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Robinson v. Hawkins

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

September 5, 2019

Kayla Robinson Plaintiff - Appellee
v.
Angela Hawkins, individually and in her official capacity; Kelli Swinton, individually and in her official capacity Defendants - Appellants St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners; Richard Gray, In his official capacities as a member of the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners; Bettye Battle-Turner, In her official capacities as a member of the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners; Thomas J. Irwin, In his official capacities as a member of the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners; Erwin Switzer, In his official capacities as a member of the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners; Francis G. Slay, In his official capacities as a member of the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners Defendants

          Submitted: January 16, 2019

          Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri - St. Louis

          Before SMITH, Chief Judge, COLLOTON and ERICKSON, Circuit Judges.

          ERICKSON, Circuit Judge.

         Kayla Robinson sued Officers Angela Hawkins and Kelli Swinton for civil conspiracy and Officer Hawkins for excessive force and performing an unreasonable search.[1] The officers moved for summary judgment, and the district court denied their motion. The officers now appeal that denial. Because Robinson has not stated facts sufficient to support a finding of civil conspiracy or excessive force, we reverse the district court in part. We affirm that portion of the district court's opinion denying Officer Hawkins summary judgment on the unreasonable search claim.

         I. Background

         We view the facts in a light most favorable to Kayla Robinson, the non-moving party to the summary judgment. On October 19, 2012, St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (SLMPD) Officers Angela Hawkins and Joseph Speiss were among a group of officers conducting a police checkpoint. At approximately 10:30 p.m., Robinson's boyfriend-who was driving Robinson's car while she sat in the front passenger seat-made an illegal U-turn, apparently to avoid the checkpoint. Officers from the checkpoint then conducted a traffic stop on Robinson's car.

         As Officer Hawkins approached the stopped car she saw Robinson's boyfriend hand something to Robinson, and Robinson "taking her hands out of the front of her waistband." Robinson v. City of St. Louis, Mo., No. 4:17-CV-156-PLC, 2018 WL 1695534, at *3 (E.D. Mo. Apr. 6, 2018). Officer Hawkins suspected that Robinson and her boyfriend had exchanged drugs or a weapon. Once she reached the car, Officer Hawkins asked Robinson to show her hands and step outside. Robinson complied. Officer Hawkins then handcuffed Robinson and performed a pat-down search which failed to reveal the presence of any contraband. Officer Hawkins then asked Robinson what she had placed in her waistband, and Robinson admitted to having attempted to hide some marijuana. Officer Hawkins told Robinson to retrieve the marijuana, but Robinson asked to be brought to the police station to retrieve the marijuana there. Officer Hawkins refused, citing officer safety concerns.

         Officer Hawkins moved Robinson to a nearby parking lot behind a tractor-trailer, intending to complete the search for the drugs that Robinson had admitted were in her possession. While being moved, Robinson continued to object to the search in the parking lot and asked to be taken to the station. According to Robinson Officer Hawkins said, "Bitch, no, we're doing this right now" and yelled at her repeatedly in response to her desire to be taken to the station, calling her a "f*cking dope fiend." Hawkins requested rubber gloves over the radio. Sgt. Mark McMurry, another SLMPD officer, drove up "alongside the trailer" and delivered a pair of gloves. Once in location Robinson retrieved the marijuana. Officer Hawkins remained convinced that Robinson was likely hiding other contraband. While there is some dispute as to what was said and done, Robinson asserts Officer Hawkins grabbed her by the arms and pushed her face-first into the trailer yelling, "Bitch, this isn't all that you have. You're not freaking out over a bag of marijuana."

         Officer Hawkins turned Robinson around and pushed her back against the trailer. Pictures of Robinson's clothes from that evening show some staining, reportedly caused by the encounter. Robinson claims Officer Hawkins then unfastened her pants, pulled down her underwear, and "touched . . . Robinson's vagina, anus, and inside her vagina lips." Robinson claims that shortly thereafter, Officer Hawkins planted a baggie containing drugs on the ground in front of Robinson.[2]

         Robinson also claims she "could still see the man [i.e., the male officer] that was watching" during the search. Security footage confirmed the presence of a male officer in the lot during at least a portion of the search. Officer Hawkins did not dispute Robinson's assertion "that there were at least two male officers in the parking lot while [Officer Hawkins] searched [Robinson]." Robinson described the experience as feeling "like [she] was being raped in public."

         Officer Hawkins walked Robinson back to the patrol car and shortly thereafter Officer Swinton arrived at the scene of the stop. Officer Swinton observed that Robinson was "hysterical." According to Officer Swinton it appeared that Robinson was "having a panic attack."

