The opinion of the court was delivered by: GREEN
This is an action under the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA"), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346(b), 2671 et seq. Plaintiffs seek damages for false arrest and false imprisonment, arising out of their arrest by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") on September 9, 1981. A trial to the Court was held on February 3 and 4, 1986. The Court heard testimony from plaintiffs David Conteh, Daniel Koroma, Ahmadu Conteh, Thomas Bangura, Mohammed S. Mansaray, Mohammed Koroma, Theophilus Kessebeth; FBI Special Agents Thomas Nicoletti and James Werth; former Sergeant Joseph Tutka of the Uniformed Division of the United States Secret Service ("Secret Service"); and Officers David Kielbasa and George Lee, also of the Secret Service. For the reasons stated below, the Court finds that the plaintiffs were arrested and imprisoned falsely, and awards each plaintiff $1,500 in damages.
The seven plaintiffs are citizens of the country of Sierra Leone and were such on September 9, 1981. On the evening of September 8, 1981, the plaintiffs, along with several others, met and agreed to go the next day to the Chancery of Sierra Leone. They were concerned about reports of rioting and other disturbances in Sierra Leone and planned a visit to the Chancery for the next morning in order to obtain more information about these events.
On the morning of September 9, 1981, plaintiffs and several others went to the Chancery, which is located at 1701 19th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. Plaintiffs Thomas Bangura, Mohammed Mansaray and another individual not a party to this action proceeded upstairs to the office of the Charge d'Affaires, Mr. Ahmed A. Seray-Wurie after the receptionist announced their arrival. Plaintiffs David Conteh, Daniel Koroma, and Ahmadu Conteh waited in the first floor lobby of the Chancery. Plaintiffs Mohammed Koroma and Theophilus Kessebeth arrived at the Chancery grounds but did not enter the Chancery.
Several of the plaintiffs testified that they were well acquainted with the Chancery personnel, including the Charge d'Affaires. For instance, Daniel Koroma testified that the receptionist, Isatuh Fullah, is his sister-in-law; Ahmed Conteh declared that he is a close friend of the Charge d'Affaires; and Mohammed Mansaray testified that he is a maternal relation of Charge d'Affaires Seray-Wurie.
Secret Service Officers Kielbasa and Lee, responding to a radio dispatch reporting that the Chancery was in "distress," arrived on the scene approximately five minutes after the group including the plaintiffs entered the Chancery. Officers Kielbasa and Lee reported that they found people milling about on the first floor. The officers testified that the receptionist appeared to be upset or confused and that they had difficulty communicating with her due to her broken English. Officers Kielbasa and Lee then proceeded upstairs to investigate the noise coming from there.
Shortly after Officers Kielbasa and Lee entered the Chancery, Sergeant Tutka arrived. He found the receptionist seated and remarked that the receptionist's cubicle was in order. Sergeant Tutka also testified that he had difficulty understanding the receptionist. Sergeant Tutka proceeded directly to the second floor to join Officers Kielbasa and Lee.
The three Secret Service officers reported some confusion on the second floor with people running around and doors closing. Officers Kielbasa, Lee, and Tutka entered Charge d'Affaires Seray-Wurie's office and found him there with four or five other gentlemen. The Secret Service officers stated that Mr. Seray-Wurie was confused and upset and wanted the other people in his office, including plaintiffs Bangura and Mansaray, to leave, but Mr. Seray-Wurie told Sergeant Tutka that he did not want them arrested. Officers Kielbasa, Lee, and Tutka found Mr. Seray-Wurie's office to be in order, citing no evidence of a disturbance. At no time did the three Secret Service officers witness any threat or act of violence. The Secret Service officers were never able to ascertain who called the police.
Shortly after the unauthorized people in the Chancery had exited, Special Agents Nicoletti and Werth of the FBI arrived. They conferred briefly with Sergeant Tutka, then Agent Nicoletti interviewed Mr. Seray-Wurie while Agent Werth spoke with Ms. Fullah, the receptionist. Both FBI Agents testified, contrary to all the other witnesses, that Mr. Seray-Wurie appeared disheveled and that his office and the receptionist's cubicle were in a state of great disorder. Agent Nicoletti testified that Mr. Seray-Wurie told him that he had been physically assaulted. Agent Werth testified that Ms. Fullah also reported being assaulted, her broken English aside. None of the supposed victims of this assault testified at trial or provided any verification of these events.
While being interviewed by Agent Nicoletti, Mr. Seray-Wurie pointed from his second-story window to a group of ten to fifteen men who were standing on the sidewalk and said that they were the ones who had entered his office. Not long thereafter, this group left to get their automobiles and then proceeded to drive to a parking lot on 21st and M Streets, N.W., in Washington, D.C. Sergeant Tutka followed them in his cruiser as the FBI Agents had asked him to do.
Agent Nicoletti, meanwhile, telephoned his supervisor and Assistant United States Attorney Herbert DiFonzo to advise them of the situation and that there had apparently been an assault on Charge d'Affaires Seray-Wurie in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 112(a). Both persons authorized Nicoletti to arrest the persons involved in the assault.
Agent Nicoletti radioed the Secret Service officers to detain the suspects at their present location, the 21st and M Street parking lot. Sergeant Tutka testified that he informed the suspects that they were no longer free to go. Agent Nicoletti proceeded to the parking lot in order to question the suspects. Upon his arrival, Sergeant Tutka explained ...