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Conlogue v. Hamilton

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

October 11, 2018

DANARAE CONLOGUE, as personal representative of the Estate of LEWIS N. CONLOGUE, Plaintiff, Appellant,
SCOTT HAMILTON, Defendant, Appellee.


          Hunter J. Tzovarras for appellant.

          Jonathan R. Bolton, Assistant Attorney General, with whom Janet T. Mills, Attorney General, and Cathy Roberts, Assistant Attorney General, were on brief, for appellee.

          Before Thompson, Selya, and Lipez, Circuit Judges.


         This tragic case involves the fatal shooting of an armed civilian by a state trooper following a prolonged standoff. The appeal turns on an application of the doctrine of qualified immunity - a doctrine that protects public officials (including police officers) from civil liability while acting under color of state law, save only for officials who act incompetently or in disregard of clearly established legal principles. See Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 341 (1986). The court below painstakingly catalogued the relevant facts, determined in a thoughtful rescript that the defendant was entitled to qualified immunity, and entered summary judgment accordingly. See Conlogue v. Hamilton, No. 1:16-cv-296, 2017 WL 5339895, at *2-8 (D. Me. Nov. 13, 2017). After careful consideration, we affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         When reviewing the entry of summary judgment, our task demands that we view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-movant (here, the plaintiff). See Savard v. Rhode Island, 338 F.3d 23, 26 (1st Cir. 2003) (en banc). Here, however, the raw facts are largely undisputed. We set them forth below, urging the reader who hungers for more exegetic detail to consult the district court's rescript.

         This case has its genesis in a set of facts that played out on August 3, 2014, in front of a deserted restaurant in the bucolic town of LaGrange, Maine. At 3:41 p.m., DanaRae Conlogue called 911 to report that her husband, Lewis N. Conlogue, was threatening suicide. She related that he had gotten out of their parked vehicle, put a gun to his head, and warned her to avert her eyes. Officers from the Penobscot County Sheriff's Office and the Maine State Police responded quickly to the scene. They took Mrs. Conlogue to a place of safety, established a command post, secured the perimeter, and assigned officers to strategically located positions.

         Thomas Fiske, a Maine state trooper, arrived at around 4:17 p.m. and positioned himself with two other troopers on the lawn of a residence across the street from the restaurant (some 200 feet away). Defendant-appellee Scott Hamilton, a sergeant and a member of the state police's tactical team, arrived shortly thereafter. Hamilton had been specially trained in the use of deadly force in high-risk situations. From his vantage point, he could not see the other troopers but learned of their position from communications broadcast over a police-operated radio. [1] Hamilton also learned that Conlogue was brandishing a semiautomatic handgun - a fact that helped Hamilton to calibrate the level of threat posed.

         For the first hour and twenty minutes, Conlogue remained mostly stationary, sitting on a rock with his gun pointed at his head. At approximately 5:02 p.m., Fiske reported that Conlogue had stood up and begun pacing around lethargically. In response to this report, Hamilton changed his position so that he could more clearly observe Conlogue through the magnifying scope attached to his rifle. Fiske then reported over the radio that Conlogue appeared to be assessing the scene: he was looking 360 degrees around his position and (according to Fiske) seemed to be gaining strength and momentum. At this juncture, another officer - William Sheehan of the Sheriff's Office - initiated direct communication with Conlogue.

         Sergeant Sheehan, using a loudspeaker, repeatedly asked Conlogue to put down his weapon, assuring him that the officers were worried about him and were there to help. When Conlogue responded by yelling obscenities, the officers knew that Conlogue could hear Sheehan's words. Even so, Sergeant Sheehan's warnings seemed only to escalate the tension. Conlogue went to his car, retrieved a knife, placed it in his back pocket, moved back toward the troopers, shaped his fingers like a gun, and pointed the simulated gun at Fiske and the other troopers.

         Next, Conlogue approached the road that separated him from the troopers. He paused to draw a line in the dirt, and Sheehan assured him that no officers would cross that line.Conlogue then moved closer to the troopers and drew another line. Fiske became concerned for his own safety - a fear that he communicated to the other officers over the radio.

         Despite continued warnings to put down his weapon and cooperate with the police, Conlogue refused to comply. He displayed a fully loaded magazine, placed the magazine into his gun, and pointed it at a forty-five degree angle over the heads of Fiske and the two other troopers. This action elicited a spate of warnings from Sheehan. Undeterred, Conlogue alternated between pointing the gun at his own head and pointing it in the direction of the troopers (at an angle of roughly forty-five degrees).

         When Conlogue flexed his wrist and extended the gun in front of his body, Fiske immediately related over the radio that the gun was "[a]bout forty-five degrees . . . over our heads" and added that "I'm not comfortable." To Hamilton, Fiske's tone conveyed fear. [2] Sheehan spoke forcefully to Conlogue, demanding that "[y]ou need to put the gun down. You need to put the gun down right now!" Hamilton neither saw nor heard anything indicating that Conlogue was of a mind ...

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