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Caldwell v. City and County of San Francisco

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

May 11, 2018

Maurice Caldwell, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
City and County of San Francisco; San Francisco Police Department; Kitt Crenshaw; Arthur Gerrans; James Crowley, Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued and Submitted October 13, 2017

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District No. 3:12-CV-01892-EDL of California Elizabeth D. Laporte, Magistrate Judge, Presiding

          Terry Gross (argued), Adam C. Belsky, and Monique Alonso, Gross Belsky Alonso LLP, San Francisco, California, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

          Sean F. Connolly (argued) and Bradley A. Russi, Deputy City Attorneys; Cheryl Adams, Chief Trial Attorney; Dennis J. Herrera, City Attorney; Office of the City Attorney, San Francisco, California; for Defendants-Appellees.

          Before: A. Wallace Tashima and Jay S. Bybee, Circuit Judges, and Matthew Frederick Leitman, [*] District Judge.

          SUMMARY[**]

         Civil Rights

         The panel affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court's summary judgment and remanded in an action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that San Francisco Police Department officials fabricated evidence against plaintiff during his investigation for murder.

         Plaintiff spent nearly twenty years in prison as a result of his murder conviction. He brought a § 1983 action after a state court granted his petition for writ of habeas corpus and ordered his release. Plaintiff alleged that a police sergeant deliberately manufactured a "show-up" by exposing him to a witness with the purpose of manipulating that witness into misidentifying plaintiff as the murder suspect. He further alleged that the sergeant deliberately fabricated a statement by plaintiff that placed plaintiff at the site of the shooting. Finally, plaintiff alleged that his interaction with police inspectors during a photo lineup were so coercive that they rose to the level of deliberate fabrication of evidence.

         In reversing the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the police sergeant, the panel held that drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of plaintiff, he established that the sergeant had a motive to retaliate against him. He further raised a genuine issue as to whether the sergeant arranged the show up, deliberately fabricated the statement and memorialized it in falsified notes. The panel held that plaintiff rebutted any presumption of prosecutorial independence and established a triable issue as to whether the allegedly fabricated identification and falsified statements caused him harm.

         In affirming the district court's summary judgment as to the police inspectors, the panel held that their conduct during a photo line-up was not so coercive that it rose to the level of fabricated evidence.

          OPINION

          TASHIMA, Circuit Judge:

         INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff-Appellant Maurice Caldwell spent nearly twenty years in prison for the 1990 murder of Judy Acosta. Upon release, [1] Caldwell sued San Francisco Police Department ("SFPD") officials Kitt Crenshaw, Arthur Gerrans, and James Crowley, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, for allegedly fabricating evidence against him during the murder investigation.

         As to Sergeant Crenshaw, Caldwell alleges that the officer deliberately manufactured a "show-up" with Caldwell at a witness' door. Specifically, Caldwell asserts that Crenshaw deliberately exposed Caldwell to a witness with the purpose of manipulating that witness into misidentifying Caldwell as the murder suspect. The alleged show-up, if it occurred, may have worked. Mary Cobbs, the witness in question, later picked Caldwell out of a photo lineup despite her initial description of the suspect being, in some regards, inconsistent with Caldwell's physical traits.

          Regarding Inspectors Gerrans and Crowley, Caldwell alleges that their investigative techniques - mostly their interactions with Cobbs during the photo lineup - were so coercive that they rose to the level of deliberate fabrication of evidence.

         The district court granted all of Defendants' motions for summary judgment, but for different reasons. As to

         Crenshaw, the district court held that Caldwell had raised a triable issue as to whether the Sergeant fabricated evidence. The district court concluded, however, that the Sergeant was shielded from liability because the prosecutor's decision to charge Caldwell was subject to a presumption of independence and, therefore, broke the chain of causation between the alleged wrongdoing and Caldwell's harm. As to Gerrans and Crowley, the district court held that Caldwell had not raised a triable issue as to whether either or both of them had deliberately fabricated evidence.

         We hold that because Caldwell rebutted any presumption of prosecutorial independence, he established a triable issue as to whether Crenshaw fabricated evidence against him. Therefore, we reverse and remand as to Crenshaw.[2] As to Gerrans and Crowley, we hold that their investigation techniques were not so coercive that they rose to the level of fabricated evidence. Thus, we affirm as to Gerrans and Crowley.

          I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         A. The Acosta Murder and Caldwell's Conviction

         On June 30, 1990, a group of four persons, including Judy Acosta and Domingo Bobila, went to a San Francisco housing project to buy drugs. There, a group approached Acosta and Bobila, offering to sell crack. The sale went wrong and one of the dealers pulled out a handgun and shot Acosta in the chest. Bobila tried to flee in his car and a second man began firing a shotgun. Bobila and Acosta were hit by shotgun fire and Acosta died in the car. Caldwell claims that he was not present at the shooting; Defendants claimed that Caldwell was the shotgun shooter.

