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Sialoi v. City of San Diego

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

May 24, 2016

EDWARD SIALOI; KELLI SIALOI; FOLENI SIALOI; GAYLE PASI; LAGO SIALOI; LIUA SIALOI; HARDY TEO FALEALILI; TAPILI SOFA; G. S., a minor, by his father and guardian ad litem, Foleni Sialoi; T. O.S., a minor, by their father and guardian ad litem, Lago Sialoi; T. A. S., a minor, by their father and guardian ad litem, Lago Sialoi; T. R. S., a minor, by their father and guardian ad litem, Lago Sialoi; B.F., a minor, by his father and guardian ad litem, Hardy Teo Falealili; ESTATE OF SEPTEMBER SIALOI, by her husband and successor in interest, Sialoi Sialoi, Jr., Plaintiffs-Appellees,

         Argued and Submitted, Pasadena, California February 5, 2016.

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. D.C. No. 3:11-cv-02280-W-KSC. Thomas J. Whelan, Senior District Judge, Presiding.


         Civil Rights

         The panel affirmed the district court's denial, on summary judgment, of a motion for qualified immunity brought by San Diego police officers in an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law alleging, among other things, unlawful arrest and detention, illegal search, and excessive force.

         The panel first held that it has jurisdiction to consider this appeal, but that its jurisdiction was limited to deciding only the question whether, taking all the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs, the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity as a matter of law.

         The panel held that taking the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs, once officers discovered that an item held by one of the suspects was a mere toy, rather than a handgun, the officers violated clearly established law and acted wholly unreasonably in using extreme force to disrupt a peaceful birthday party for a seven-year-old girl, and in searching the family's apartment without a warrant or consent. Accordingly, the panel affirmed the district court's denial of qualified immunity in all respects.

         John E. Riley (argued), Deputy City Attorney, Jan I. Goldsmith, City Attorney, Office of the San Diego City Attorney, San Diego, California, for Defendants-Appellants.

         Michael R. Marrinan (argued), Law Offices of Michael R. Marrinan, San Diego, California, for Plaintiffs-Appellees.

         Before: Stephen Reinhardt, Richard A. Paez, and Milan D. Smith, Jr., Circuit Judges.


         Stephen Reinhardt, Circuit Judge:

         In October of 2010, officers with the San Diego Police Department responded to a report that two armed black males had been seen in the parking lot of an apartment complex. When they arrived, the officers, armed with assault rifles and eventually numbering over twenty, encountered not two armed black males but a large Samoan family celebrating the birthday of a seven-year-old girl. The officers detained the members of the family (handcuffing the vast majority of them, including numerous adolescents) and then searched each of them for weapons. Finding nothing incriminating, the officers then searched the family's apartment without a warrant or consent. Again finding nothing incriminating, the officers left without removing a single family member from the scene or filing any charges.

         The plaintiffs filed this action against the officers involved in the incident, as well as the City of San Diego, alleging various claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and California law, including unlawful arrest and detention, illegal search, and excessive force. The defendants moved for summary judgment on the ground of qualified immunity, and the district court granted the motion with respect to the City but denied it with respect to the officers. The officers then appealed the denial of their motion for summary judgment. We affirm the district court.



         On Saturday, October 2, 2010, the Sialoi family gathered in front of the apartment belonging to Sialoi Sialoi, Jr. and his wife, September Sialoi, to celebrate the birthday of seven-year-old plaintiff T.R.S. The family held a barbecue during which no alcohol was served or consumed. Around 10:22pm that evening, the manager of the apartment complex called 9-1-1 to report that two black or Samoan adult males had been ducking down around the apartment complex, as if waiting for someone. He reported that one carried a handgun, the other a shotgun. Two minutes later, he called back to provide additional information: the men were black, not Samoan; one had bushy hair and was wearing a brown Tshirt, and the other was wearing a long-sleeved shirt with a hood.

