintiff’s arrest on February 3, 2007, the citation Defendant issued to Plaintiff for violation of California Health and Safety Code § 11364 (possession of narcotic paraphernalia), and theMenlo Park Police Department’s “Use of Force Policy.” Venzon Decl., Dkt. 36. Defendantalso submits the declaration of his attorney, which attaches transcripts from a suppressionhearing and plea hearing in Plaintiff’s underlying criminal case. Flegel Decl., Dkt. 37.In his declaration, Defendant states that on February 3, 2007, at around 9:48 p.m., hewas on duty and on patrol in East Palo Alto as part of the “Operation Safe Streets” task force inwhich the Menlo Park Police Department was participating. Id. ¶ 4. Defendant was in fullpolice uniform and was driving an unmarked police vehicle. Id. Defendant was partnered withOfficer Joseph Hinkston, who was riding in the passenger seat. Id.While driving northbound on Bay Road in Menlo Park, Defendant observed Plaintiff walking northbound on the west side of Bay Road. Id. ¶ 5. Defendant drove to the west side
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of the roadway and stopped approximately six to eight feet from Plaintiff. Id. As he wasexiting his patrol vehicle, Defendant told Plaintiff that he was a police officer and askedPlaintiff if he could speak with him. Id. Plaintiff continued to walk northbound on Bay Road,and then turned to acknowledge Defendant and asked Defendant what he wanted. Id. WhenDefendant again explained to Plaintiff that he was a police officer and that he wanted to talk with him, Defendant noticed that Plaintiff had placed his left hand in his left-side front pantspocket, removed an unknown object, and proceeded to “cup” his hands over the object in anattempt to conceal it. Id. At that moment, Defendant witnessed Plaintiff drop the object to theground as he continued to walk northbound on Bay Road. Id.Defendant states that he immediately walked over to the object and recognized it to be acocaine base pipe. Id. ¶ 6. Defendant further states that, based on his training and experience,he “know[s] that persons who use cocaine base will often attempt to hide or discard theinstruments from police to prevent prosecution.” Id. Defendant explains that he then yelled atPlaintiff to stop. Id. Instead of stopping, Plaintiff started running northbound on Bay Road,attempting to flee from the scene. Id. Defendant then pursued Plaintiff on foot. Id. Defendantstates that he “was aware from [his] experience working in the area as a police officer that [he]was in a high crime and high narcotic activity area, and that narcotics offenders often carrysome type of weapon.” Id. ¶ 7. He further states that “because of this, [he] was concerned for[his] safety and the safety of others in the community.” Id.Defendant caught up with Plaintiff approximately twenty or thirty feet from where heobserved Plaintiff dropping the cocaine base pipe. Id. ¶ 8. Defendant states that he “was ableto wrap both of [his] arms around the upper torso portion of [Plaintiff’s] body and used [his]body weight to pull him to the ground, landing on the left side of his body.” Id. Defendantexplains that Plaintiff “did not resist once on the ground, and [Defendant] was able to handcuff him with the assistance of Officer Hinkston without further incident.” Id. Thereafter,Defendant advised Plaintiff on the scene that he was under arrest for violation of CaliforniaHealth and Safety Code § 11364 (possession of narcotic paraphernalia) and issued Plaintiff a
Case4:09-cv-03331-SBA Document44 Filed03/02/11 Page3 of 13

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