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Ozga v. Elliot

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

December 21, 2015

EDWARD OZGA and ROBIN OZGA, Plaintiffs,
v.
STEPHEN ELLIOT, THOMAS PORTER, JEREMY BUSA, and MARK BEAL, Defendants.

ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

JEFFREY ALKER MEYER, District Judge.

On the afternoon of September 27, 2011, young Joseph Ozga tragically took his life with a gun at his home in Southington, Connecticut. He took his life shortly after a dispute with his father-plaintiff Edward Ozga. Convinced that Joseph had been stealing from him, Ozga angrily called 9-1-1 to have Joseph removed from the home. When the police arrived just a few minutes later, they found Joseph on the floor, barely alive and with a gunshot wound to the head.

It is clear now that Joseph's death was a suicide. But that was far from clear when the police first arrived and when they were met at the door by an angry Edward Ogza and then soon discovered Joseph's body inside. The police promptly detained Ozga in handcuffs in a police car outside the house for about 20 minutes, while an ambulance came to rush Joseph to the hospital. The police then removed Ogza from the police car and removed his handcuffs. Ogza alleges that he was then ordered by a senior police official to go with a police detective to the police station to furnish a statement. Late in the afternoon as Ozga was completing his statement to the police and about to leave, the police advised him that they had heard from the hospital that Joseph had died. Ozga was devastated by this news and very upset that he had not been at the hospital- rather than the police station-to be with his son.

Ozga has now filed this lawsuit principally claiming that he was subject to false arrest and false imprisonment by the police that day. I conclude that all the police officer defendants have qualified immunity from this lawsuit-that no reasonably objective police officer would have known that the police were violating Ogza's rights by initially detaining him and then by conducting the later investigation at the police station as they did. Accordingly, I will grant defendants' motion for summary judgment.

BACKGROUND

For purposes of my review of defendants' summary judgment motion, I must consider the facts in the light most favorable to plaintiffs as the non-moving parties.[1] Plaintiffs Edward and Robin Ozga lived in September 2011 with their son, Joseph, in Southington, Connecticut. Joseph had a history of drug addiction and had recently admitted to his parents that he had stolen $8, 000 or $9, 000 and jewelry from them. Joseph had also previously expressed thoughts of harming himself, had been diagnosed with a major mental illness, and had been hospitalized because of threats of suicide. See Doc. #23-2 at 2; Doc. #29-2 at 3, 8; Doc. #30 at 4.

Events at the Ozga Home

On September 27, 2011, Edward Ozga was at home with his son, while Robin Ozga was at her job where she worked as a nurse. A dispute arose between Ozga and Joseph after Ozga noticed that his video recorder was missing and accused Joseph of stealing it. Ozga was mad and aggravated. He called his son a drug addict and a thief and told him that now he would go to jail as he then called 9-1-1 to summon the police. See Doc. #29-2 at 5, 20; Doc. #23-15 at 3.

In response to Ozga's 9-1-1 call, Officer Thomas Porter of the Southington Police Department-who is one of the four named defendants in this action-promptly arrived at the house at about 2:00 pm. Ozga met Officer Porter at the front door, and Ozga was still angry; he told Officer Porter that Joseph was "ripping [him] off, " and told Porter to "Get him the f**k out of here." Doc. #29-2 at 15, 29; see also Doc. #29-4 at 4 ("I met Porter outside and said this f**king a**hole is stealing again and I want him to leave."). Porter asked if there were any weapons in the house, and Ozga advised that he had a gun. Doc. #29-4 at 4.

Ozga then directed Officer Porter inside to the lower level living room of the home where Officer Porter saw a body lying on the floor, unresponsive with blood on his shoulder and neck and with a gun on the floor beside him. There is no indication that anyone heard a gunshot. Officer Porter asked Ozga if the body on the floor was Joseph, and Ozga came up behind Officer Porter and confirmed that it was. Ozga then stooped down to try to pick up the gun, but Officer Porter told him not to touch it. Officer Porter immediately called dispatch reporting that shots had been fired and summoning an ambulance on a "Priority 1" urgent basis. See Doc. #23-2 at 3; Doc. #29-2 at 7-8; Doc. #29-4 at 5.

Events in the Police Car

About two minutes later, Officer Stephen Elliot-another named defendant in this case- entered the house. Officer Porter told Officer Elliot to secure Ozga in his squad car outside the house. According to Ozga, Officer Elliot was aggravated and angry; he grabbed Ozga by the arm, "horse-collared" him by grabbing his shirt collar at the front of his neck, and led him into the driveway. There, he patted Ozga down for weapons, handcuffed him, and secured him in the back of the police squad car. Ozga told Officer Elliot that he needed to call his wife Robin, and Officer Elliot said the police would do so. According to Ozga, Officer Elliot twice advised him that he was under arrest and did so despite Ozga's protest that he had not done anything wrong. See Doc. #23-2 at 4; Doc. #29-2 at 10-14, 18; Doc. #29-4 at 5; Doc. #30 at 4-5.

