Federal Court Lawsuit Against City and Former Police Chief Dismissed

September 18, 2008
by: 
Dwayne Page

A Federal Court lawsuit, filed by Roy Ray, against former Smithville Police Chief Thomas J. Stufano and the City of Smithville has been dismissed.

U.S. District Judge Robert L. Echols has granted Stufano and the City's motion for summary judgment to which Ray, who was represented by Adam Parrish of Lebanon, failed to file responses.

According to court documents, "a party may obtain summary judgment if the evidence establishes there is not a genuine issue of material fact for trial and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. If the non-moving party does not so respond, summary judgment will be entered if appropriate."

Ray filed the lawsuit last year claiming he suffered injuries and that his civil and constitutional rights were violated during a misdemeanor traffic stop in February, 2007.

Ray had originally sought a jury trial and asked for compensatory and punitive damages along with his attorney's fees.

According to the memorandum, Ray filed this action claiming that Stufano used excessive force against him during an arrest on February 23rd, 2007 and the city failed to train and discipline Stufano and other police officers adequately in the prevention of excessive use of force. Ray also brought claims under state law for battery, negligence, and malicious prosecution."

Concerning his claims of excessive force, the court stated that "Ray bore the burden to prove that Stufano's use of force against him was unreasonable under the circumstances."

According to the court's finding, "Stufano pulled Ray over for tailgating his police car. While the crime Ray allegedly committed is not a particularly serious one, Ray's conduct upon being pulled over escalated an ordinary traffic stop into a more volatile situation. After stopping his truck, Ray got out and started walking towards Stufano's police car. Stufano observed a bulge in Ray's pants pocket, and Stufano believed the bulge was a gun. It turned out that Ray was, in fact, carrying a pistol in his pants pocket without a concealed weapons permit. Stufano believed Ray to be a threat to his safety and the safety of others in the vicinity, so he called for backup."

"According to Ray, when he got as far as the tailgate of his truck, he realized Stufano was angry and Stufano violently ordered him to go back to his truck and get in it. Stufano issued this order possibly twice before Ray retreated as far as the tailgate of his truck, where he leaned up against the tailgate looking at Stufano. Ray did not obey Stufano's direct order to return to his vehicle, but rather stood at the tailgate in defiance of Stufano's lawful authority. Stufano's order to Ray to return to the cab of the truck was reasonable considering Stufano had observed a bulge in Ray's pants that he thought to be a firearm. Concerned that his own safety and that of others was in danger, Stufano was forced to make a split-second decision about a proper course of action in light of Ray's resistance to a direct order and the lack of police backup to insure security at the scene."

"Stufano ran up to Ray, told him to put his hands on the tailgate of the truck, and swung Ray around so that Ray grabbed the tailgate. Stufano kicked Ray's feet apart, while Ray continued to talk to Stufano, asking what he had done. Ray says he was placed in an uncomfortable physical position and he felt his pacemaker wires pulling. Stufano then put Ray's left hand behind his back and pulled up on it in an effort to control Ray while he was waiting for police backup to arrive with handcuffs. When Ray continued to struggle, Stufano pulled Ray's arm higher. Stufano patted Ray down for weapons, which included a search of Ray's groin area, which Ray says caused him pain. Two officers arrived on the scene within two minutes of Stufano's call for assistance and Ray was handcuffed and taken into custody."

Ray was never charged with any crimes as a result of this traffic stop.

According to the court's findings, " Ray has not created a genuine issue of material fact for trial on his excessive force claim. Accepting that Ray experienced some pain and injury, not every push or shove at the scene of an arrest amounts to a constitutional violation and even an allegedly rough, intrusive, and hostile pat down search of the groin area does not amount to a constitutional violation if it was objectively reasonable for the officer to examine that part of the body for a concealed weapon in connection with a frisk."

"Having failed to respond to Stufano's summary judgment motion, Ray has not presented any evidence to contradict the defense expert's opinion that Stufano acted in an objectively reasonable manner in accordance with standard police procedure in light of the facts and circumstances facing him at the time. Thus, Stufano is entitled to summary judgment on the excessive force claim."

"The City is also entitled to summary judgment. Ray cannot hold the city liable on theories of failure to train, observing that he must first establish that the officer committed a constitutional violation before the municipality may be held liable for failure to train. There is no evidence in this record that the city failed to train Stufano."

"Having determined that Stufano and the City are entitled to summary judgment on Ray's federal claims, the court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Ray's state-law claims for battery, negligence, and malicious prosecution. Those claims will be dismissed without prejudice."

"For all the reasons stated, Ray failed to respond to the motions for summary judgment and both defendants have established that they are entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law. Accordingly, Ray's claims will be dismissed with prejudice and his state-law claims will be dismissed without prejudice in light of the court's decision not to exercise supplemental jurisdiction."

The city was represented by the attorney firm for the Tennessee Municipal League, L. Dean Moore, Daniel M. Rader III, Michael E. Clift, Walter E. Fitzpatrick III, Richard Lane Moore, and Daniel H. Rader IV.

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