         Sergeant Sluss of the San Diego Police Department was in charge of the response to the apartment manager's 9-1-1 call. The sergeant assembled a contact team consisting of " maybe six officers," and assigned Officer Wayne Doeden a team of four officers. The officers arrived on the scene four minutes after the second call from the apartment manager, and, together, approached the Sialoi party.[1]

         When the officers arrived, the Sialoi family was drinking coffee, eating birthday cake, and singing songs. One of the men was playing a guitar, and some of the women were inside the apartment with the youngest children. Sergeant Sluss and his team came around the corner of the apartment building and saw three teenagers between the ages of 13 and 15, G.S., T.O.S., and B.F., playing in the parking lot near the apartment. Sergeant Sluss reported to dispatch that one of the teenagers had something in his hand that appeared to be a handgun. Notably, however, the three teenage boys did not otherwise fit the description provided by the apartment manager: there were three of them, not two; all were Samoan, not black; and none was wearing clothing that matched the apartment manager's description. The officers arrived with their guns drawn at the parking lot where the boys were playing. Some of the officers held AR-15 assault rifles, which the officers pointed at the three teenagers. A police helicopter circled overhead. The helicopter operator informed the police that there were people having a barbecue nearby.

         Six or seven police officers first approached 13-year-old B.F., who had nothing in his hands. They demanded that B.F. get on the ground, and he complied. One officer put his knee on B.F.'s neck to hold him down, while the others searched him for weapons. After finding nothing, the officers next approached 15-year-old T.O.S. Again, the officers pointed their guns at him and ordered him to get on the ground. T.O.S. complied, lying down next to B.F., where the officers searched him for weapons while pointing their guns at his head. Again, the officers found nothing. Finally, the officers approached 15-year-old G.S., who was standing some distance away between two parked cars in front of the Sialoi apartment. G.S. was holding a plastic paintball gun in his hand. When G.S. saw the officers, he immediately dropped the paintball gun. The officers ordered him to get on the ground, and G.S. replied that he could not fit on the ground between the two cars, but he attempted to comply with the officers' orders anyway. He and several other plaintiffs called out to the officers, attempting to explain to them that the paintball gun was not in fact a real gun but merely a toy. He was then told to crawl out from between the cars to the driveway, where he was searched. Again, the officers found nothing. Immediately after G.S. crawled out from between the cars, an officer walked over and picked up the toy gun. He held the gun in the air and confirmed that it was only a toy. At this point, the officers handcuffed all three teenagers, yanked them off the ground, and placed them in the back of a police car.

         The officers then approached the other members of the Sialoi family, and began to detain, search, and handcuff them, including two adult women and a thirteen-year-old girl, T.A.S. By this time, other officers had arrived, increasing the total number present at the scene to over twenty. The officers ordered the plaintiffs one-by-one to keep their hands up and walk to the middle of the parking lot, where they did a patdown search. Throughout this time, the laser sights on some of the officers' guns projected red beams of light on the plaintiffs' bodies as they were searched. When the search was complete, each plaintiff was handcuffed and ordered to remain in the middle of the parking lot under armed guard. The officers placed Sialoi Sialoi Jr. in the back of the police car with the three teenagers because he initially refused to put his hands in the air and pleaded with the officers to stop pointing their weapons at the children. The officers also pushed Liua Sialoi, who was pregnant at the time, onto the ground. Edward Sialoi informed the officers that he had a medical condition and recently had back surgery. Because of this, he requested that the officers use two sets of handcuffs. The officers did not comply, and instead, violently yanked his arm behind him, tearing his rotator cuff, labrum, and biceps tendon.

         After everyone outside had been handcuffed and moved to the middle of the parking lot (or placed in a police car), the officers ordered anyone inside the apartment to vacate the building. Kelli Sialoi, Gayle Pasi, T.R.S., and Pasi's four-year-old nephew exited the building. They were detained at the curb with the other plaintiffs, but were not handcuffed. Sergeant Sluss and several other officers then entered and searched the Sialois' apartment without a warrant or consent. After the search of the apartment, a lieutenant arrived and asked the officers if any of the handcuffed people were " going downtown." Receiving a negative response, the lieutenant removed September Sialoi's handcuffs and left. The other officers then began removing the handcuffs from the other plaintiffs. The plaintiffs contend that they had been detained for approximately 30-40 minutes, although the police's computerized log of the incident indicates that the search lasted only 17 minutes.

         According to the computer-aided dispatch report and the deposition of Sergeant Sluss, the officers were informed a few minutes after they " started securing . . . the scene" that the apartment manager had called to say that the people they had detained were not the suspects that he reported in his disturbance call. The officers did not attempt to contact the apartment manager or locate the actual suspects. Later, the plaintiffs learned that no report was ever written about the seizures ...

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