United States District Court, D. New Mexico
WRONGFUL DEATH ESTATE OF MIGUEL GONZALEZ, by and through Wrongful Death Estate Personal Representative Joanna Rodríguez, JOANNA RODRIGUEZ, on her own behalf and as Mother and Next Friend of ME Gonzalez, a minor child, DJ Gonzalez, a minor child, and AX Gonzales, a minor child, Plaintiffs,
BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF THE COUNTY OF BERNALILLO, NEW MEXICO, MANUEL GONZALES, III, Sheriff of Bernalillo County, CHARLES COGGINS, a Deputy Sheriff of the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department, and JOHN DOES 1 through 7, Deputy Sheriffs Deputy Sheriffs of the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department, Individually and in their Official Capacities, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
matter comes before the Court on Plaintiffs' Motion for
Summary Judgment for Spoliation of Evidence (Spoliation
Motion), filed November 2, 2018 (Doc. 84); Defendants Board
of County Commissioners of the County of Bernalillo, Manuel
Gonzales III, and Deputy Charles Coggins' (County
Defendants) Motion for Partial Summary Judgment No. I:
Dismissal of the Estate's Claim for Excessive Force in
Count I (QI Motion), filed November 29, 2018 (Doc. 91); and
County Defendants' Daubert Motion to Limit and
Exclude Certain Testimony by Brian McDonald, Ph.D. (Motion to
Exclude), filed December 12, 2018 (Doc. 96). Plaintiffs filed
a response to the QI Motion on January 6, 2019, a response to
the Motion to Exclude on January 7, 2019, and did not file a
reply in support of their Spoliation Motion. (Docs. 94, 99,
and 103). County Defendants filed a response to
Plaintiffs' Spoliation Motion on November 14, 2018, and
replies in support of their QI Motion and Motion to Exclude
on January 21, 2019. (Docs. 87, 108, and 112). Having
reviewed the Motions, the accompanying briefs, and the
applicable law, the Count grants the County Defendants'
QI Motion, denies Plaintiffs' Spoliation Motion, and
denies as moot the County Defendants' Motion to Exclude.
Background and Procedural History
1:00 a.m. on July 4, 2017, Deputy Charles Coggins (Coggins)
was dispatched to a car wash based on a report that some
individuals were loitering. Deputy Skartwed also responded,
but did not remain at the car wash. Coggins was in a marked
Bernalillo County Sherriff's Office (BCSO) vehicle. At
the car wash, Coggins noticed a red Monte Carlo sedan and
observed the driver make a quick or furtive motion. Coggins
ran the Monte Carlo's license plate through a database
which reported the license plate to be stolen.
lost sight of the Monte Carlo at some time before leaving the
car wash, but Deputy Skartwed observed the Monte Carlo and
radioed back the vehicle's location. Coggins and Deputy
Skartwed, in separate vehicles, proceeded to follow the Monte
Carle into a neighborhood. At a “T” intersection,
Deputy Skartwed went one direction and Coggins went the
Coggins drove, he noticed a vehicle headed toward him.
Coggins activated his spotlight to illuminate the vehicle and
saw that it was the red Monte Carlo. Coggins identified the
driver's physical characteristics over the radio. The
Monte Carlo accelerated toward Coggins' vehicle and
passed him, driving in the oncoming traffic lane. Coggins
made a U-turn, engaged his emergency lights, and followed the
Monte Carlo. The Monte Carlo did not yield to the emergency
lights and came to a stop only after running over a curb.
driver, Gonzalez, got out of the Monte Carlo and ran south
toward a house. Coggins gave chase. Coggins attempted to
activate his radio during the chase five times to update
dispatch and Deputy Skartwed on his location, but he was
unable to activate the radio. Coggins heard Gonzalez yelling
something indistinct as Gonzalez ran toward the residence.
Gonzalez continued toward the side yard of the house and
jumped a gate leading to the backyard. Coggins continued to
pursue Gonzalez and also jumped the gate. Coggins testified
at his deposition that he heard Gonzalez say “get back
or I'll shoot.” Deputy Skartwed was nearby, but did
not hear this alleged statement.
Coggins came to a stop in the backyard, Gonzalez stood near a
cinderblock wall and was “bladed” (i.e.,
at ¶ 90-degree angle) toward Coggins. Gonzalez
“punched out” his right arm - meaning that he
fully extended his arm as if aiming a gun - toward Coggins.
Gonzalez was holding a dark object in his hand. Coggins
believed the dark object was a firearm, based on
Gonzalez's body position and statements. Based on all of
these factors, Coggins believed Gonzalez was preparing to
fired four shots, striking Gonzalez four times. Deputy
Skartwed arrived in the backyard after the shots were fired.
Gonzalez died on scene from his injuries. Deputy Skartwed
left Coggins unattended with Gonzalez's body on several
occasions. Investigating officers recovered a holstered
handgun, identified by Gonzalez's children as the one he
regularly carried in his waistband.
2017, BCSO had a code of ethics, rules, and procedures in
effect. Officers wore tape recorders (belt tapes) and were
required to activate these tapes during or in anticipation of
traffic stops and/or situations involving resisting, evading,
or obstructing an arrest. Use of the belt tape is mandatory.
BCSO further required officers to preserve and collect
physical and testimonial evidence for courtroom presentation,
though not everything on scene that contains blood must be
collected as evidence.
case of an officer-involved shooting, BCSO policy mandates
videotaped documentation of the scene. This could and should
have been done after the Gonzalez shooting, but it was not.
James Fredrickson, the lead investigating officer, personally
made the decision not to collect or preserve the cinderblocks
on scene, and determined that preservation or testing of the
cinderblocks would not have assisted in the investigation.
Gonzalez's handgun, recovered from atop a cinderblock,
did not have any blood on it.
Rodriguez (Rodriguez), as personal representative of
Gonzalez's estate, brought this case against Coggins and
the other County Defendants, alleging Coggins violated
Gonzalez's Fourth Amendment right to be free from the use
of excessive force.
Standard of Review
judgment is appropriate if there is no genuine dispute as to
a material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a
matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “When applying this
standard, [the Court] view[s] the evidence and draw[s]
reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable
to the nonmoving party.” Scull v. New Mexico,
236 F.3d 588, 595 (10th Cir. 2000) (internal quotation marks
omitted). The movant bears the initial burden of showing the
absence of a genuine issue of material fact, then the burden
shifts to the non-movant to provide evidence of a genuine
issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,
477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986); Bacchus Indus., Inc. v. Arvin
Indus., Inc., 939 F.2d 887, 891 (10th Cir. 1991).
Evidence presented need not be in admissible form, but must
be capable of presentation in admissible form. Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(c)(2). A fact is “material” if, under the
governing law, it could influence the outcome of the lawsuit,
and “genuine” if a reasonable jury could return a
verdict for the non-movant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Hardy v. S.F.
Phosphates Ltd. Co., 185 F.3d 1076, 1079 (10th Cir.
1999); Kaul v. Stephan, 83 F.3d 1208, 1212 (10th
Cir. 1996) (citation omitted). A party cannot avoid summary
judgment simply by resting upon the mere allegations or
denials of his pleadings. Bacchus Indus., Inc., 939
F.2d at 891.
moves for summary judgment in her favor as a sanction for the
County Defendants' and other member of the BCSO's
failure to preserve evidence after the shooting. In support
of this argument, Rodriguez fairly argues that a party must
preserve evidence that may be relevant to future litigation,
and that the County Defendants' failures were ...