Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Fatal police shooting of Ryan Stokes in Kansas City provides evidence that Donald Trump is packing federal courts with incompetent, right-wing hacks


Ryan Stokes and his daughter

How do we know a Trump-appointed appellate judge  got it wrong when he wrote an opinion that led to a Kansas City, MO, police officer receiving immunity from lawsuit after fatally shooting an unarmed black man in the back? The judge in question is David Stras, appointed in 2017 to the U.S. Eighth Circuit  Court of Appeals, and Stras' own words tell us he wrongfully forced a lower-court judge to grant immuniy via summary judgment to officer William Thompson in the 2013 shooting of Ryan Stokes.

The Stokes family filed a lawsuit for excessive force and wrongful death on behalf of Ryan Stokes' infant daughter, in a case styled N.S., et al v. Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners, et al (8th Cir., 2019).As a matter of law, the lawsuit should have gone to settlement or trial, but a three-judge panel's unlawful grant of immunity -- with Stras writing the opinion -- short-circuited any chance the Stokes family had of receiving even a sliver of justice.

U.S. Judge David Stras
How gross was the Stras panel's butchery of the N.S. case? To arrive at an answer to that question, we first need to consider the proper steps for considering summary judgment, as spelled out in case law and Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP). Here are three key elements:

(1) The evidence of the nonmovant (the Stokes family, in this case) is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S. 242 (1986).

(2) Summary judgment is appropriate where there is no genuine issue of material fact, and “the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex Corp v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986).

(3) In passing upon a motion for summary judgment, the court is required to view the facts in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion and to give to that party the benefit of reasonable inferences to be drawn from underlying facts. Robert Johnson Grain Co. v. Chem. Interchange Co., 541 F. 2d 207 - Court of Appeals (8th Circuit, 1976). Adickes v. SH Kress and Co., 398 US 144 
 (Supreme Court 1970).
  
Did the Stras panel follow these straightforward provisions of summary-judgment law? Not even close. Let's consider Stras' own words from the N.S. opinion:


Some evidence supports Thompson's account. The police discovered a handgun on the driver's seat of the car, which could mean that Stokes was armed when he entered the parking lot but then tossed the gun into the car. And witnesses who saw Stokes running said that he appeared to be "holding up his pants as he ran," which is arguably consistent with Thompson's perception that Stokes was holding a gun. Finally, Thompson's partner claims to have heard Thompson order Stokes to "get on the ground."

Other evidence supports the family's account. No one besides Thompson observed Stokes with a gun, nor was any gun found on or near his body. The car's owner, who was Stokes's friend, claimed that the gun recovered from the car belonged to him and that it had been there all night. Moreover, some officers did not recall hearing Thompson shout anything during the encounter, and at least one officer thought Stokes was trying to surrender when Thompson shot him.


Stras admits right up front that the evidence is mixed, with some of it favoring Officer Thompson's account, and some favoring the Stokes family's account. As the non-moving party, the Stokes family was entitled to have their factual allegations believed and "all justifiable inferences drawn in their favor." So, how could the Stras panel essentially force the trial court to grant summary judgment against them?

In Stras' own words, there were "multiple genuine issues of material fact," so summary judgment could not lawfully be granted. Why did the panel force summary judgment anyway?

In laying out the evidence above, the panel was required " to view the facts in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion (the Stokes family) and to give to that party the benefit of reasonable inferences to be drawn from underlying facts." So, why did the panel do just the opposite, viewing all facts in favor of the moving party, Officer Thompson?

Our review of the N.S. case is sobering, to say the least. Does it add to the evidence that the rule of law is crumbling in the United States, as we have spotlighted in a series of recent posts? Does it suggest Trump is packing federal courts with partisan, incompetent hacks? We think it suggests both.

Cynthia Short, an attorney for the Stokes family, says they intend to appeal the grant of summary judgment.

On a personal level, the N.S. case provides insight about one of several cheat jobs Mrs. Schnauzer and I have experienced in federal court. It also stirs memories of our encounters with violent cops, including the unlawful eviction here in Missouri, which ended with Greene County deputies breaking my wife Carol's arm.

 The bottom line: We have encountered multiple federal judges who are even more hideously corrupt than Trump pick David Stras.


(To be continued)

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's incredible the number of cases like this -- white cop shoots black man -- that are out there. I hadn't even heard of this one.

legalschnauzer said...

@8:34 --

I should point out that this shooting happened in 2013. The court process has kept it in the Missouri news into 2020.

Anonymous said...

The cop shot the man in the back. Where have we heard this before?

Anonymous said...

Are cops using black men as target practice?

legalschnauzer said...

NY Post: Cops pressed Rocheater officials to keep Daniel Prude video secret--


https://nypost.com/2020/09/15/police-leaders-pressed-rochester-to-keep-prude-video-secret/

legalschnauzer said...

