Barton v. Martin, No. 18-1614 (6th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
A cat was clawing Barton's daughter in the yard. Intending to “scare it away,” Barton shot a BB gun at their trampoline’s legs, several feet from the cat. Barton yelled to Porter, three doors down, “the next cat that I see in my yard will be a dead one.” Barton had previously complained to animal control that Porter fed stray cats. Barton returned to his work. Porter called 911 and said that Barton had told her that “your grey cat ... got shot in the head.” She said she did not know if it was a BB gun and admitted she had not seen the injured cat and that the cat could not have been hers. The dispatcher broadcast: a woman said that her neighbor was “shooting cats” and that she was not sure what type of weapon was used. Animal Control arrived and spoke to Barton, who refused to come outside or provide identification. He explained that he had shot at a trampoline with a BB gun to scare the cat. The officer saw neither weapons nor injured cats.
Minutes later, eight officers arrived, produced weapons, and “surrounded” Barton’s house. Barton passed his identification through the door. Moments later, “fearing that [Barton] was grabbing a gun,” Officer Vann “ripped [their] screen door off [and barged] into [their] house.” Vann “threw [Barton] up against the counter.” Other officers followed. Vann handcuffed Barton, then “shoved” Barton down his steps and into a patrol car. At the station, Barton was strip-searched while handcuffed to the wall above his head despite complaints of shoulder injury. Three hours later, Barton was released on a $500 cash bond. The charge was dismissed.
Under 42 U.S.C. 1983, Barton alleged illegal entry, unreasonable arrest and prosecution, excessive force, and First Amendment retaliation. The court granted Vann summary judgment, citing qualified immunity. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Warrantless entry into a home without an exception to the warrant requirement violated clearly established law. A phone call reporting criminal activity, without corroboration, does not provide probable cause for an arrest. A reasonable jury could find that Vann’s actions violated Barton’s right to be free from excessive force during the arrest and that Vann used excessive force after arresting Barton.