         In March 1991, a jury convicted Caldwell of second-degree murder for shooting Acosta with the shotgun. Mary Cobbs testified at trial and identified Caldwell as the shotgun shooter.[3] A few months afterwards Cobbs and her children received roundtrip tickets to Disneyland from the San Francisco Secret Witness Program.

         B. The July 13, 1990 Canvass

         On July 13, 1990, Inspector Gerrans, Sergeant Crenshaw, and Officer Robert Doss of the SFPD canvassed the housing project where the Acosta murder occurred. The general purpose of the canvass was to, among other things, find witnesses to the murder. The day before, the police had received an anonymous tip that the police should "check out" Caldwell, "who had been shooting off guns in the projects . . . for years." During the canvass, Gerrans mentioned the name Caldwell to Crenshaw and Crenshaw said he knew him.

         Caldwell and Crenshaw had history. Caldwell had interacted with Crenshaw between six and nine times prior to the 1990 murder investigation. During these stops Caldwell said that Crenshaw would tell him things such as, "[h]e [sic] going to catch me, and when he do catch me, he going to end up killing me or he going to have me in jail for the rest of my life, you know." Five months before the murder, Caldwell filed a complaint with the Office of Citizen Complaints ("OCC")[4] against Crenshaw. During the OCC's investigation, Crenshaw admitted telling Caldwell:

One day I'm going to be sitting up there and you're going to be blown away. Something's going to happen to you because sooner or later I'm going to catch you with a gun and you and I are going to have it out. I'm going to kill you. Next time we're going to get the drop on you.

         Gerrans later testified that had he known about Crenshaw and Caldwell's history, he may have had second thoughts about Crenshaw being involved in the investigation.

          Gerrans met Cobbs during the course of the canvass. Cobbs had witnessed the shooting and agreed to an interview with Gerrans. During the interview, Cobbs stated that the shooters did not live around her, but that she recognized them from seeing them in the area a few times. Cobbs said she did not know the shooters' names or nicknames. Cobbs gave a description of the shotgun shooter as a 5'4", 150-pound, African-American man that wore his hair in a jheri curl. Caldwell had an apartment next door to Cobbs' and may have lived there.

         1. The Alleged Show-up at Cobbs' Door

         During the July 13, 1990, canvass, Crenshaw saw Caldwell on the street and approached him. In Caldwell's retelling, Crenshaw knew that Gerrans was interviewing a potential witness and marched Caldwell to Cobbs' door. At the door Crenshaw knocked, Cobbs answered, and Crenshaw asked if the homicide inspector was there. Caldwell and Cobbs made eye contact. According to Caldwell, once Gerrans came to the door, Crenshaw stated "this is Maurice Caldwell, or Twone, right here. And can I have your keys?" Crenshaw asked for Gerrans' keys despite having his own car nearby. Andrena Gray, Caldwell's girlfriend at the time, corroborated Caldwell's story in a later-filed declaration, stating Crenshaw "forcibly walked [Caldwell] down the street, and stopped in front of the door of an apartment, which I later learned was the apartment of Mary Cobbs."

         Caldwell alleges that Crenshaw manufactured this show-up to manipulate Cobbs into falsely identifying Caldwell as the shooter. Defendants do not dispute that Crenshaw knocked on Cobbs' door while Gerrans was interviewing the witness, but they all contend that Caldwell was not with Crenshaw at the door.

         2. The Conversations between Caldwell and Crenshaw

         Caldwell and Crenshaw spoke to one another two different times during the canvass. The men tell different stories. First, Crenshaw confronted Caldwell in the street. It was during this encounter on the street that, according to Crenshaw, Caldwell made a "spontaneous statement" about being present at the shooting and dealing drugs. The second encounter between Crenshaw and Caldwell took place in Gerrans' car and Crenshaw told Caldwell that homicide wanted to talk to him.

         According to Caldwell, on the street, he asked Crenshaw, "why do you harass me?"[5] In the car, Crenshaw asked "what do you know about a murder?" and Caldwell responded, "I don't know nothing about nothing." Crenshaw then allegedly asked Caldwell where he was the night of the murder and Caldwell replied that he was at his uncle's house. From these encounters, Crenshaw later wrote the following notes:

Maurice Caldwell stated that he was present at the shooting, but he was down the street. Prior to the shooting. Caldwell was with the suspects dealing drugs. After the shooting Caldwell returned and started yelling at the shooters, he did this because he felt he was going to be blamed. He further stated he knew why I stopped him, because 'anytime somebody does any ...

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