Details from NY Post --

Rochester police commanders urged city officials to hold off on publicly releasing body camera footage of Daniel Prude’s suffocation death because they feared violent blowback if the video came out during nationwide protests over the police killing of George Floyd, newly released emails show.

Deputy Chief Mark Simmons cited the “current climate” in the city and the nation in a June 4 email advising then-Chief La’ron Singletary to press the city’s lawyers to deny a Prude family lawyer’s public records request for the footage of the March 23 encounter that led to his death.

The video, finally made public by Prude’s family on Sept. 4, shows Prude handcuffed and naked with a spit hood over his head as an officer pushes his face against the ground, while another officer presses a knee to his back. The officers held him down for about two minutes until he stopped breathing. He was taken off life support a week later.

legalschnauzer said...

More from NY Post on Daniel Prude case:


“We certainly do not want people to misinterpret the officers’ actions and conflate this incident with any recent killings of unarmed black men by law enforcement nationally,” Simmons wrote. “That would simply be a false narrative, and could create animosity and potentially violent blow back in this community as a result.”

The Western New York city released the emails, police reports and other documents on Monday as Mayor Lovely Warren fired Singletary and suspended Corporation Counsel Tim Curtin and Communications Director Justin Roj without pay for 30 days amid continuing fallout from Prude’s death. Simmons was named interim chief of the police department.

Simmons’ email seeking to have the city deny the Freedom of Information Law request echoed emails from other police officials worried about releasing video of the March 23 encounter as demonstrators were taking to the streets of Rochester and elsewhere to protest Floyd’s May 25 death in Minneapolis and other police killings of Black people.

legalschnauzer said...

More from NY Post --

Simmons’ email seeking to have the city deny the Freedom of Information Law request echoed emails from other police officials worried about releasing video of the March 23 encounter as demonstrators were taking to the streets of Rochester and elsewhere to protest Floyd’s May 25 death in Minneapolis and other police killings of Black people.

Lt. Mike Perkowski told a city lawyer on June 4 that he was “very concerned about releasing this prematurely in light of what is going on” and Capt. Frank Umbrino told another police official “any release of information should be in conjunction with and coordinated with the Mayor and the Chief as it very well have some intense ramifications.”

Simmons forwarded both emails to Singletary with his message advising the chief to have the Prude family lawyer’s public records request squashed, according to the documents released Monday. Simmons suggested that the city deny the request because the case was still under investigation by the state attorney general’s office.

“I totally agree,” Singletary replied, according to the emails.


Later on June 4, as discussion of the records request continued, city lawyer Stephanie Prince told Curtin of a way to buy more time: allowing the attorney general’s office to show the family the video, as it has done in other cases, but not give them a copy of it.

“This way, the City is not releasing anything pertaining to the case for at least a month (more like 2), and it will not be publicly available,” Prince wrote.

Warren maintains that she did not see the body camera footage until city lawyers played it for her on Aug. 4 and that Singletary initially misled her about the circumstances of Prude’s death.

After seeing the video, Warren emailed Singletary that she was “outraged” at the conduct of the officer who pressed Prude’s head against the ground, Mark Vaughn, and that he should face an immediate disciplinary investigation.

In an unsent draft of that email, Warren excoriated Singletary for having “grossly underplayed” Prude’s death by first describing it to her a drug overdose. In the draft, prepared with Deputy Mayor James Smith’s help, Warren said she strongly believed Vaughn should be fired and that she would have asked for Vaughn’s termination in March, had she seen the footage then. She suspended Vaughn and six other officers last week.

“Quite frankly, I would have expected the Chief of Police to have shown me this video in March,” Warren wrote in the draft. The toned down version sent to Singletary did not include that criticism.
see also
Rochester police union boss accused of lying about Daniel Prude video


legalschnauzer said...

More from NY Post --


Later on June 4, as discussion of the records request continued, city lawyer Stephanie Prince told Curtin of a way to buy more time: allowing the attorney general’s office to show the family the video, as it has done in other cases, but not give them a copy of it.

“This way, the City is not releasing anything pertaining to the case for at least a month (more like 2), and it will not be publicly available,” Prince wrote.

Warren maintains that she did not see the body camera footage until city lawyers played it for her on Aug. 4 and that Singletary initially misled her about the circumstances of Prude’s death.

After seeing the video, Warren emailed Singletary that she was “outraged” at the conduct of the officer who pressed Prude’s head against the ground, Mark Vaughn, and that he should face an immediate disciplinary investigation.

In an unsent draft of that email, Warren excoriated Singletary for having “grossly underplayed” Prude’s death by first describing it to her a drug overdose. In the draft, prepared with Deputy Mayor James Smith’s help, Warren said she strongly believed Vaughn should be fired and that she would have asked for Vaughn’s termination in March, had she seen the footage then. She suspended Vaughn and six other officers last week.

“Quite frankly, I would have expected the Chief of Police to have shown me this video in March,” Warren wrote in the draft. The toned down version sent to Singletary did not include that criticism.