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Sage v. City of Winooski

United States District Court, D. Vermont

March 22, 2017

DORIS SAGE, as limited guardian of her son, ISAAC SAGE, Plaintiff,
CITY OF WINOOSKI, through its Police Department, and JASON NOKES in both his individual and official capacities, Defendants.


          William K. Sessions III District Court Judge

         Plaintiff Doris Sage, as the mother and personal representative of Isaac Sage, brings this action claiming that a Winooski police officer wrongfully shot her mentally-ill son in 2013. Defendants City of Winooski and Corporal Jason Nokes have filed motions to dismiss certain counts in the Complaint. Ms. Sage has moved to amend her Complaint. All motions are opposed. For the reasons set forth below, the pending motions are each granted in part and denied in part.

         Factual Background

         For purposes of the pending motions to dismiss, the facts alleged in the Complaint will be accepted as true. At 1:40 p.m. on April 25, 2013 Corporal Jason Nokes and Officer Chris MacHavern of the Winooski Police Department responded to a report of a person trespassing at the Woolen Mill Health Club in Winooski. That person was Isaac Sage, a Winooski resident with a long history of mental health issues.

         When the officers arrived at the scene, they were told by health club employees that Mr. Sage had left the property at their request. The employees nonetheless asked the officers to serve him with a notice of trespass. The officers then returned to their cruisers and began to search for Mr. Sage.

         At 1:46 p.m., Corporal Nokes notified police dispatch that he had spotted Mr. Sage on West Allen Street. The Complaint alleges that Mr. Sage was walking to the Winooski Police Department to report mistreatment by health club staff. Officer MacHavern arrived at the West Allen Street location, saw Corporal Nokes speaking with Mr. Sage, and exited his cruiser.

         When Corporal Nokes asked Mr. Sage for identification, Mr. Sage responded that Corporal Nokes should already know him as a resident of Allen House. The Complaint describes Allen House as “a residence owned and operated by the Howard Center . . . for persons with chronic and persistent serious mental illness.” ECF No. 1 at 3, ¶ 3. Plaintiff asserts that Winooski police are occasionally called to Allen House to address disturbances, and that the reference should have alerted the police officers that Mr. Sage was mentally disabled.

         When Mr. Sage declined to provide identification, Corporal Nokes asked if he preferred to be arrested and proceeded to open a handcuff case. Seeing the handcuff case, Mr. Sage struck Corporal Nokes in the face, causing Corporal Nokes to back away and move toward his cruiser. Officer MacHavern grabbed Mr. Sage, but Mr. Sage was able to spin away. Officer MacHavern then deployed his Taser and shot Mr. Sage with two Taser barbs. When the first Taser cartridge had no effect, Officer MacHavern fired the Taser a second time. At that point Mr. Sage was flailing, and Officer MacHavern moved toward him to deploy his Taser in “drive stun” mode.

         Before Officer MacHavern could again deploy his Taser, Corporal Nokes, who was ten to fifteen feet away from Mr. Sage, fired his service weapon and hit Mr. Sage in the leg. The Complaint alleges Mr. Sage was not moving toward either officer when he was shot. Mr. Sage fell to the ground and was taken to the hospital for treatment. He was later transported to the Vermont State Police barracks in Williston.

         Immediately after the incident, Corporal Nokes told Officer MacHavern that he thought Mr. Sage was holding a knife at the time of the shooting. Corporal Nokes subsequently made similar statements to other officers. According to the Complaint, however, Corporal Nokes later admitted that he did not see anything in Mr. Sage's hand, and a subsequent investigation determined that Mr. Sage had not been carrying a weapon.

         In addition to suing Corporal Nokes, the Plaintiff has brought claims against the City of Winooski for negligent hiring, training, and retention. In support of the negligent retention claim, the Complaint alleges that Corporal Nokes has “a substantial history of malfeasance, dishonesty and character weakness, ” including a 2008 drunk driving incident.

         Procedural Background

         The Complaint consists of five causes of action: (1) unreasonable use of deadly force in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments; (2) failure to provide reasonable accommodations in violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act; (3) failure to provide reasonable accommodations in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”); (4) intentional tort claims of assault, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress; and (5) negligent hiring, training, and retention by the City of Winooski. For relief, the Complaint seeks compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorneys fees and costs.

         Currently pending before the Court are motions to dismiss filed by the City of Winooski and Corporal Nokes. The City's motion argues for dismissal of the ADA and Rehabilitation Act claims for failure to state a claim, and for the dismissal of all state law tort claims on the basis of municipal immunity. Corporal Nokes moves to dismiss only the ADA and Rehabilitation Act claims. Plaintiff has since moved for leave to file an Amended Complaint, with the primary ...

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