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Youngquist v. Board of County Commissioners for Curry County

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

December 13, 2016

PETRA YOUNGQUIST, Plaintiff,
v.
THE BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS FOR CURRY COUNTY, NEW MEXICO, a political sub-division existing under the laws of the State of New Mexico, LANCE PYLE, individually and in his official capacity as Manager of Curry County Board of County Commissioners, TORI SANDOVAL, individually and in her official capacity as Administrator of the Curry County Detention Center, ROBERT SANDOVAL, individually and in his official capacity as Curry County Commissioner, BEN McDANIEL, individually and in his official capacity as Curry County Commissioner, FRANK BLACKBURN, individually and in his official capacity as Curry County Commissioner, WENDELL BOSTICK, individually and in his official capacity as Curry County Commissioner, TIM L. ASHLEY, individually and in his official capacity as Curry County Commissioner, BRITTANY HARRISON, individually and in her official capacity as Curry County Correctional Officer, NICOLE STUART, individually and in her official capacity as Curry County Correctional Officer, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Bobby R. Baldock United States Circuit Judge

         After Plaintiff Petra Youngquist was arrested for jaywalking and brought to the Curry County Detention Center, two female officers-Defendants Brittany Harrison[1] and Nicole Stuart-attempted to get Youngquist to remove her clothes so they could perform a strip search of her person. When Youngquist refused to comply, Harrison shot Youngquist with a Taser. Youngquist then complied with the search. Defendants move for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity and other grounds on the remaining claims, which include a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim in Count I against Harrison and Stuart and state-law tort claims in Count IV against unspecified Defendants and the Board of County Commissioners. For the reasons stated below, the Court will grant Defendants' motion on the basis of qualified immunity on Count I but deny the motion without prejudice as to Count IV. Because the only remaining claims after the Court dismisses Count I are state-law tort claims, the Court declines to continue to exercise supplemental jurisdiction and will remand those claims to state court.

         I.

         The following facts are either undisputed or taken in the light most favorable to Youngquist. Around 11:30 p.m. on July 13, 2013, Youngquist walked across a street in Clovis, New Mexico, without using a crosswalk and causing at least one vehicle to swerve to avoid hitting her. Officer Albert Sena from the Clovis Police Department stopped her and told her he was issuing her a citation for jaywalking. After she failed to comply with Sena's orders to stand in front of his police vehicle, to not walk away, and to face away from him, Sena told Youngquist she was under arrest. Youngquist protested that he could not arrest her for jaywalking and that she did not understand why she was being arrested. After some difficulty, backup officers placed Youngquist in handcuffs, and a supervisor convinced Youngquist to get in a police car to go to the Curry County Detention Center. On the way, Youngquist asked where the Texas state troopers were that she had allegedly seen on the scene and also asked if Sena was taking her to Mexico to kill her. Sena believed that Youngquist was high on methamphetamine and hallucinating.

         Once they arrived at the Detention Center, Youngquist did not resist officers leading her inside. Sena advised Detention Officer Sergeant Weston Peasnall about what had occurred during the arrest. He also told Peasnall that he believed Youngquist was high on methamphetamine and was “holding”-that is, holding narcotics on her person or in her orifices. Sena and possibly other Clovis officers were “very insistent” that the Detention Center's officers conduct a strip search. Sergeant Rene Garcia authorized a strip search. Peasnall called in Harrison and Stuart, the only two female officers on duty in the Detention Center that night. Stuart was relatively new to her position and went to accompany and observe Harrison, as the Detention Center's policy required two officers to be present during strip searches. Only Harrison was trained on conducting strip searches. When officers attempted to escort Youngquist to the restroom for the search, she initially refused, but complied when Stuart and Peasnall pulled her up from her chair.

