United States District Court, D. Connecticut
ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART MOTIONS
FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
Jeffrey Alker Meyer United States District Judge.
night of April 1, 2013, Detective Christopher Borona shot and
killed a young man named Bryan Stukes. He shot Stukes shortly
after he saw Stukes on a public sidewalk in Bridgeport,
Connecticut apparently threatening another man with a rifle.
When Detective Borona intervened, Stukes ran away, and
Detective Borona pursued him. Stukes dropped his rifle, and
Detective Borona shot and killed him some moments later.
administrator of Stukes' estate has filed this lawsuit
against Detective Borona, the Bridgeport police chief, and
the City of Bridgeport alleging in principal part that Stukes
was the victim of excessive force in violation of the Fourth
Amendment. The defendants have now moved for summary
judgment. I will grant in part and deny in part their
motions. As to the primary issues-whether Detective Borona
used excessive force and whether Detective Borona should have
qualified immunity-I conclude on the basis of compelling
video of the events in question that a genuine issue of fact
remains for a jury to decide at trial. When I view the video
and other evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiff
(as I am required to do when evaluating a motion for summary
judgment), I have to conclude Detective Borona knew that
Stukes was no longer armed when he fired the shot that killed
him. If plaintiff can prove at trial that Detective Borona
knew he was shooting an unarmed man, then plaintiff should be
permitted to try to convince the jury that the decision to
shoot Stukes was objectively unreasonable in violation of the
Fourth Amendment, and the Court in turn may consider anew in
light of the trial evidence and jury findings whether
Detective Borona should be entitled to qualified immunity.
ruling today is not a conclusion that Detective Borona
violated anyone's rights. Detective Borona was pulled in
on the spur of the moment to respond to an explosive
situation stemming from Stukes' decision to brandish a
rifle in a threatening manner on a public sidewalk. My
conclusion for now is solely that the facts surrounding
Detective Borona's decision after pursuing Stukes to fire
the shot that killed him are disputed enough that it should
be for a jury to decide what happened at trial.
relevant events all occur within a few minutes on the night
of April 1, 2013, as shown on video recorded by three
different surveillance cameras mounted outside Golfinho's
Fish Market store on the corner of Pequonnock Street and
Benham Avenue in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Two of the cameras
show from opposite angles the sidewalk and street area on
Pequonnock Street in front of the store. The third camera
shows the sidewalk and street area on Benham Street just
around the corner from the front of the store. The summary
judgment record helpfully includes a single exhibit that
combines all three synchronized video feeds, along with an
overlay of contemporaneous police radio transmissions and
audio of a 911 call that was made to the police. See
Ex. A-l. My factual recitation below is based principally on
what I can see and hear in the video, as reasonably
interpreted in the light most favorable to plaintiff. To the
extent that I recount facts below that are not either shown
or heard in the video, these facts are drawn from elsewhere
in the record to the extent that plaintiff has either
admitted or not disputed them.
video shows a man named Anthony Davis on the sidewalk near
the Golfinho's store while placing a 911 call to the
police. Ex. A-l at 9:46:53. He told the dispatcher that a man
named "Bryan" (who turned out to be the decedent,
Bryan Stukes) was trying to shoot him with a
rifle. Davis walked up to the front of the store,
pointed inside, and asked in a loud voice: "Is there an
officer there?" Id. at 9:47:05. Davis then
walked away from the store entrance and stood in the middle
of Benham Avenue looking down the street while continuing to
talk to the dispatcher. Id. at 9:47:51.
video then shows Stukes and his girlfriend walking quickly up
Benham Avenue toward Davis, while Davis moved out of the
street and on to the sidewalk in front of the store.
Id. at 9:47:58. Just as he reached the corner of
Benham and Pequonnock, Stukes pulled out from his pants a
long rifle. Id. at 9:47:58. After he then rounded
the corner heading toward Davis who was in front of the
store, Stukes held the rifle horizontally at a slightly
downward angle, and he was within about six feet of Davis who
stood by the curb in front of the store and who continued to
talk to the police on his phone. Ibid. Stukes then
advanced to just about two feet away from Davis, while Davis
in turn taunted him, saying "Shoot me!" repeatedly.
Stukes' girlfriend came up from behind to separate the
two men. The barrel of the rifle was mostly pointing at about
knee level in the direction of both Davis and Stukes'
girlfriend, although the video shows that at one point the
barrel was briefly raised to the level of Davis's
girlfriend then managed to push Stukes away from Davis and
back toward the corner of Benham Avenue. Id. at
9:48:09. But she did not succeed in wresting the rifle away
from him. Id. at 9:48:20. She then turned around and
approached Davis who was now standing by the curb slightly to
the right of the front door of the store. Id. at
9:48:23. Stukes in turn went back again to confront Davis.
Id. at 9:48:24-25. He now held the rifle on the side
of him that faced the front door of the store. During this
second approach, Stukes held the rifle in both hands and held
it horizontally at a slightly downward angle. Id. at
meantime, Detective Borona happened to be inside
Golfinho's store on a coffee break while on duty. He was
armed with a Smith & Wesson handgun and wore a badge on his
hip but was not in police dress uniform. He testified at his
deposition that while he was in the back of the store getting
coffee from a coffee machine he heard someone scream that
there was a man outside with a gun. Doc. #103-6 at 8. He went
to the front of the store, saw Stukes outside holding a rifle
in a threatening manner, and he then drew his own handgun and
went outside to confront Stukes. Id. at 8-13.
Borona then opened the door of the store with his gun drawn.
