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Maness v. Daily

Supreme Court of Alaska

August 16, 2013

Bret F. MANESS, Appellant,
John DAILY, Eric Smith, Tinamarie Buffington, Thad Hamilton, Eric Spitzer, Clifton Peck, Kevin Ehm, Municipality of Anchorage, Anchorage Police Department, Alaska State Troopers, Alaska Court System, Appellees.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Bret F. Maness, Anchorage, pro se.

Ruth Botstein, Assistant Attorney General, Anchorage, and Michael J. Geraghty, Attorney General, Juneau, for Appellees Hamilton, Spitzer, and the Alaska State Troopers.

Robert P. Owens, Assistant Municipal Attorney, and Dennis A. Wheeler, Municipal Attorney, Anchorage, for Appellees Municipality of Anchorage, Daily, Peck, Ehm, and Anchorage Police Department.

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Before: FABE, Chief Justice, WINFREE, STOWERS, MAASSEN, and BOLGER, Justices.


STOWERS, Justice.


In the early hours of June 28, 2001, Alaska State Troopers went to Bret Maness's home to take him into custody for psychological evaluation, pursuant to an involuntary commitment order that had been issued by the superior court. When the troopers arrived at his home, Maness threatened to kill the troopers then fled, first in his RV, and later on foot. During the pursuit, Maness was shot by an Anchorage Police Department officer and then arrested.

Maness filed a civil action against many of the participants in the events leading to his shooting and arrest. In 2008 we affirmed the superior court's grant of summary judgment with respect to all of Maness's claims except those based on excessive force.[1] Maness then amended his complaint, adding numerous state tort claims to his excessive force claims. The superior court again granted summary judgment to the defendants, with the exception of the Anchorage police officer who actually shot Maness. Maness's excessive force claim against the police officer who shot him went to trial, where the jury delivered a verdict for the police officer. Maness now appeals the grant of summary judgment with respect to his claims against two of the Alaska State Troopers who attempted to execute the civil commitment order. He also appeals the superior court's award of attorney's fees to the defendants.


A. Facts

On June 27, 2001, Maness's former girlfriend filed a petition for initiation of involuntary commitment for Maness, alleging that Maness was confused, delusional, and paranoid. At the ex parte proceeding for the commitment, the former girlfriend stated that Maness likely had a gun with him. Based on her testimony, Superior Court Judge Eric Smith ordered that Alaska State Troopers take Maness into temporary custody and transport him to the Alaska Psychiatric Institute (API) for psychological evaluation pursuant to AS 47.30.700. The court's order stated in part that there is " probable cause to believe that the respondent is mentally ill and ... presents a likelihood of causing serious harm to [himself] or others."

The Alaska State Troopers were informed of the basic facts underlying the order, including that Maness was armed and could be dangerous. Troopers first attempted to execute the order at Maness's home in Wasilla during the evening of June 27, but received no response when they knocked on the front door. When the next shift came on duty that night, Shift Sergeant Randel McPherron sent three troopers— Thad Hamilton, Eric Spitzer, and Kevin Yancey— to Maness's home for a second attempt.

The three troopers arrived at Maness's home in separate vehicles at approximately 1:00 a.m. They parked on a side road, about 100 yards from Maness's home, and took separate paths up Maness's driveway on foot. Trooper Hamilton described this as a " stealth" approach intended to avoid a surprise attack and ensure officer safety.

Maness's property included both a trailer home and an old Winnebago RV. The troopers heard a dog barking inside the RV and could see a male figure through the RV window. Hamilton approached the RV and exchanged words with the man, who identified himself as Maness. Hamilton saw a rifle in the RV, within Maness's reach. Hamilton tried the doorhandle and window of the RV to " make sure [Maness] wasn't going for any weapon," but both were locked.

