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WEAVER v. HANNA

August 15, 2000

ALLEN WEAVER, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
V.
OFFICER G.S. HANNA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robertson, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM

Plaintiff's, father and son, assert claims of false arrest and excessive force against defendants Officer G.S. Hanna and three unknown Washington Metropolitan Area police officers under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff's also assert common-law claims of false arrest and battery. The defendants, sued in their individual capacities, have moved for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the motion will be granted.

Background

Plaintiff, Allen Weaver, Sr., is Caucasian. His son, a minor, is biracial. On the afternoon of October 5, 1998, they boarded a red line train at the Judiciary Square Metro station in Washington, D.C.*fn1 Plaintiff (hereinafter "plaintiff" refers to the father) bought a 40-ounce bottle of beer before boarding the train, drank some of it before the train trip, and finished the bottle after leaving the Metro.

A woman on the train became suspicious of the plaintiff primarily because he was different in appearance from his son and because their conversation suggested to her that they did not know one another. She followed plaintiff and his son as they exited the Metro and boarded a bus. She advised the bus driver that plaintiff had kidnaped the child. The driver contacted Metro's operations control center and did not move the bus until the Metro transit police arrived.

The parties also have different versions of the conduct of the officers. Plaintiff claims that his son was "grabbed" and "thrown to the ground," while defendants allege that they "placed him on his feet."*fn2 In either case, the child was then placed in a police car.

Plaintiff avers that defendants then "slammed" him to the ground, frisked him, confiscated his knife, pulled him up by the handcuffs and "slammed" him into a car. Defendants state that they ordered plaintiff to the ground, that he complied, that they handcuffed him, and patted him down, and that they then assisted him to his feet.

It is undisputed that plaintiff told the officers that the child was his son and gave them the telephone number of the babysitter; and that, after the officers verified that the plaintiff was the child's father, they apologized and drove him and his son home.

Analysis

1. Section 1983 claims

Law enforcement officers acting within the scope of their employment have qualified immunity for claims asserted under section 1983, DeGraff v. District of Columbia, 120 F.3d 298, 302 (D.C.Cir. 1997); Wardlaw v. Pickett, 1 F.3d 1297, 1301 (D.C.Cir. 1993). It is undisputed, and in fact alleged, that the defendant officers were at all times acting within the scope of their employment as WMATA police officers. Complaint at ¶¶ 5-6.

Plaintiff maintains, however, that these officers are not entitled to qualified immunity because they lacked probable cause to arrest him. See Wardlaw v. Pickett, 1 F.3d 1297, 1305 (D.C.Cir. 1993) ("[O]fficer retains qualified immunity from suit if he had an objectively reasonable basis for believing that the facts and circumstances surrounding the arrest were sufficient to establish probable cause.") (citing Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 341, 106 S.Ct. 1092, 89 L.Ed.2d 271 (1986)).

Defendants argue that the applicable standard is not "probable cause" but "reasonable suspicion," because they did not arrest the plaintiff but instead conducted a temporary investigative stop under Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 24, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968). A reasonable suspicion, which requires less proof than probable cause, United States v. White, 648 F.2d 29, 42 (D.C.Cir. 1981), is sufficient basis for a Terry stop, see United States v. Christian, 187 F.3d 663, 668 ...


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