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Carpenter v. Trammel

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Asheville Division

May 13, 2019

RACHEL CARPENTER, as Administratrix of the Estate of PEDRO CRUZ-AMADO, Plaintiff,
WILSON SCOTT TRAMMEL, et al., Defendants.



         THIS MATTER is before the Court on the Defendants' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment [Doc. 28].


         This is an excessive force case arising from a Cleveland County Sheriff's Deputy, Defendant W. Scott Trammel (“Defendant Trammel”), shooting and killing Pedro Cruz-Amado (“Amado”) in his front yard on June 21, 2016. The Plaintiff, Rachel Carpenter, as the Administratrix of the Estate of Pedro Cruz-Amado (“Plaintiff”), brought this action on January 25, 2018. [Doc. 1]. There are twelve claims for relief in the Complaint against the various Defendants in relation to the events surrounding the death of Amado. In Counts One and Two, the Plaintiff asserts wrongful death claims under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 28A-18-2 against Defendants Cleveland County and Sheriff James A. Norman (“Defendant Norman”) in his official capacity. In Counts Three, Four, and Five, the Plaintiff asserts North Carolina common law claims against Defendant Deputy W. Scott Trammel (“Defendant Trammel”) in his individual and official capacities for negligence, assault and battery, and for “acts of malice and acts beyond scope of duties.”[1] In Count Six, the Plaintiff asserts claims for punitive damages against Defendant Trammel under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 28A-18-2(b)(5) and against Defendant Norman under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In Counts Seven, Eight, Nine, and Ten, the Plaintiff asserts § 1983 claims against all the Defendants, including claims based on violations of civil rights, unlawful pattern and practice, deliberate indifference, and inadequate training and supervision. In Count Eleven, the Plaintiff asserts an alternative claim under the North Carolina Constitution for substantive due process violations against Defendant Trammel in his official capacity and against Defendants Norman and Cleveland County. In Count Twelve, the Plaintiff asserts an action on the Sheriff's bond under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 58-76-5, which the Court considers as a claim against Defendant Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, although it is not identified as such in the Complaint. [Doc. 1].

         On November 30, 2018, the Defendants filed the present Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. [Doc. 28]. The Court held a hearing on the Defendants' Motion on March 19, 2019.

         Having been fully briefed by the parties and heard by the Court, the Defendants' Motion is ripe for disposition.


         Summary judgment is proper “if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). “As the Supreme Court has observed, this standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.'” Bouchat v. Baltimore Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 519 (4th Cir. 2003) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48, 106 S.Ct. 2505 (1986)) (emphasis in original).

         A genuine issue of fact exists if a reasonable jury considering the evidence could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Shaw v. Stroud, 13 F.3d 791, 798 (4th Cir. 1994), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 814, 115 S.Ct. 68 (1994). “Regardless of whether he may ultimately be responsible for proof and persuasion, the party seeking summary judgment bears an initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Bouchat, 346 F.3d at 522. If this showing is made, the burden then shifts to the non-moving party who must convince the Court that a triable issue does exist. Id.

A party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleadings, but rather must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Furthermore, neither unsupported speculation, nor evidence that is merely colorable or not significantly probative, will suffice to defeat a motion for summary judgment; rather, if the adverse party fails to bring forth facts showing that reasonable minds could differ on a material point, then, regardless of any proof or evidentiary requirements imposed by the substantive law, summary judgment, if appropriate, shall be entered.

Id. (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Nonetheless, in considering the facts for the purposes of a summary judgment motion, the Court will view the pleadings and material presented in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-88, 106 S.Ct. 1348 (1986).


         The following is a summary of the relevant forecast of evidence, considered in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff, as required by Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

         Defendant Trammel became a patrol deputy with the Cleveland County Sheriff's Office in or around August 2014. [Doc. 36-27 at 25]. Defendant Norman has been the duly-elected Sheriff of Cleveland County since 2010. [Doc. 28-1 at ¶ 2].

         On June 21, 2016, Defendant Trammel went to Amado's residence in response to a 911 call. The call was made by Amado's sister, at the Plaintiff's request. The Plaintiff was Amado's mother. The Plaintiff directed that the call be made to EMS because the Plaintiff was concerned about Amado's health. The Plaintiff testified that Amado “was crying again and he needed … a doctor.” [Doc. 36-22 at 133]. According to the Plaintiff, Amado was depressed and was saying goodbye to everyone. [Id. at 65]. The Plaintiff did not tell Amado that an ambulance had been called. [Id. at 134].

         The 911 dispatcher who took the 911 call noted, and the paramedics and Defendant Trammel were therefore advised, that Amado was “saying bye to his family, and they were unsure about weapons.” [Doc. 36-23 at 13-14]. In responding to 911 calls involving potentially mentally disturbed individuals, it is and was the procedure of the Cleveland County EMS to “stage” out of view of the subject residence until officer assistance arrives and secures the scene for the paramedics to safely render care. [Id. at 12-14]. Therefore, after reading the 911 dispatch notes, the paramedics who responded to the 911 call requested that law enforcement be dispatched to secure the scene before the paramedics drove up to the residence. [Doc. 36-23 at 14-15]. Due to a functional error by the GPS system used by the paramedics, the paramedics inadvertently staged the ambulance in view of Amado's residence. [Doc. 36-23 at 17-18, 27-28, 38-40].

         The parties dispute certain keys events at Amado's residence that occurred after the arrival and staging of the paramedics. The parties do not dispute, however, that Defendant Trammel was the first officer to arrive at Amado's residence, that an interaction of some sort ensued between Defendant Trammel and Amado in which Amado wielded at least one metal folding chair at Trammel as Trammel approached the residence, and that Defendant Trammel fatally shot Amado only minutes after Defendant Trammel arrived. Amado was 24 years old at the time of his death. [Doc. 36-22 at 9].

         On Tuesday, June 14, 2016, exactly one week before the shooting, Amado was admitted to the Crisis Center in Shelby, North Carolina. The Plaintiff testified that Amado was depressed and drinking too heavily. [Id. at 77-80]. The Crisis Center intake notes state that Amado reported having symptoms of “depression, sadness, crying, insomnia, recent decrease in appetite, feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, guilt and shame.” [Id. at 91]. Amado also reported to the Crisis Center that he was experiencing some suicidal thoughts. [Id. at 92]. Amado attempted twice to escape the Crisis Center, once on Friday, June 17th and once on Saturday, June 18th. [Id. at 104, 106-7, 112]. On the second attempt, Amado reportedly struck a police officer and was brought to the Cleveland County Regional Medical Center on an involuntary commitment order. [Id. at 110-112]. The next day, a Sunday, the hospital released Amado to the local authorities. [Id. at 116]. Later that day, on June 19, 2016, the Plaintiff took Amado home. [Id. at 118-19]. Neither the paramedics nor Defendant Trammel, however, were aware of any of this information when responding to the 911 call.

         The undisputed evidence also shows that at the time of the shooting the Sheriff's Office had in place at least two official policies that are potentially relevant to Defendant Trammel's actions on June 21, 2016: (1) Policy 2.01, “Use of Force” (“Use of Force Policy”); and (2) Policy 2.18, “Dealing with the Mentally Ill” (“Mentally Ill. Policy”). [Docs. 28-2, 28-3]. The Use of Force Policy sets forth, among other things, the circumstances under which the use of deadly force is authorized. It provides:

Deputies are authorized to use deadly force against another person when, under the circumstances then known to the deputy, it reasonably appears necessary in order to defend himself or others from the ...

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