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Michael v. Trevena

United States District Court, D. North Dakota

February 22, 2017

Landon L. Michael, Plaintiff
Joshua Trevena and Ryan Chaffee in their individual capacities as officers of the Watford City Police Department, Defendants.


          Daniel L. Hovland, Chief Judge.

         Before the Court is the Defendants' motion for summary judgment filed on July 28, 2016. See Docket No. 19. The Plaintiff filed a response in opposition to the motion on August 18, 2016. See Docket No. 24. The Defendants filed a reply brief on September 1, 2016. See Docket No. 29. For the reasons set forth below, the Defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In late June 2014, Landon Michael traveled with his mother (Sharon), sister (Stephanie), and son (Brandon) from his home near Phoenix, Arizona, to Watford City, North Dakota. Michael is a native of Watford City. The family rented a Dodge pickup truck for the trip. Michael's mother rented the vehicle and listed Michael as an authorized driver.

         On or about July 3, 2014, a family squabble arose over using the rental vehicle to tow a van back to Arizona. The squabble pitted Michael against his mother and sister. Michael was opposed to using the rental vehicle to tow the van back to Arizona while his mother and sister favored the idea.

         During his visit to North Dakota, Michael spent some time staying at the home of his cousin, Jim Sondrol, in Watford City. On July 5, 2014, Stephanie and Michael's aunt visited the Sondrol residence, and a verbal argument arose over the keys to the rental vehicle. Stephanie demanded Michael turn the keys over to her, and Michael refused. There were, apparently, two sets of keys for the rental vehicle. Before Stephanie and her aunt left the Sondrol residence, they stated they would be contacting law enforcement to resolve the dispute.

         The Watford City Police Department received a telephone call at 7:00 p.m. on July 5, 2014, reporting the rental vehicle in question stolen. Chief Arthur Walgren, Officer Ryan Chaffee, and Officer Michael Trevena of the Watford City Police Department responded to the call at approximately 7:05 p.m. Upon arriving at the Sondrol residence, the officers found the family engaged in a heated argument over the keys to the rental vehicle. The dispute revolved around Michael's possession of both sets of keys, Michael's desire to speak with his mother, his mother's unwillingness to speak to Michael, and Michael's belief that his sister was keeping him from speaking to his mother. Chief Walgren reviewed the rental agreement and noted that Michael's mother rented the vehicle, and Michael was listed as an authorized driver. The officers determined the matter was civil in nature and encouraged the family to work out their differences. The officers encouraged Michael to return the keys to his mother. Michael turned over one set of keys while retaining the second set. No arrests were made or citations issued. The officers left the scene at 7:26 p.m. Unfortunately, the family was unable to completely resolve their petty dispute.

         The next day, July 6, 2016, Michael's sister, Stephanie, again contacted law enforcement for help resolving the dispute over the vehicle keys. Officer Trevena eventually spoke with Stephanie by telephone. Officer Trevena agreed to meet Stephanie at the Sondrol residence and conduct a “civil standby” to ensure everyone behaved, and that the second set of keys, which Michael still had in his possession, would be returned to his mother who had rented the vehicle.

         Officer Trevena arrived at the Sondrol residence shortly before 8:30 p.m. and found Michael seated in a lawn chair in the front yard. No other family members were present. Officer Trevena approached Michael and began to question him about the second set of keys.[1] The exchange began as follows:

TREVENA: What's going… MICHAEL: What's going on?
TREVENA: Is there another set of keys for the truck?
MICHAEL: Possibly.
TREVENA: Okay, I've had more than enough of this. I - this is all a civil issue.
MICHAEL: Exactly…

See Trevena Video.

         Officer Trevena again asked Michael if he had the second set of keys. Michael admitted he had the keys but stated the keys were at a different location. A debate then ensued as to whether Michael was entitled to possession of the keys as an authorized driver of the rental vehicle. Michael was adamant that he needed to talk to his mother, and his sister would not let him do so. During the exchange, Michael was uncooperative, emotional, and agitated. Officer Trevena was clearly frustrated with Michael's childish and irrational behavior. It is undisputed that Michael was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol during the incident. Officer Trevena told Michael he could be arrested for withholding property or deprivation of services and that he needed to get the keys and give them to his mother. Michael responded that he may want to press charges for harassment. Officer Trevena again inquired as to the location of the keys. Michael said he would have to go get them and then attempted to leave the scene in a vehicle. Officer Trevena told Michael that if he left he would be arrested. The following exchange then took place:

TREVENA: Where are they?
MICHAEL: I have to go pick them up.
TREVENA: Where are they?
MICHAEL: They are not with me, I've got to go get them.
TREVENA: That was something that you would tell me before you get into a car and take off.
MICHAEL: Sir I don't know what you fucking want from me.
TREVENA: Where are the keys at?
MICHAEL: I would like to speak to my mother, and I will hand the keys over to my mother.
TREVENA: Alright, where are the keys?
MICHAEL: I have them with a bunch of my other stuff at another location, okay? okay?
TREVENA: So you don't have the keys with you now?
MICHAEL: That's what I've been trying to tell you.
TREVENA: So if you talk to your mom, you're going to give her the keys?
MICHAEL: I will give her the keys, I need to speak with my mother one on one.

See Trevena Video.

         After this conversation, Officer Trevena walked behind the vehicle and called Michael's sister. Michael's sister and his mother arrived in a minivan a few minutes later. Michael walked over to the minivan and instructed his mother to get out. Stephanie intervened and heatedly told Michael to leave their mother alone. Michael again instructed his mother to get out of the van. Officer Trevena told Michael to sit down in the lawn chair and then went over to talk to Stephanie and Michael's mother. During the conversation, Michael's mother indicated that she did not wish to speak to Michael. Stephanie then get out of the van, approached Michael, and the two continued to argue over the keys.

         At approximately 8:30 p.m., Officer Chaffee arrived on the scene and received an update from Officer Trevena. After the situation was explained to Officer Chaffee, both officers walked over to Michael and continued their attempts to persuade Michael to turn the keys over to his mother. Michael stated that he would give the keys to his mother if she came over to where he was seated. Officer Trevena asked Michael how he could give her the keys if he did not have the keys on his person. Michael responded by stating he would make sure she gets the keys. Michael then asked if they were stopping him from talking to his mother. Officer Trevena responded that he was not stopping him, but informed Michael that his mother did not want to talk to him.

         At this time, Michael walked around the officers, behind the minivan, and approached the front passenger window where his mother was sitting and attempted to speak with his mother. As Michael approached, Stephanie started the minivan and began to drive away. Once Michael noticed the minivan driving away, he stuck his right foot out causing the rear passenger side tire to run over it. The following discussion then took place:

TREVENA: You intentionally put your foot under ...

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