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Wright v. Martinez

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

October 24, 2019

OFFICER KEVIN MARTINEZ, a Hobbs Police Department officer; OFFICER RUBEN GASTELUM, a Hobbs Police Department officer; and OFFICER JUAN JAIMES, a Hobbs Police Department Officer, Defendants.


         THIS MATTER comes before the Court upon Plaintiff Shamus Wright, Sr.'s Motion for Summary Judgment, filed July 31, 2019 (Doc. 49). Plaintiff claims that he was deprived of his Fourth Amendment rights to be free of unreasonable seizures following his arrests by Hobbs Police Department officers. Having reviewed the parties' pleadings and the applicable law, the Court finds that Plaintiff's motion is not well-taken and, therefore, is denied.


         Plaintiff Wright contends that the Defendant officers were acting outside of their lawful authority when he was arrested for refusing to provide identification and because he was verbally objecting to police activity. Mr. Wright's co-plaintiff, Kentoine Penman, has filed a separate motion for summary judgment against the same defendants (Doc. 32) claiming that they violated his constitutional rights by unlawfully detaining him. The Court will address Mr. Penman's motion separately although the factual narrative intertwines both plaintiffs.

         I. Parties' Positions[1]

         A. Plaintiff:

         According to the Complaint and the Joint Status Report (Doc. 22), both Plaintiffs were standing in a roadway on the evening of June 28, 2018 preparing for the Wright family reunion at that location. Hobbs Police Department (“HPD”) Officer Juan Jaimes was conducting a nearby traffic stop and noticed Mr. Penman and De' Aunte Meridyth standing in the roadway near a parked car on a residential street. Officer Jaimes decided to detain the two under the state statute that makes it unlawful for a pedestrian “to walk along or upon an adjacent roadway” where sidewalks are provided. NMSA 1978, §66-7-339 (“Pedestrian on Roadway” statute). Officer Jaimes approached Mr. Penman and Mr. Meridyth in his patrol car with his emergency lights engaged. They began to walk away, Officer Jaimes called them back and Mr. Penman complied. Officer Jaimes asked Mr. Penman to produce identification, which he did.

         While Officer Jaimes was conducting a records check on Mr. Penman, Officers Gastelum and Martinez arrived on the scene and tried to get identification from Mr. Meridyth. Mr. Meridyth walked behind Plaintiff Wright who was standing on a sidewalk. Mr. Wright repeatedly asked the officers why they were there. The officers told Mr. Wright that he was “interjecting himself” into their investigation and asked him to produce identification. Mr. Wright refused and explained that he had done nothing wrong. Officers Martinez and Gastelum informed Mr. Wright that he was being placed under arrest for Concealing Identity. Officer Gastelum conducted a leg sweep of Mr. Wright, causing him to go to the ground. Officer Martinez used his body weight to keep Mr. Wright pinned to the ground and Officer Gastelum handcuffed him. Mr. Wright was taken to the patrol unit, transported to Hobbs City Jail and charged with Concealing Identity and Resisting, Evading and Obstructing an officer.[2]

         B. Defendants:

         Defendants claim that while Officer Jaimes was conducting a records check of Mr. Penman, Mr. Wright approached Officer Martinez and became increasingly vocal about the officers' presence. He had his hands in his pockets at the time and when Officer asked him to remove his hands from his pockets and leave the scene, Mr. Wright refused and began inciting the crowd against the officers. When Mr. Wright refused to provide identifying information and then resisted arrest, Officer Gastelum performed the leg sweep. Mr. Wright continued to struggle and Officer Jaimes came over to assist the other two officers in arresting Mr. Wright after obtaining Mr. Penman's information. Officer Jaimes pulled out his Taser and told Mr. Wright to place his hand behind his back. As the officers were attempting to arrest him, the crowd on the sidewalk began to move closer to the officers while at the same time several vehicles arrives and the crowd grew to about forty people. Doc. 22 at 7-8.

         Defendants claim that Mr. Wright continued to yell and escalate the situation and the crowd was yelling at Officers Gastelum and Martinez as they attempted to place handcuffs on Wright. Mr. Penman also approached the officers, standing inches away from Officer Martinez' face and trying to record the incident. When Officer Jaimes instructed him to back away repeatedly, Mr. Penman refused. Officer Martinez then informed Mr. Penman that he was under arrest for repeatedly refusing to step back. Mr. Penman shoved Officer Martinez and ran off. Officer Martinez pursued Mr. Penman, lunged toward him, picked him up from the ground and forced him onto the ground. Officer Jaimes approached Officer Martinez and told Mr. Penman to place his hands behind his back, but Penman refused. By this time, the crowd had closed in again and was about three feet away from the officers. Officer Jaimes placed his knee on Penman's upper back and pointed the Taser at the crowd of people. The crowd retreated. Officer Jaimes told Mr. Penman to place his hands behind his back or he would be tased, and Penman complied. Mr. Penman was arrested and escorted to Hobbs City Jail.

         After arresting Mr. Penman, Officer Jaimes found a small plastic bag that contained a white powdery substance near the ground where Mr. Penman was detained. Officer Jaimes also searched the back seat area of his patrol unit where Mr. Penman had been sitting. He found two small plastic bags, one containing a green leafy substance and the other a white crystalline substance. Mr. Penman told Officer Jaimes he had just finished smoking weed, that the bag containing the green leafy substance was his and that the bag with the white powdery substance was cocaine and also belonged to him. However, Mr. Penman told Officer Jaimes that the small bag containing a white crystalline substance was not his. Tests conducted with a narcotics reagent kit at the HPD revealed that the white powdery substance was cocaine, the white crystalline substance was methamphetamine and that the green leafy substance was marijuana.

         On June 28, 2018, Mr. Penman was arrested for following crimes: 1) Pedestrians in the Roadway, Resisting; 2) Obstructing, or Evading an Officer; 3) Possession of Cocaine, Methamphetamine, and Marijuana; and 4) Assault and Battery on a Peace Officer. Mr. Wright was arrested for the following crimes: 1) Concealing Identity; and 2) Resisting, Evading, or Obstructing an Officer.

         Count I of the Complaint alleges Wrongful Arrest and detention of Mr. Wright, and Count II alleges Unlawful Detention and seizure of Mr. Penman, both in violation of their Fourth Amendment rights.

         II. Legal Standard

         Although Mr. Penman's motion will not be addressed here, both Plaintiffs have filed summary judgment motions, with the individual officers relying on a defense of qualified immunity, which shields government officials from liability for civil damages “insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009); Romero v. Story, 672 F.3d 880 (10th Cir. 2012).[3] “In resolving questions of qualified immunity at summary judgment, courts engage in a two-pronged inquiry.” Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1865(2014). The first prong asks whether the facts, taken in the light most favorable to the party asserting the injury-here the Defendant officers-show that the officer's conduct violated a federal right. The second asks whether the right in ...

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