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Mitchell v. Miller

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

June 15, 2015

JONATHAN E. MITCHELL, Plaintiff, Appellant,
v.
ROBERT MILLER, Defendant, Appellant

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MAINE. Hon. Nancy Torresen, U.S. District Judge.

Michael J. Waxman for Jonathan E. Mitchell.

Mark E. Dunlap, with whom Norman, Hanson & DeTroy, LLC was on brief, for Robert Miller.

Before Howard, Thompson, and Barron, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 74

THOMPSON, Circuit Judge.

We seldom do our best thinking in the murky hours when late night seeps into early morning. What strikes one as a fine

Page 75

idea in the darkness may reveal itself to be a brilliant mistake in the cold light of dawn. Decisions made well past 4 a.m. by two men -- one a suspect, the other a police officer -- are at the heart of this appeal. Jonathan E. Mitchell, once the suspect, now the plaintiff, decided to break in to his estranged wife's apartment to talk about their relationship, and then opted to lead police on a car chase. He now contends that Officer Robert Miller violated his Fourth Amendment rights when Miller shot him as he sped away. The district court granted summary judgment to Miller, finding that the officer was entitled to qualified immunity. Although Mitchell appeals that judgment, because we find the district court reached the right decision, we affirm.

I.

Background

On the evening of April 9, 2011 in Portland, Maine, Jonathan E. Mitchell spent time drinking at a bar and smoking marijuana before deciding to help himself to a friend's Volkswagen Jetta. In the wee small hours of the 10th, Mitchell had the idea of visiting his estranged wife to talk " about their relationship." Perhaps anticipating the reception he might receive, instead of calling or ringing the bell, Mitchell broke into the sleeping woman's apartment. He then woke her and talked to her in what he characterizes as an attempt " to rekindle their relationship." Unsurprisingly, she viewed his behavior as more of a criminal act than a display of ardor, and, once Mitchell made his exit, she called the police. The woman reported the break-in at 4:39 a.m., and provided a description of the Jetta, as well as the direction in which Mitchell was driving when he left.

The police dispatcher, in turn, passed along the information to patrol officers and added that: Mitchell's driver's license had been revoked as a habitual offender; he was a sexually-violent convicted felon; and he was reported to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs and " possibly unstable." Portland Police Officer Robert Miller was on patrol that evening when he heard the report of the residential burglary, spotted the Jetta, and began to follow Mitchell. A video camera mounted to Mitchell's cruiser recorded the subsequent events.[1]

Mitchell turned into a residential neighborhood and drove at a normal rate of speed, stopping at stop signs and using his turn signal. After Miller confirmed that this was the Jetta he had been looking for, he turned on his blue lights and siren. Rather than pull over, Mitchell continued to drive at a moderate speed for over a minute. At this point, Officer David Schertz joined the pursuit in his own cruiser.

Mitchell, now tailed by two cruisers, sped up and drove down residential side streets at speeds of up to sixty-five miles per hour. After another forty seconds, Mitchell turned down a dead-end residential street and, at the end of the street, veered up onto an embankment, coming to rest three to four feet above street level. The remainder of the incident, captured on video, took only twenty-six seconds to unfold.

As Miller parked his cruiser behind the Jetta, and Schertz parked behind Miller, Mitchell began ...


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