Ex. A-l at 9:48:24-25. At that point, Stukes was turned away
from the door, facing Davis who was at the curb. But Stukes
suddenly turned to his right to see the detective emerging
from the door behind him. Id. at 9:48:25. Detective
Borona was holding his handgun aimed at Stukes as he came out
onto the sidewalk. Stukes swiveled toward Detective Borona,
still with the rifle held low at a slightly downward angle,
and he swung the rifle across Detective Borona's path as
he turned to run back from the direction he had come toward
the corner of Benham Avenue. Id. at 9:48:27.
the rifle swung across Detective Borona's path, Stukes
did not stop to point the rifle at Detective Borona or fire
the rifle at any time. By the time that Detective Borona had
emerged from the door and was fully on the sidewalk in front,
Stukes was already in full flight toward the street corner
with his back to Detective Borona. Id. at 9:48:28.
Borona yelled "police" and "drop the
gun," Doc. #107-2 (¶ 16), and he fired once at
Stukes, hitting him in the legs as Stukes was rounding the
corner. Just after Stukes rounded the corner while still on
the sidewalk on Benham Avenue by the side of the corner
store, he fell to the ground, and his hat, the rifle, and
another small object fell in front of him. The video shows
the rifle sliding several feet forward down the sidewalk,
colliding with a signpost, then spinning in part to end up
lying on the sidewalk inches from the sign post and parallel
to the curb inches away, next to the back wheel of a parked
car. Ex. A-l at 9:48:29-31.
of Stukes' rounding of the corner with Detective Borona
some distance behind him, it is unclear from the video-and
the point of greatest dispute between the parties-whether
Detective Borona was in a position to see or hear the rifle
fall or whether, if he was in such a position, he actually
knew or realized that Stukes was no longer armed with the
rifle. At one particular framepoint in the video, Stukes is
still on the ground, while the rifle is still moving and in
contact with the signpost, and Detective Borona's
shoulders are already turned as if he has rounded the corner,
such that plaintiff has a strong argument that Detective
Borona was in a position to see Stukes' loss of the
rifle. Id. at 9:48:30. Viewing the facts as I must
at this stage in the light most favorable to plaintiff, I
must assume for present purposes that Detective Borona knew
that Stukes had dropped the rifle and knew that he no longer
had it in his possession.
video shows Detective Borona coming into view one second
later on Benham Avenue about a half a car's length behind
Stukes who was immediately back on his feet and who resumed
running away straight down the Benham Avenue sidewalk.
Id. at 9:48:31. Detective Borona still had his gun
in both hands leveled in a ready-to-fire position at Stukes
as he fled. Detective Borona continued about a car's
length down the sidewalk next to the signpost where the rifle
lay on the ground. At that point, Detective Borona shot again
at Stukes, causing Stukes' left arm to fly up.
Id. at 9:48:33.
Stukes continued to run away down the street and out of
camera view, this second shot by Detective Borona hit Stukes
in the back and soon proved fatal after Stukes collapsed some
distance away. The video shows that a total of eight seconds
elapsed between when the door to the store first opened for
Detective Borona to emerge at 9:48:25 and when Detective
Borona fired the second and fatal shot at 9:48:33.
Detective Borona's second shot he almost immediately
stopped the pursuit of Stukes. Id. at 9:48:34. He
turned around to his right and appears in the video to see
Stukes' girlfriend coming down the sidewalk toward him
and then to look down to his left at the rifle where it was
lying next to the signpost and curb on the sidewalk.
Id. at 9:48:36. This is the first point in the video
where it is clear that Detective Borona turned his head
downward in the direction of the rifle on the ground.
next 30 seconds or so, Detective Borona paced around with his
gun in the same area, looking around and looking down at the
sidewalk, at which point he removed his radio from a
waistband and appeared to speak into it. Id. at
9:49:03. About two more minutes passed with Detective Borona
maintaining his same position in this area, repeatedly
looking down toward the rifle and at Stukes' hat, before
more police officers arrived. Id. at 9:51:21.
in her capacity as administratrix of the estate of Stukes has
filed this lawsuit against Detective Borona, Police Chief
Joseph Gaudett, and the City of Bridgeport alleging an
amalgam of federal and state law claims. All three
defendants have moved for summary judgment.
principles governing the Court's review of a motion for
summary judgment are well established. Summary judgment may
be granted only if "the movant shows that there is no
genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is
entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(a). I must view the facts in the light most favorable to
the party who opposes the motion for summary judgment and
then decide if those facts would be enough-if eventually
proved at trial-to allow a reasonable jury to decide the case
in favor of the opposing party. My role at summary judgment
is not to judge the credibility of witnesses or to resolve
close contested issues but solely to decide if there are
enough facts that remain in dispute to warrant a trial.
See generally Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1866
(2014) (per curiam); Pollard v. New York Methodist
Hosp., 861 F.3d 374, 378 (2d Cir. 2017).
Amendment claim against Detective Borona
first consider plaintiffs Fourth Amendment claim for
excessive force against Detective Borona. As for any such
claim against a police officer in the context of a §
1983 lawsuit for money damages, I must consider whether the
police officer has violated the Constitution and, if so,
whether the police officer is entitled to qualified immunity.
Of course, a court has discretion to skip the constitutional
question and simply address the application of qualified
immunity (i.e., whether any constitutional violation
amounted to a violation of clearly established law of which
any objectively reasonably officer would have been aware).
SeePearson v. Callahan,555 U.S. 223, 242
(2009). But I won't do that here. Bryan Stukes is dead.
And Detective Borona is accused of a very serious violation
of constitutional rights. In such life-and-death cases and
where a court's ruling has ...