A third officer-Officer Jeremy Busa, who is also another named defendant in this action-was assigned to supervise Ozga while he sat in the police car. When Ozga asked Officer Busa about calling his wife, Officer Busa allegedly replied, "Why don't you just shut up and sit there." Doc. #29-2 at 15; Doc. #30 at 5.

Ozga remained detained in the car for about 20 minutes. During that time he saw paramedics arrive and then remove Joseph (who appeared to be still breathing) on a stretcher from the home. Doc. #23-2 at 4; Doc. #29-2 at 18-19; Doc. #30 at 5.

Detective Mark Beal-the last of the four defendants sued by Ozga in this action- arrived on the scene and asked the other officers to take Ozga out of the car. The officers let Ozga out and removed the handcuffs. See Doc. #29-2 at 22. At no time was Ozga subject again to any physical restraint by the police.

Detective Beal then told Ozga that he was going to do a gunshot residue (GSR) test on Ozga's hands, to which Ozga consented. Doc. #23-2 at 5; Doc. #29-2 at 22-23. Detective Beal swabbed Ozga's fingers, and Lieutenant Michael Shanley came over and asked Ozga what had happened. Doc. #29-2 at 23-24. After Ozga told Lieutenant Shanley the sequence of events, Shanley allegedly told him, "You have to go to the police station and give a statement." Doc. #29-2 at 24. According to Ozga, Lieutenant Shanley "[i]nsisted I go give a statement." Ibid.; see also Doc. #29-4 at 5 ("I was told by Shanley I must go with Beal to give a statement at the police station."). Lieutenant Shanley said that Detective Beal would drive Ozga to the station and take his statement.[2]

Events En Route to and at the Southington Police Station

Ozga rode in the front seat of Detective Beal's police car to the Southington police station. He remained without handcuffs or any physical restraint throughout the car ride. Doc. #23-2 at 5; Doc. #29-2 at 25. During the drive to the station, Detective Beal allegedly said to Ozga that he knew that Ozga had not shot the gun because the GSR test came back negative. Id. at 26. When Ozga asked what Beal thought had happened, Detective Beal responded, "Your son got caught stealing, he got pissed off, went downstairs and shot himself." Ibid.

Upon arriving at the police station, Ozga remained without any kind of physical restraint, and he walked alongside Detective Beal without any physical contact to an interview room. Doc. #29-2 at 25. Detective Beal showed Ozga into an interview room, which was video-equipped to record all the subsequent events that took place that afternoon in the room. A DVD of the video-recording is a part of the summary judgment record that I have reviewed. Doc. #23-25.[3]

Shortly after Ozga arrived with Detective Beal at the interview room, Detective Beal left the room and returned with a consent form for the GSR test that had been administered at Ozga's home. Detective Beal stated, "I took it, you consented to it, you allowed me to take it. This is just the form that we use. I didn't have one of these forms out in the field." Exh. M (2:20). Detective Beal read the consent form aloud to Ozga, and Ozga agreed and signed the form as reflected on the video. See also Doc. #23-24 at 2 (consent form).

Detective Beal then interviewed Ozga for about an hour-and-a-half from approximately 3:25 p.m. to 4:55 p.m. Doc. #29-2 at 28-29; Exh. M (2:25-3:55). Throughout the video, the door of the interview room remained closed except as one or more officers or Ozga himself went in and out. Ozga was not in handcuffs, and there were no actions taken by any police officers to restrain his movements in the room. Ozga was not told that he was under arrest or read any Miranda rights.

As shown in the video, Ozga was seated next to Detective Beal at a computer terminal for the purpose of generating a written statement, and the computer monitor was turned so that Ozga could simultaneously see what Detective Beal was typing. The resulting written statement is part of the summary judgment record. Doc. #23-15.

As Detective Beal began typing the first paragraph of Ozga's statement, Ozga silently read what was on the screen and added additional information for purposes of composing his statement. For example, Detective Beal typed the following: "My name is Edward..." and Ozga confirmed the spelling of his last name, "O-Z-G-A." See Exh. M (2:23).

Detective Beal proceeded to interview Ozga in this manner and simultaneously type his statement on the computer. Ozga recounted the day's events to Beal who wrote down his words and read them back to him to ensure that they were accurate. When Ozga finished telling what happened, Detective Beal asked him to review the full written statement so he could correct any errors or omissions. Detective Beal then read the entire statement aloud to Ozga. Exh. M (3:08). This included an out-loud reading of the following passage from the first paragraph of the statement, stating in part that Ozga was not under arrest and was free to leave:

I live at 949 South End Rd., Southington, Connecticut and make the following statement to Detective Mark Beal of the Southington Police Department. I know I am not under arrest and can leave at any time. I am making the following statement of my own free will and am aware it can be used as evidence in a court of law. I have not been threatened in any way or made any promises in return for this statement. I am also aware that a person is guilty of making a false statement under oath under ...

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