Geraldine Nicholson; Jose Fernando Huerta; J. H., a minor by and through his guardian ad litem, Jose Fernando Huerta; J. N. G., a minor by and through his guardian ad litem, Geraldine Nicholson, Plaintiffs-Appellees,
City of Los Angeles; Everardo Amaral, individually and in his official capacity as a Police Officer of the Los Angeles Police Department, Defendants and Miguel Gutierrez, individually and in his official capacity as a Police Officer of the Los Angeles Police Department, Defendant-Appellant.
and Submitted March 4, 2019 Pasadena, California
from the United States District Court for the Central
District of California Dean D. Pregerson, District Judge,
Presiding D.C. No. 2:15-cv-07594-DDP-RAO
L. Rocawich (argued) and James R. Touchstone, Jones &
Mayer, Fullerton, California, for Defendant-Appellant.
Herbert-John S. Hayden (argued) and John W. Harris, Harris
& Associates, Los Angeles, California, for
Before: Andrew J. Kleinfeld, R. Guy Cole, Jr., [*] and Jacqueline H.
Nguyen, Circuit Judges.
panel reversed in part and affirmed in part the district
court's denial of qualified immunity to a Los Angeles
Police Department officer in an action brought pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of plaintiffs' Fourth
Amendment rights to be free from excessive force and
unreasonable seizure and violations of their Fourteenth
Amendment substantive due process rights.
were among a group of teenagers who had met in an alleyway
near their school to listen to and sing rap music. One of the
teenagers, plaintiff J.N.G., was shot by defendant Gutierrez
after Gutierrez mistook a plastic Airsoft replica gun held by
one of the other teenagers for an actual gun. After the
shooting, officers detained the group for over five hours
while they investigated. J.N.G. and J.H. filed a lawsuit and
the district court denied qualified immunity on
plaintiffs' Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment claims.
the Fourth Amendment claim, the panel agreed with the
district court that under the circumstances, plaintiffs'
continued detention for five hours after the shooting-well
after any probable cause would have dissipated-and the use of
handcuffs throughout the duration of the detention violated
plaintiffs' clearly established Fourth Amendment rights
to be free from unlawful arrest and excessive force. The
panel rejected Gutierrez's argument that while he
participated in the initial handcuffing and detention, he was
not responsible for any subsequent constitutional violation
because he played no role in that conduct. The panel held
that an officer can be held liable where he is just one
participant in a sequence of events that gives rise to a
constitutional violation. Here, viewing the evidence in the
light most favorable to plaintiffs, Gutierrez was more than a
"mere bystander" in the alleged constitutional
violations. The panel affirmed the district court's
denial of qualified immunity on the Fourth Amendment
violations because, ultimately, a reasonable jury could
conclude that Gutierrez played an integral role in the
unlawfully prolonged detention and sustained handcuffing of
the Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process claim, the
panel held that, viewing the totality of the evidence in the
light most favorable to the plaintiffs, the shooting violated
plaintiffs' due process rights. Under the circumstances,
a rational finder of fact could find that Gutierrez's use
of deadly force shocked the conscience and was
unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment.
Nevertheless, the panel held that because no analogous case
existed at the time of the shooting, the district court erred
by denying Gutierrez qualified immunity for this claim. The
panel accordingly reversed the district court and remanded
for an entry of qualified immunity on the Fourteenth
NGUYEN, CIRCUIT JUDGE:
morning of February 10, 2015, four teenagers met in an
alleyway near their school to listen to and sing rap music.
As the teenagers-Michael Sanders, Abdul Wooten, J.N.G., and
J.H.-stood in a tight circle dancing and
rapping, Sanders was holding a plastic Airsoft replica gun
with a bright orange tip as a prop. Just as they turned off
the music and were getting ready to head to school, J.N.G.
was shot by Officer Michael Gutierrez of the Los Angeles
Police Department ("LAPD"). Officer Gutierrez fired
his weapon because he mistook Sanders's replica gun for
an actual gun. Gutierrez fired multiple shots, one of which
hit J.N.G. in the back. After the shooting, officers detained
the group for over five hours while they investigated.
and J.H. (collectively, "Plaintiffs") filed a
lawsuit against the officers, the LAPD, and the City of Los
Angeles, alleging violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth
Amendments and various state laws. The district court denied
qualified immunity on two of Plaintiffs' constitutional
claims. Gutierrez appeals. We affirm in part and reverse in
around 7:15 a.m. on February 10, 2015, J.N.G., J.H., Michael
Sanders, and Abdul Wooten met in an alley at the corner of
10th Avenue and Florence Avenue in Los Angeles, CA, a few
blocks from their high school. They regularly gathered in
that alleyway before and after school to listen to music and
freestyle rap. That morning, as they were rapping and dancing
in a circle, Sanders was holding a plastic toy gun with a
bright orange tip. J.N.G., J.H., and Wooten maintain that
Sanders kept the gun pointed downward around waist-level and
did not fire the gun that morning. At approximately 7:40
a.m., the teenagers turned off the music and began preparing
to head to school.
this time, Officer Everardo Amaral was driving down 10th
Avenue in an unmarked car with his partner, Officer
Gutierrez. From the passenger seat, Gutierrez "saw a
person (later identified as Michael Sanders) pointing . . . a
blue steel handgun at another person (later identified as
Plaintiff J.H.)." Gutierrez, believing that J.H. was
"being robbed at gun point or was about to be
murdered," yelled "Gun, gun, gun!" Amaral
stopped the vehicle south of the alley on 10th Avenue.
Without conferring with Amaral, Gutierrez immediately jumped
out of the car and ran into the alley. Amaral parked the car
and followed Gutierrez. Neither officer was in uniform.
claims he identified himself as an LAPD officer and commanded
Sanders to drop the gun. However, J.H., J.N.G., and Wooten
all contend that Gutierrez did not identify himself or make
any verbal commands prior to shooting his weapon. A few
seconds after he entered the alley, Officer Gutierrez fired
at least three shots, one of which hit J.N.G. in the back.
J.N.G. and J.H. contend that Gutierrez fired his gun with one
hand while running toward them, while Gutierrez stated that
he fired only after stopping a few feet away from the group.
When the shots were fired, J.H. was about to put on his
school uniform, and J.N.G. was spraying cologne on his face.
The four of them had been standing in a tight circle,
"within a foot or so of each other." Sanders soon
turned and dropped the toy gun, though the parties dispute
whether this occurred before or after Gutierrez fired.
after Officer Gutierrez fired, Officer Amaral arrived and
requested three additional units. Amaral also requested an
ambulance when he realized that J.N.G. had been shot. The
officers held the group at gunpoint, face down on the ground.
The parties dispute how far the dropped "gun" was
from the teenagers when they were on the ground, but neither
officer picked it up or moved it away from them. While on the
ground, J.H. shouted that the gun was "not even a real
gun" and repeatedly asked why the officers shot at them
and "What did we do wrong?" The officers remained
silent in response to his questions, with dumbfounded
expressions on their faces. Responding officers soon arrived,
and they searched and handcuffed the group. Gutierrez was
"involved in the decision to handcuff them."
Officer Amaral later explained in his deposition that the
detention of the boys was "[f]or [a] weapons
violation." Officers Gutierrez and Amaral were separated
and monitored soon after additional units arrived on the
scene. J.H. remained in handcuffs throughout ...