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Muschette v. Town of West Hartford

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

November 15, 2017

AUDLEY MUSCHETTE and JUDITH MUSCHETTE, on behalf of A.M., Plaintiffs,
v.
TOWN OF WEST HARTFORD, AMERICAN SCHOOL FOR THE DEAF, PAUL W. GIONFRIDDO, CHRISTOPHER LYTH, CHRIS HAMMOND, and ELWIN ESPINOSA, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION ON DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          WARREN W. EGINTON, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         In this action, plaintiffs allege on behalf of their then 12-year-old son (1) excessive force against Officer Paul W. Gionfriddo, (2) municipal liability against the Town of West Hartford for failure to adequately train its police officers, (3) violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act against the Town, (4) municipal liability against the Town for failure to adequately supervise its officers, (5) negligence against the American School for the Deaf, (6) negligent infliction of emotional distress against the School, (7) battery against Officer Paul W. Gionfriddo, Officer Christopher Lyth, Chris Hammond, Elwin Espinoza, the Town, and the School, (8) assault against Officer Paul W. Gionfriddo, Officer Christopher Lyth, Chris Hammond, Elwin Espinoza, the Town, and the School, (9) intentional infliction of emotional distress against Officer Paul W. Gionfriddo, Officer Chris Hammond, Elwin Espinoza, the Town, and the School, (10) violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act against the School, (11) negligence against Officer Paul W. Gionfriddo, and (12) negligence against the Town.

         Defendants have moved for summary judgment on all of plaintiffs' claims. For the following reasons, defendants' motions will be granted in part and denied in part.

         BACKGROUND

         The following background was gleaned from the parties' statements of fact, affidavits, deposition transcripts, and other exhibits.

         On April 30, 2013, plaintiff A.M. was a 12-year-old student at the American School for the Deaf, located in West Hartford, Connecticut. On that date, Paul Gionfriddo and Christopher Lyth were employed as police officers by the Town of West Hartford.

         The American School for the Deaf serves deaf and hearing impaired persons. At all relevant times, Christopher Hammond was employed by the School as a residential counselor. Hammond is a deaf individual who communicates with other deaf persons by means of American Sign Language.

         Following a dispute between A.M. and staff at his school regarding an attempt to place a takeout meal order, A.M. made a videophone call to his parents. Hammond unplugged the videophone from the wall to end A.M.'s call causing A.M. to become angry. A.M. threw the videophone remote against the wall and proceeded to wrap the videophone wires around his neck with enough tension to cause his face to turn red. Hammond was able to succeed in loosening and removing the wires from A.M.'s neck, but A.M. subsequently ran out of the dorm building into a nearby, fenced-off, construction area.

         The parties dispute the degree to which A.M. became violent toward Hammond and other staff members as well as the extent to which A.M.'s actions were taken in self-defense, but A.M. admits to hitting Hammond with a stick and throwing rocks that struck Hammond in several places.

         A.M. picked up a larger rock, which caused staff members to back away. Dean Ron Davis called 911. When the police arrived, Officer Gionfriddo spoke with School staff members and Dean Davis.

         Officers Gionfriddo and Lyth moved into the construction area with Davis and Hammond. The officers relied on Davis and Hammond to act as interpreters between A.M. and the officers. Gionfriddo gave instructions to Davis, who relayed them to Hammond, who in turn signed the instructions to A.M. Defendants maintain that there was no doubt that A.M. was aware of the presence of the police, but A.M. denies that he was aware of their presence and denies receiving such instructions.

         According to defendants, Officer Gionfriddo told Davis to tell Hammond (in sign language) to tell A.M. (in sign language) to put down the rock. Defendants also contend but plaintiffs deny that A.M. was warned that he would be shot with an electric gun if he refused to relinquish the rock that he was holding. A.M maintains that he was never alerted to the possibility that he would be shot with a Taser gun. Although Gionfriddo testified that he believed that Hammond was accurately interpreting the commands being relayed by Davis, a jury is not required to credit such testimony when A.M.'s testimony directly contradicts it.

         Officer Gionfriddo shot A.M. in the back with his Taser gun, and electroshock was administered for a period of 5 seconds. However, the two officers were unable to handcuff A.M. at that time, so Gionfriddo administered a second round of electroshock. After the second Taser deployment, the officers were able to handcuff A.M.

         Paramedical personnel on the scene removed the Taser prongs and transported A.M. in an ambulance to a hospital. A physical evaluation at the hospital revealed a Taser mark on A.M.'s back, an abrasion to his chest, and a scratch to his right hand.

         At deposition, Officer Gionfriddo admitted that A.M. did not make any quick, adverse moves before Gionfriddo fired the projectile prongs into A.M.'s back. Nor did A.M. threaten to throw any rocks in Gionfriddo's presence. Moreover, Gionfriddo testified that if A.M. were to have made any quick moves, Goinfriddo was comfortable that he could disarm him by deploying the Taser at that time.

         Gionfriddo was on the scene for under three minutes before resorting to his Taser.

         Plaintiffs maintain that A.M.'s “passive resistance” did not warrant the deployment of an electric gun. The West Hartford Police Department's own guidance order on the use of Taser guns provides that the guns “may be used by trained West Hartford Police Officers to temporarily incapacitate an actively resisting, combative or violent individual.” (emphasis added).

         DISCUSSION

         A motion for summary judgment will be granted where there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and it is clear that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). "Only when reasonable minds could not differ as to the import of the evidence is summary judgment ...


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