City of Oklahoma City v. Tuttle

PETITIONER: City of Oklahoma City
RESPONDENT: Rose Marie Tuttle, Individually and as Administratrix of the Estate of Tuttle
LOCATION: We’ll Do Club

DOCKET NO.: 83-1919
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

CITATION: 471 US 808 (1985)
ARGUED: Jan 08, 1985
DECIDED: Jun 03, 1985

Burck Bailey - for petitioner
Burk Bailey - on behalf of the Petitioner
Carl Hughes - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case

On October 10, 1980, an Oklahoma City police officer shot and killed Albert Tuttle outside a bar. Rose Marie Tuttle, Albert’s widow, sued the police officer and the city in district court under Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871, which allows an individual to recover damages against a party who “acting under color of state law” deprives another of his constitutional rights. The district court instructed the jury that the city could be held liable only if the incident had been caused by a municipal “policy,” but a single, unusually excessive use of force could support a finding that the city was grossly negligent or deliberately indifferent in the training or supervision of its police force and was therefore liable under Section 1983. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the police officer but against the city and awarded Tuttle’s estate $1.5 million in damages. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed.


Does a single, isolated incident of the use of excessive force by a police officer establish an official policy or practice of a municipality that renders it liable for damages under Section 1983?

Media for City of Oklahoma City v. Tuttle

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 08, 1985 in City of Oklahoma City v. Tuttle

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments first this morning in the City of Oklahoma City v. Tuttle.

Mr. Bailey, you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Burk Bailey:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court, on the night of October 4, 1980, an Oklahoma City police officer named Julian Rotramel shot and killed a man named William Tuttle.

The shooting occurred outside a bar in Oklahoma City called the "We'll Do Club".

The bar was located in what Plaintiff's expert called an interstitial city area, what he described as a rough part of town.

The events leading up to the shooting are unusual.

The evidence was that Mr. Tuttle was a frequent patron of the bar, and that day he had been in and out of it several different times, He was said to be despondent over a quarrel he had had with his wife, and his despondency had caused him on a previous occasion following a quarrel with his wife to slash his wrist in the bar.

He was... he called the Oklahoma City Police Department and reported an armed robbery in progress and described to the dispatcher the armed robber as himself.

He said,

"He's a white male. "

"He's about 37 years old. "

"He has glasses, brown hair. "

and such as that.

The dispatcher put out an all-points bulletin to all officers, and there were two officers patrolling separately in the general vicinity of the bar.

One of them was Julian Rotramel, a rookie police officer who had been out of the Oklahoma City Police Academy about ten months following an 18-week training exercise at the Oklahoma City Police Academy.

He was 22 years old at the time.

Another officer patrolling in the general vicinity was a veteran police officer named Lennox.

Rotramel arrived on the scene almost within one minute after he received the call.

He was within eight or nine blocks of the club.

What happened after he went into the club is in sharp dispute in the testimony.

Rotramel's testimony was that he walked into the darkened bar... it was a so-called "blind" building, concrete blocks, with a single door that operated on a trap spring that closed behind you... and found the person later found to be Tuttle; in any event, the person who matched the description of the robber at the bar, and that Tuttle walked toward him as if to leave through the door behind him.

Rotramel said that he put his hand on his shirt or arm or chest, and anyway he held him, and that Tuttle said something that's in dispute.

Why can't I leave, or something like that.

And Rotramel replies,

"I've got a call. "

"Stay put. "

It's Rotramel's testimony that Tuttle tried twice to reach for his boot, and that he straightened him up.

The two bartenders, female bartenders in the bar, testified they saw Tuttle make no such action to retrieve anything from his boot.

Rotramel lighted his flashlight, it was dark in there, and signaled to the bartender to come toward him.

His testimony was he asked if there was a robbery in progress, and that she uttered only one word, "robbery", and it doesn't indicate whether it was with a question mark like "robbery"?