         Once in the bathroom, Harrison told Youngquist several times that she needed to remove her clothes. Youngquist refused. She maintained that the officers were not allowed to do a strip search because she did not have current or prior drug charges. She also protested that the door to the restroom was still open. She asked to change behind a wall, but Harrison would not allow it. Harrison attempted to grab Youngquist's shirt, and Youngquist pulled away. Although Defendants had at some point taken off Youngquist's handcuffs, they decided to re-cuff Youngquist and bring her out of the restroom. Sergeant Peasnall then instructed Harrison and Stuart to “change her out, ” meaning that Youngquist should change out of her street clothes and into the jail uniform, but would not need to remove her undergarments. Harrison and Stuart interpreted his order to mean that they should continue the strip search. Peasnall admitted after the fact that he should have elaborated on his instruction to ensure Harrison and Stuart did not get “tunnel vision” with the original strip search order. Harrison and Stuart returned to the restroom and attempted to get Youngquist to remove her clothes. At some point, Youngquist's shirt and bra were removed. Youngquist was no longer handcuffed, but Stuart was holding Youngquist's arms behind her back. Harrison and Stuart gave multiple commands for Youngquist to remove her shorts, but Youngquist refused. Harrison attempted to remove Youngquist's shorts, but Youngquist pulled away, swinging her arms and nearly hitting Harrison, although not in a threatening manner.[2]

         During this encounter, Peasnall was standing outside the bathroom door and repeatedly asked, “Are you guys okay?” Either Harrison or Stuart said yes. Peasnall could hear Harrison yelling, “Stop moving, ” and “Don't do that.” He asked Harrison if she needed a Taser, and she initially said no. Harrison asked Youngquist several more times if she was going to comply, and Youngquist continued to refuse. At that point, about eight minutes after going into the restroom with Youngquist, Harrison asked Peasnall for the Taser. Harrison had been trained on an X-26 model Taser, but Peasnall handed her an X-2 model Taser. Youngquist was facing the wall but saw the Taser in the room. Harrison asked Youngquist several more times if she was going to remove her shorts, and Youngquist said no. Harrison turned off the safety to the Taser, which activated the Taser's video recording. While Stuart was holding Youngquist's arms and while Youngquist was facing the wall, Harrison asked again if Youngquist was going to take her pants off, Youngquist again said no, and Harrison shot the Taser at Youngquist's back left shoulder blade. Youngquist then demanded that Harrison shut the door and give her a shirt. Harrison asked again if she would take her pants off. Youngquist again said no and demanded her shirt. Harrison said something else, Youngquist again demanded her shirt, and Harrison shot her a second time with the Taser. Youngquist then complied with the orders to remove her shorts and then her underwear. Harrison handed the Taser to Stuart, who had not been trained on any Taser. Stuart then pointed the Taser at Youngquist.[3] When Youngquist was completely undressed, Harrison lifted up Youngquist's breasts, had Youngquist squat down and cough, and had Youngquist lean forward while she spread Youngquist's buttocks. Although policy is to not touch detainees during a strip search, Harrison decided to touch Youngquist in an attempt to expedite the search. Harrison did not find any contraband. Youngquist then put on the jail uniform and was checked by medical before going to the female annex portion of the jail.[4]

         II.

         Summary judgment is appropriate “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A dispute is genuine when “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party, ” and a fact is material when it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing [substantive] law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The Court's role is not to “weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 249. “The evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” Id. at 255.

         Once a defendant asserts qualified immunity, the plaintiff bears the burden of persuasion to show (1) that a reasonable jury could find facts that the defendant violated a federal constitutional or statutory right, and (2) that the right was clearly established at the time of the defendant's unlawful conduct. Estate of Booker v. Gomez, 745 F.3d 405, 411 (10th Cir. 2014). The Court has discretion to decide these prongs in either order. Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236 (2009). “Qualified immunity balances two important interests-the need to hold public officials accountable when they exercise power irresponsibly and the need to shield officials from harassment, distraction, and liability when they perform their duties reasonably.” Id. at 231.

         III.

         The claims remaining after the Court granted Defendants' Partial Motion to Dismiss, see Order Granting Defendants' Partial Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 24), include a § 1983 claim in Count I against Harrison and Stuart in their individual capacities and state-law tort claims in Count IV against unspecified Defendants and the Board of County Commissioners. As discussed below, the Court will grant Defendants' motion for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity on Count I, but it will deny summary judgment on Count IV and instead remand those claims to state court.

         A.

         In Count I, Youngquist asserts Defendants violated either her Fourteenth Amendment due process rights as a pretrial detainee or her Eighth Amendment rights against cruel and unusual punishment when they shot her with a Taser and searched her. She specifically asserts that using the Taser against her ...


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