United States District Court, D. Vermont
OPINION AND ORDER
William K. Sessions III District Court Judge.
Joshua Skinner brings an action against multiple Vermont
police officers for excessive force, false arrest,
retaliation for the lawful exercise of First Amendment rights
and various state law claims. Defendants Eric Shepard and
Alexander Tower filed a Joint Motion for Summary Judgment.
ECF 53. Defendants Michael DeFiore and Brian Claffy filed
separate, individual motions for summary judgment. ECF 51,
52. DeFiore, Shepard, and Tower also filed a Motion for Rule
54(b) Entry of Judgment. ECF 62.
reasons set forth below, Defiore's Motion for Summary
Judgment is granted, Shepard and Tower's
Joint Motion for Summary Judgment is
granted, and Claffy's Motion for Summary
Judgment is granted. Defendants' Motion
for Rule 54(b) Entry of Judgment is also
evening of May 2013, Plaintiff Joshua Skinner
(“Skinner”) and his friend Christopher Coffen
(“Coffen”) came to Burlington, Vermont for a work
project. ECF 51-2 at 2. At the time, both men were living in
Windham, Maine. Id. at 5. While in Burlington, the
two men stayed in Coffen's car. Id. at 2.
Coffen's car was an unregistered Cadillac sedan bearing
license plates that belonged to a truck owned by Skinner.
Id. at 3.
16, 2013, Skinner and Coffen went to Mike's Pizza where
they consumed 2 to 3 beers each. Id. at 2. They left
Mike's Pizza at 10:47 p.m. Id.
1:00 a.m. on May 17, 2013, Officer Alexander Tower of the
Williston, Vermont police department pulled over Coffen for
making a right turn without signaling. ECF 51-2 at 3. Skinner
was still in the car, along with a dog. Id. at 7.
Officer Tower asked Coffen for his license. Id.
Coffen did not have a license at the time and gave Officer
Tower a fake name when asked to identify himself.
Id. Tower noted that Coffen was very tense, had
watery and bloodshot eyes, and smelled faintly of alcohol.
Tower returned to his car and spoke with dispatch to verify
the name Coffen had given him. ECF 51-2 at 4. Officer Eric
Shepard overheard Officer Tower's radio transmission and
drove his police cruiser to the area. Id. Officer
Shepard pulled his car behind Officer Tower's, checked in
with Officer Tower, and then approached the Cadillac.
Id. at 5. Officer Shepard noted that Coffen's
eyes were bloodshot and watery and that the car smelled like
alcohol. Id. Skinner and Coffen denied that they had
been drinking and told Officer Shepard that they worked at
Vermont Pub and Brewery. ECF 51-2 at 5.
Shepard was concerned that Skinner and Coffen might initiate
a physical confrontation and called Sergeant Brian Claffy to
Tower approached the Cadillac again and requested that Coffen
step out from the car to perform field sobriety exercises
Id. Coffen became verbally aggressive and refused to
exit the car. Id. Officer Tower asked Coffen to turn
off the motor. Id. Coffen refused and began driving
the car away from the officers. ECF 51-2 at 6.
officers followed the Cadillac in their vehicles, chasing the
car at approximately 80 miles per hour. Id. Sergeant
Michael DeFiore of the South Burlington Police Department
heard a request for assistance on his radio and headed
towards the scene. Id. at 7.
the Cadillac stopped on Route 2A in Williston. This section
of Route 2A is a two-lane road with a small undefined
shoulder and no artificial lighting. Id. The nearest
commercial area is miles away. Id.
the Cadillac stopped, officers Tower and Shepard got out of
their cars, ordered Coffen to turn off the Cadillac, and
commanded Coffen and Skinner to put their hands in the air.
ECF 51-2 at 7. The officers ordered Coffen to open his door
multiple times but Coffen refused. Id.
Claffy arrived and instructed Officer Tower to remove Coffen
from the Cadillac. Id. Tower removed Coffen and
handcuffed him. Id.
Claffy approached the passenger side of the Cadillac.
Id. Skinner was in the passenger seat and had on his
person an empty gun holster, a knife, and a set of brass
knuckles. Id. A handgun magazine was visible on the
floor of the Cadillac. ECF 51-2 at 9. The dog was still in
the car and the officers inferred that the two men had been
living in the Cadillac. ECF 51-2 at 14.
Coffen was being handcuffed, Skinner reached out of the
driver-side window with his phone, in an effort to record the
whole incident. ECF 60-1 at 2. At that point, Sergeant Claffy
grabbed his hand and held it until Coffen was completely
secured. ECF 51-2 at 9. Sergeant Claffy asked Skinner if
there was a gun in the car and ordered Skinner to exit the
Cadillac. Id. at 10.
Skinner exited the car, Sergeant Claffy patted him down and
found the brass knuckles and knife. Id. Claffy
smelled alcohol coming off of Skinner. Id. at 11.
Sergeant Claffy asked Skinner again if there was a gun in the
car but Skinner refused to answer. Id.
told Skinner to put his hands on the trunk of the Cadillac
and took away Skinner's phone. Id., ECF 60-1 at