The troopers continued to exchange words with Maness. At some point, Spitzer turned on his shirt-pocket cassette tape recorder and recorded the troopers' interactions with Maness. A transcript of the recording shows that Hamilton told Maness that the troopers were concerned about his health and were not going to take Maness to jail. Maness refused to come out of the RV and profanely

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exclaimed to the troopers that they were going to die. When Hamilton again told Maness they were not going to take him to jail, Maness responded, " No, you won't, but somebody ... else will and I ain't going back." Maness then repeated his threat that the troopers would die if they did not leave.

The troopers returned to their vehicles, intending to set up a perimeter and lay a spike strip to disable Maness's RV if he tried to flee. Before they set up the strip, they saw Maness's RV leave the property. The troopers followed Maness in their marked police vehicles with their lights and sirens on, with Spitzer in the lead, Yancey second, and Hamilton third. As the troopers chased Maness, loud popping sounds emanated from his RV. Spitzer and Hamilton believed that some of the popping sounds were from the RV backfiring but that others sounded like gunshots and that Maness was firing at them. Spitzer reported on his police radio that Maness was firing at the troopers and that his car had been hit.

Pursued by the troopers, Maness drove southbound on the Glenn Highway toward Anchorage. Additional law enforcement, including members of the trooper's State Emergency Response Team (SERT) and the Anchorage Police Department (APD), were called to assist with the pursuit. The vehicle pursuit ended when Maness's RV hit a spike strip that other troopers had placed on the road. Maness exited the RV and was confronted by numerous law enforcement officers from several agencies. Maness claims that he held his hands up and heard gunshots. Maness then ran back into the RV, grabbed a rifle, a handgun, and ammunition, and fled into the woods.

An extended manhunt through the woods ensued as law enforcement agents pursued Maness for about five hours. Hamilton and Spitzer assisted in setting up a perimeter to ensure Maness did not escape the area. Discussing the situation, Spitzer said to Hamilton that he could not find a bullet hole in his car, but nevertheless believed that something had hit his car during the chase. Hamilton told Spitzer that he had been close to shooting Maness's tires out and that he should have done so. While listening to police radio reports of Maness's movements through the woods, Spitzer commented to Hamilton that Maness was going to run into the Inlet and then laughed before saying, " I wish he would have." After hearing further radio communications, Spitzer said to Hamilton, " [W]eapon levels up, even if he's ... running with it." Spitzer testified that by this comment he meant that if the troopers saw Maness running with his weapon pointed toward them, they should be prepared to shoot him.

At about 4:30 a.m., two troopers (not Spitzer and Hamilton) encountered Maness in the woods and ordered him to stop; Maness responded with a profane comment and fled. At about 6:45 a.m., an APD-led canine tracking team consisting of three APD officers, a police dog, and State Trooper Sgt. McPherron found Maness in a small clearing. APD Officer Clinton Peck fired his weapon, hitting and injuring Maness. At the time he was shot, Maness had in his hand a fully loaded rifle. There was a factual dispute concerning whether Maness had pointed his gun at the team before the shooting. Troopers Hamilton and Spitzer were not part of the canine tracking team and were not present when Maness was shot.

After Maness was shot, Spitzer's car was thoroughly inspected; there was no evidence of gunshot damage. Spitzer testified that even though he may have been mistaken, he was right to make a " shots fired" report based on what he perceived at the time. He stated that the road they were driving on was very bumpy and " apparently [his] vehicle had bottomed out ... right after the shot was heard," leading him to believe it was hit. Hamilton testified that he continued to trust his initial impressions that Maness was shooting at the troopers, despite the lack of damage to the car.

McPherron testified that the reason the SERT team was called in was " partly" because of Spitzer's report that Maness was shooting at them, but " the other information that [Maness was] potentially armed and [was] ... refusing to comply with troopers' orders to surrender" also informed the decision to call in SERT. McPherron also stated that regardless of the report of shots fired, it was proper to continue the pursuit of Maness

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because the troopers had a valid commitment order and Maness was fleeing officers and committing traffic violations.

Maness acknowledged that previous to the night of the incident he had never met Hamilton or Spitzer and that he had no reason to believe they ...

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