A federal judge has ruled that a lawsuit against Carmel City Attorney Doug Haney stemming from two encounters with a memory-impaired Carmel resident may proceed, although the court limited its scope.
Carmel resident Gary W. Brooks, who has trouble forming new memories because of a 1995 brain aneurysm, filed the suit against Haney and the City of Carmel in 2018. Brooks uses a video recorder to document important daily interactions to help him remember what happened.
According to court records, Brooks claims that Haney became aggressive on separate occasions when Brooks refused to stop recording in the Dept. of Community Services in 2016 and in the law office in 2017, with the 2017 incident leading to a sprained wrist. Recording is allowed in certain areas of City Hall, such as hallways and the council chambers, but it is prohibited in other areas, including both places where Haney confronted Brooks.
For all of Brooks’ claims, Haney and the City of Carmel requested summary judgment, meaning the judge would make a ruling on the merits of Brooks’ arguments without a full trial. Judge Tanya Walton Pratt did so on three claims, ruling Sept. 15 that Haney did not violate the Americans with Disabilities Act or Brooks’ Fourth Amendment rights or commit battery during the 2016 incident.
She denied summary judgment on Brooks’ claim that Haney violated his First Amendment rights by not allowing the recording, although Haney will be entitled to qualified immunity and cannot be held liable for civil damages on this claim. She also allowed the battery claim from the 2017 encounter to proceed.
“The video shows that Haney is the aggressor who approaches Brooks,” Walton Pratt wrote in her ruling. “The parties’ disagreement about whether Haney intended to cause harmful or offensive contact when he touched Brooks is a disputed issue of material fact.”
The incident began when Brooks visited the law department regarding a public records request. Brooks, who had already been told to stop recording, said he wanted to obtain a signature on the request receipt form, but Haney said he refused unless Brooks stopped recording or stepped outside the office.
Brooks kept recording, and Haney asked a co-worker to call the police and continued ordering Brooks to turn off the camera.
“Rather than waiting for a law enforcement officer to arrive, Haney approached Brooks, reached toward Brooks and the video camera as he yelled at Brooks to turn it off, and he made physical contact, resulting in Brooks suffering pain to his wrist,” Walton Pratt wrote, noting that during the altercation, the video camera turns side to side.
In a deposition, Haney described the physical contact during the 2017 incident.
“(Brooks) moves the camera toward my face again and, reflexively, I block his forearm with my right hand to get him away from me,” he said. “I touched his lower forearm for about a second with an open palm. And then I backed away, and he leans toward me again so I moved to block it. I don’t think I even touched him the second time, but that was about a second.”
The City of Carmel declined to comment on the matter because it is a pending legal matter. Brooks’ attorney had not responded to a request for comment as of press time.