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Wright v. Martinez

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

November 5, 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 Kentoine Penman's Motion for Summary Judgment, filed May 9, 2019 (Doc. 32). Having reviewed the parties' pleadings and the applicable law, the Court finds that Plaintiff's motion is not well-taken and, therefore, is denied.


         Both Plaintiffs in this case claim that they were deprived of their Fourth Amendment rights to be free of unreasonable seizures following their arrests by Defendants who are Hobbs Police Department officers. Plaintiff Wright contends that Officer Kevin Martinez was acting outside his lawful authority when he arrested him for refusing to provide identification and because he was verbally objecting to police activity. Plaintiff Penman claims that Officer Jaimes violated his constitutional rights by unlawfully detaining him. Both Plaintiffs have filed motions for summary judgment. The Court recently denied Plaintiff Wright, Sr.'s motion, see Doc. 66 (Mem. Opin. And Order), and now addresses Mr. Penman's motion for summary judgment.

         I. Parties' Positions

         A. Plaintiffs:

         The Complaint alleges that Mr. Penman was detained and that a “records check” was done. The Joint Status Report (Doc. 22) includes more factual details which the Court sets out here as an overview of the parties' positions, which are interrelated.

         On the evening of June 28, 2018, both Plaintiffs were standing in a roadway 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 New Mexico 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.

         B. Defendants:

         Defendants' version is more detailed. 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 leave the scene, refused to provide identifying information and then resisted arrest, Officer Gastelum performed a 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 Mr. Wright, the crowd on the sidewalk began to move closer to the officers. More vehicles arrived 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. The crowd yelled 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 the 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

         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).[1] “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 question was “clearly established” at the time of the violation. Id. at 1865-66 (citations and quotation marks omitted). The Court may consider these two inquiries in any order. See Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236 (2009).

         Once a defendant asserts a defense of qualified immunity, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to show that the law and facts at issue establish that qualified immunity does not apply. Pallottino v. City of Rio Rancho, 31 F.3d 1023, 1026 (10th Cir. 1994). The plaintiff must come forward with sufficient evidence to show that the defendant violated a constitutional or statutory right, and that the right was clearly established at the time of the conduct. See McBeth v. Himes, 598 F.3d 708, 716 (10th Cir. 2010). The contours of the right must be sufficiently clear that a reasonable official would understand what he is doing violates that right.” Thomas v. Kaven, 765 F.3d 1183, 1194 (10th Cir. 2014).

         In this case, the relevant facts are not in dispute, but rather the legal significance of the facts. See Rummel v. Lexington Ins. Co.,123 N.M. 752, 758 (1997) (summary judgment is appropriate where no facts ...

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