Estate of Williams v. City of Milwaukee

Case Citation: Estate of Williams v. City of Milwaukee, 274 F.Supp.3d 860
Holding: The District Court held that fact issues precluded summary judgment on Fourth Amendment claim that officers failed to adequately attend to arrestee’s medical needs, fact issues precluded summary judgment on Monell claim, and fact issue precluded summary judgment on officers’ claim that they were entitled to discretionary qualified immunity.
Judgment: N/A
Fact Background: In July 2011, Williams, a 22-year-old black man was walking across an intersection wearing a costume mask over his mouth and holding his cell phone under his shirt, when four police, observing him, suspected he would soon attempt to rob a couple walking in Williams’ direction. The officers stopped their car in the street and began chasing Williams. The officers found Williams hiding under a table in a backyard, “curled up in a ball.” One officer yelled for Williams to show his hands and Williams immediately complied. The officers pulled Williams down such that he was laying on his back then flipped him over and handcuffed him. The officers remained on top of him, with Officer Ticcioni’s knee pressing into his back. Williams claimed he could not breathe and Officer Ticcioni relieved pressure from Williams’ back. Williams kept repeating that he could not breathe and, once standing, Williams went limp. The officers lay him back on the ground and searched for a gun Williams did not have. One officer tried to converse with Williams but his eyes kept closing as he muttered that he could not breathe. Williams went limp and had to be dragged out of the yard and thrown into the vehicle by officers who claimed they believed he was just resisting arrest. In the backseat, Williams can be heard on audio recording repeating that he can’t breathe and that he’s dying. Williams’ final actions were jerking movements of his arms before lying motionless in the back of the car. An officer got out of the car and opened the rear to check Williams for a pulse and breath; neither were present.
Procedural Background: Williams’ estate and surviving minor children have sued the City of Milwaukee and various police officers whom they contend violated Williams’ constitutional rights in the events leading to his death. Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, seeking dismissal of each of Plaintiffs’ claims. The district court denied Defendants’ motion in its entirety. Cline et al. appealed.
Opinion: The district court found that Plaintiffs have adequately overcome an assertion of qualified immunity by proffering facts which amount to a violation of constitutional rights that have been clearly established. The district court determined that the defendants “knew that Williams’ breathing complaints stemmed from a serious medical condition and they intentionally did nothing (until it was too late) because they were confident that they would suffer no discipline and that their mistreatment would not come to public light.” A reasonable officer would know his negligence toward Williams’ medical distress was unconstitutional as “an arrestee’s right to ‘objectively reasonable’ medical attention has been established since at least 2007.” Thus, it was ‘beyond debate’ that the defendants’ conduct violated Williams’ Fourth Amendment rights and “attempting to find a factually analogous case is therefore purposeless.”
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