         Robinson was transported to the police station, where she attempted to write a statement describing Officer Hawkins's behavior. While Robinson was writing her statement, Officer Swinton allegedly attempted to pressure her into claiming the "dope" belonged to her boyfriend. Robinson asked for a lawyer and Officer Swinton cursed at her in reply. Robinson claims Officer Swinton then read her statement, laughed, balled it up, and did not include the statement in the final incident report. At her deposition, Officer Swinton explained she did not include the statement in Robinson's incident report because it was unsigned. There is, however, no SLMPD policy requiring statements to be signed. Officer Swinton also described Officer Hawkins as a "mentor."

         The day after her encounter with police, Robinson visited an emergency room and was treated for shoulder pain, neck pain, and cuts and bruising on her wrists, all of which she attributed to her encounter with the officers. Following treatment, she was prescribed an anti-inflammatory drug, a pain-killer, and a muscle relaxant.

         Officer Swinton later drafted her own incident report for the evening, even though she had not been at the scene during most of the relevant events. The officers concede that Officer Swinton's report is riddled with inaccuracies and omissions. For example, the report did not mention the presence of Officers Spiess and McMurry, the pat-down search in the street, Robinson's request to be searched at the station, Officer Hawkins's request for gloves, the strip-search in the parking lot, the unfastening and lowering of Robinson's pants, or Robinson's distress.

         No charges were brought against Robinson. Robinson subsequently sued Officers Hawkins and Swinton in both their individual and official capacities under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violating her constitutional rights. Robinson alleged Officers Swinton and Hawkins conspired to produce a false police report. She also alleged Officer Hawkins used excessive force and performed an unreasonable search, in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Officers Hawkins and Swinton moved for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity.

         The district court construed Robinson's complaint as alleging that Officers Swinton and Hawkins had conspired to deny her access to the courts. The district court then granted summary judgment to the officers on the official capacity claims but denied summary judgment on the individual capacity claims. The court determined a reasonable jury could conclude that Officer Hawkins had used excessive force and performed an unreasonable search and that Officers Hawkins and Swinton had conspired to deny Robinson access to the courts.

         On appeal, Officers Hawkins and Swinton argue Robinson's complaint does not allege that they conspired to violate her constitutional rights, and they deny the existence of a constitutional right to an accurate police report. Officer Hawkins also denies having used excessive force or performed an unreasonable search.

         II. Discussion

         A. Conspiracy

         Count VI of Robinson's complaint alleges that the officers "unlawfully conspired with each other to violate [her] constitutional rights" and that she "was deprived of her rights guaranteed in the United States Constitution." The district court construed the conspiracy count as a conspiracy by the officers to deprive Robinson of her right access to the courts. While we have recognized that this type of construction may be appropriate, see S.L. ex rel. Lenderman v. St. Louis Metro. Police Dep't Bd. of Police Comm'rs, 725 F.3d 843, 848-49 (8th Cir. 2013) (cleaned up) (construing plaintiff's claim that defendants "had violated her Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process, property, equal protection under the law, and equal justice by conspiring together . . . to undertake a course of conduct that violated [plaintiff's] civil rights" as alleging deprivation of access to the courts), we believe that such a construction is unavailing to save Robinson's conspiracy claim in this case.

         In order to prove a conspiracy under § 1983, the plaintiff must show for a particular defendant: (1) a conspiracy between the defendant and at least one other person; (2) an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy; (3) a resulting injury to the plaintiff; and (4) the deprivation of a constitutional right or privilege. Askew v. Millerd, 191 F.3d 953, 957 (8th Cir. 1999) (internal citations omitted). Even though the question of a conspiracy to deprive a person of their constitutional rights is usually a jury question, a court may resolve a conspiracy claim on summary judgment where it is "convinced that the evidence presented is insufficient to support any reasonable inference of a conspiracy." White v. McKinley, 519 F.3d 806, 816 (8th Cir. 2008) (internal quotations omitted).

         This is such a case. Robinson has scant evidence from which a reasonable jury could infer that Officers Hawkins and Swinton conspired to deprive Robinson of her constitutional rights. The evidence Robinson points to included: Officer Swinton called Officer Hawkins "a mentor"; that Swinton's report included multiple material inaccuracies; that it was unusual for a person who had not witnessed either the stop or the search to prepare a report; and that Swinton was rude and disrespectful while Robinson drafted her statement. Taking Robinson's claims about Officer Swinton's treatment as true, we agree that Officer Swinton acted unprofessionally in yelling and cursing at Robinson while she drafted her statement. The multiple inaccuracies in Officer Swinton's report are concerning. These shortcomings reflect poorly on Officer Swinton's credibility. Nonetheless, they do not establish the existence of an agreement between Officers Hawkins and Swinton. That Officers Hawkins and Swinton enjoyed a close professional relationship is insufficient, standing alone, to support a reasonable inference of a conspiracy.

         We find the district court erred in denying Officers Hawkins and Swinton summary ...


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