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09/02/93 DISTRICT COLUMBIA v. PAUL MURPHY

September 2, 1993

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, APPELLANT
v.
PAUL MURPHY, APPELLEE



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; (Hon. Robert A. Shuker, Trial Judge)

Before Ferren, Farrell, and King, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ferren

FERREN, Associate Judge: Following his arrest by police officers employed by the District of Columbia, appellee Paul Murphy sued the District and the arresting officers for false arrest, negligence, assault and battery, false imprisonment, and malpractice. A jury awarded Murphy $260,000 in damages against the District on his claims for false arrest and assault and battery. *fn1 The trial court denied the District's motions for directed verdict and for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or a new trial and remittitur, and the District filed this appeal.

The District's primary contention on appeal is that it was entitled to a directed verdict or judgment n.o.v. because the undisputed evidence at trial showed that the police officers had probable cause to arrest Murphy. *fn2 After reviewing the record, we conclude that the District failed to present such undisputed evidence of probable cause to the trial court. Accordingly, we must affirm.

I.

A.

In the course of an encounter with the police on Sunday afternoon, September 27, 1987, Murphy sustained serious injuries, including several facial fractures so severe that they required two operations to repair. The operating physician testified that these injuries were comparable to those resulting from an auto accident or from a fall from great height. They could not have resulted from a single blow with a fist.

Murphy's clash with the police took place at an apartment on A Street, S.E., where Murphy was living with his girlfriend, Mary Young. The lease for the apartment listed Young as the sole lessee, although Murphy, according to his testimony, paid fifty percent of the rent and other household expenses.

Murphy testified at trial that, on the afternoon and evening before the incident, he and Mary Young had visited a friend to discuss renting a new apartment. Young had been drinking during the visit, and she fell asleep when they returned home later that night. The next morning, Murphy went out shopping for his mother. When he returned to the A Street apartment sometime around noon, Young told him that the police were coming. According to Murphy, she did not say why they were coming, and Murphy did not ask. He also testified that if Mary Young had wanted to keep him out of the apartment, all she had to do was ask him to leave.

Murphy sat down to begin watching a football game on television. Two police officers, a man and a woman, arrived and Young opened the door for them. Murphy acknowledged at trial that Young told the officers he had been "beating" and "hitting on her," although he also testified that he had not heard the details of this conversation because he was concentrating on the football game. Murphy, however, denied at trial that he had fought with Young on Saturday night and also denied that he had ever struck her.

According to Murphy, the male officer, after hearing Young's story, came over and touched Murphy on the arm. Murphy told the officer not to touch him. The officer went back and began talking with Young again. Then, according to Murphy, the male officer suddenly picked him up by his T-shirt, put him in a hold, and threw him against the wall while the female officer opened the door. The officers forced Murphy out of the door and down the steps. Murphy absolutely denied that either of the officers ever asked him to leave the apartment before they began to assault him physically.

Murphy further testified that, outside in the street, the male officer struck Murphy in the face and repeatedly threw him onto the hood of Murphy's car, bloodying Murphy's face. Then both officers held Murphy down while the male officer pushed Murphy's face into the ground. Murphy was not freed until a third police officer arrived on the scene and threw the first two officers off of him.

Mary Young testified on behalf of the District. She said that she had called the police because she and Murphy had gotten into a fight on Saturday night, during which he had hit her. According to Young's testimony, she had told Murphy that he had "better go" because the police were coming. When the officers arrived, Young told the officers that she was afraid of Murphy and wanted him to leave the apartment because he had fought with her the night before. There is no evidence in the record, however, that Mary Young ever informed the officers that she had already told Murphy to leave the apartment.

The police officers who responded to Mary Young's call, Darryl Young and Yvonne McCoy, also testified for the District. They stated at trial that, after hearing Mary Young's story, they had asked Murphy to leave several times and Murphy had ignored these directives. Mary Young confirmed this testimony. Officer Young then put his hands on Murphy's shoulder and told him that he was under arrest. Murphy began wrestling with Officer Young, and, according to the officers, Murphy and Officer Young exchanged blows. The officers then forced Murphy outside the apartment to the street, where they eventually subdued Murphy and ...


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