A Parsons man has sued the city of Parsons and one of its police officers for allegedly violating his civil rights and using excessive force last year during an arrest.
The city of Parsons and the officer, Brice Dickens, deny wrongdoing during the arrest and are seeking to have the federal suit dismissed, or Dickens removed as a defendant, for failing to state a claim, among other reasons.
Matt W. Brantley, formerly of 3108 Faye, and his mother, Shirley Brantley, filed the suit in February in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kansas, against Dickens and the city of Parsons. The city, through the law firm Fisher, Patterson, Sayler and Smith, filed answers and the motion to dismiss on Friday. No hearing date has been set on the motion. Brantley is seeking $75,000 in each of two counts in his suit, as well as unspecified punitive damages and attorneys fees.
Dickens arrested Brantley on March 8, 2015, at his home for pedestrian under the influence and obstructing the official duty of an officer. The two charges were filed in Parsons Municipal Court. Brantley appeared in court on March 18, 2015, and pleaded not guilty, according to City Attorney Ross Albertini. On Nov. 17, 2015, Brantley and his attorney, Burton Haigh, who is representing Brantley in the federal lawsuit, entered into a diversion agreement with the city on an amended charge of disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor, and Brantley stipulated in the diversion that he acted disorderly on March 8, 2015.
On April 6, 2015, Albertini said the city received a letter from Brantley’s attorney that was immediately forwarded to the city’s insurance carrier, which has since dealt with the potential claim and lawsuit.
The attorney for the insurance company has advised all city personnel to make no comment about the litigation, Albertini said.
Brantley claims that the manner in which he was arrested caused his traumatic brain injury. He makes two claims in his lawsuit against the city and Dickens, one alleging excessive force used in his arrest and the other alleging the city or Dickens neglected to offer proper training to avoid unnecessary use of force in arrests or the “take down” of citizens.
The complaint says on March 8, 2015, Brantley allegedly had a verbal exchange with his neighbors, the nature of which was non-threatening and non-violent, but caused the neighbor to call police and report Brantley’s insults. Dickens investigated and left after a discussion with all parties.
Dickens returned after a second call to police by a neighbor who alleged Brantley was rude to a guest of the neighbor’s. The suit claims Dickens made his decision to arrest Brantley on hearsay because the guest had since left.
Dickens arrested and handcuffed Brantley at Brantley’s home. A video reveals that Dickens was unsure of what charge to cite Brantley on and he decided pedestrian under the influence and obstruction. The suit claims that the obstruction had yet to occur.
The suit quotes a portion of Dickens’ report: “ … when I arrived, Matt was standing inside his residence, looking out his front door. I walked up to Matt’s front porch and told Matt that he needed to step outside. Once Matt stepped outside, I told Matt to put his hands behind his back. I placed Matt’s left wrist into my handcuffs.”
Dickens report alleges that Brantley then pulled away and “continued to stiffen and tighten his arms up.” Because of this, Dickens took Brantley to the ground, causing Brantley’s head to strike the ground, according to Brantley’s suit. Brantley suffered a brain aneurysm as a result, and the injury required an emergency craniectomy for evacuation of a subdural hematoma and extended acute care hospitalization at Kansas University Medical Center from March 25, 2015, to April 14, 2015. Brantley will continue to require expense for medicine and medical attention related to the residual effects of the brain injury, has suffered visual field loss and double vision as result of the head trauma and required temporary placement at a traumatic brain injury rehabilitation center April 14, 2015, according to Brantley’s lawsuit.
In count 2 of the lawsuit, Brantley claims the city failed to train or inadequately trained Dickens to arrest citizens properly or take down citizens using reasonable force. In the alternative, the suit claims the city never trained Dickens to refrain from using unnecessary force in takedowns or in making arrests. This failure, the suit claims, was the proximate cause of Brantley’s injuries. The city also has “illegal policies” that encourage this conduct, the suit claims.
The city response
The attorneys for the city and Dickens deny many of the allegations in Brantley’s suit. The attorneys seek to have Dickens removed as a defendant in the suit in part because the claims against him and the city are redundant. The attorneys also asked to have the lawsuit dismissed for failing to state a claim, among other legal issues.
The city’s response shows there was a verbal exchange between Brantley and his neighbors and Dickens was called to investigate. But “Dickens repeatedly warned Plaintiff (Brantley) that his conduct could result in him being arrested for disorderly conduct,” according to the city response. The city also denies that Brantley’s conduct was non-threatening and non-violent.
Shortly after leaving, police received a second call to return to Brantley’s neighborhood. Brantley apparently made verbal remarks to a neighbor’s guest. However, Brantley’s arrest was not based on hearsay of a guest that was no longer in the area. “Rather, Dickens’ arrest was based upon probable cause to arrest Plaintiff for the offense of disorderly conduct occurring during Dickens’ initial encounter with Plaintiff,” the city’s response reads.
The city also countered Brantley’s claim about how the arrest transpired.
“The video recording captured by Dickens’ body camera shows that Plaintiff was standing by his front door and opened the front door of his residence as Defendant Dickens approached Plaintiff’s residence. As Dickens approached the front door of Plaintiff’s residence, he instructed Plaintiff to leave the residence and put his hands behind his back,” the city’s response reads.
The city admits that Brantley was in police custody after Dickens restrained and began handcuffing him. Brantley then began to resist the handcuffing once his left hand was cuffed by pulling away and stiffening and tightening his arms.
“It is further admitted that, because of Plaintiff’s non-compliance and resistance, Dickens intentionally took Plaintiff to the ground in order to complete the process of handcuffing Plaintiff. Defendant denies any remaining express or implied allegation … that the takedown maneuver utilized by Dickens was unreasonable, excessive or that this takedown caused Plaintiff’s head to strike the ground,” the city’s response reads.
In its motion to dismiss, the city claims that Dickens acted in his official capacity as a law officer and that “Dickens’ use of force was both objectively reasonable and privileged” under state law.
The motion also says Brantley’s claim is barred by the statute of limitations and the Kansas Tort Claims Act and that it fails to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Brantley’s claim of false arrest under the Fourth Amendment is barred by Brantley’s participation in the diversion program during which he stipulated to violating the law on March 8, 2015.
“Plaintiff’s claims are barred by the intentional criminal conduct committed by Plaintiff, Plaintiff’s failure to comply with the lawful orders of a law enforcement officer, and his resisting arrest,” the city’s motion reads. “No custom, practice or policy of the Defendants was the cause or moving force of the injuries claimed by Plaintiff in this Complaint.”
The city claims qualified immunity for Dickens. The qualified immunity doctrine protects government officials from liability for civil damages as long as their conduct does not violate statutory or constitutional rights.
The response also shows that the training issue fails to state a claim. The plaintiff must establish a harmful conduct was done in following an official municipal policy. Specifically, Brantley must show that an employee committed a constitutional violation and that municipal policy or custom was the moving force behind that constitutional violation. The claim also must show the city acted with deliberate indifference.
The response claims the complaint fails to do this, plus it didn’t identify a specific policy pertaining to the use of force.
Brantley is seeking a jury trial on his complaint.