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Johnson v. District of Columbia

August 10, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rosemary M. Collyer United States District Judge


On July 23, 2001, officers of the Major Narcotics Branch of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department ("MPD") conducted a "buy-bust operation," in which an undercover police officer bought drugs from an individual, later identified to be Andre Clinton, in front of an apartment building located at 3401 A Street, S.E., in the District of Columbia. As recounted below, the police chased Mr. Clinton and another individual, whom they believed to be an armed collaborator, into the apartment building. In the ensuing arrest of Mr. Clinton, the other individual was allegedly stomped and kicked in the groin by Officer Jeffrey Bruce before he could identify himself as Juan Johnson, an off-duty MPD officer and an innocent bystander. Officer Johnson now sues the District of Columbia for alleged use of excessive force/police brutality, assault and battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. He also sues Officer Bruce in his individual capacity under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.*fn1 Defendants move for summary judgment: the District of Columbia asserts that Officer Johnson's exclusive remedy against it is under the Police and Firefighters Retirement and Disability Act ("PFRDA"), D.C. Code § 5-701 et seq., and that Officer Bruce avers that he is protected by qualified immunity. The Court agrees and will grant the motion for summary judgment in its entirety.


On July 23, 2001, officers of the Major Narcotics Branch were conducting narcotics investigations in the area of 3401 A Street, S.E., Washington, D.C. Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ("Defs.' Facts") ¶ 1.*fn2 The area is heavily infested with drugs. Defs.' Facts ¶ 2.*fn3 The officers conducted a "buy-bust operation" by which an undercover officer bought drugs from an individual, later identified as Andre Clinton, in front of an apartment building located at this address. Defs.' Facts ¶¶ 3-4. Officer Johnson lived in the apartment building at the time. Defs.' Facts ¶ 6; Pltf.'s Facts ¶ 6. Officer Bruce was on the arrest team, whose duty it was to stop parties involved in the drug transaction once the undercover officers gave a description of the people involved. Defs.' Facts ¶ 5; Pltf.'s Facts ¶ 5 ("This alleged fact is not material.").

After selling drugs to an undercover officer, Mr. Clinton ran from the police around to the back courtyard of the apartment building, where he encountered Officer Johnson. Defs.' Facts ¶ 7; Pltf.'s Facts ¶ 7. Mr. Clinton told Officer Johnson that he was running away from "stick-up boys" and Officer Johnson rushed him inside the back door of the building for their mutual safety. Defs.' Facts ¶¶ 7-8; Pltf.'s Facts ¶¶ 7-8. Once inside, Officer Johnson made sure that the door was shut and locked. Defs.' Facts ¶ 13; Pltf.'s Facts ¶ 13.

The arrest team officers broadcast on their radios that the individual who had just sold drugs to the undercover officer was running from police and that there was a second subject running with him towards the area where Officer Bruce was standing. Defs.' Facts ¶ 9; Pltf.'s Facts ¶ 9 (acknowledging the testimony but asserting that these facts are not material). Two additional broadcasts indicated that the second individual running with the drug dealer was wearing orange shorts and an orange hat and appeared to be armed because he was reaching for his waistband.*fn4 Defs.' Facts ¶¶ 10-11; Pltf.'s Facts ¶¶ 10-11 (acknowledging the testimony and asserting that the facts are not relevant or material). Officer Bruce heard on his radio that the two individuals had gone through the back door of the apartment building and had pulled the door shut. Defs.' Facts ¶ 14; Pltf.'s Facts ¶ 14. Three officers, led by Officer Bruce, then ran to the front of the apartment building, entered it, and started running up the steps inside. Defs.' Facts ¶ 16; Pltf.'s Facts ¶ 16.

Once inside the apartment building, Officer Johnson had instructed Mr. Clinton to remain on the first floor while he went to his third-floor apartment to get the water Mr. Clinton had requested. Defs.' Mem., Ex. 3, Deposition of Juan Johnson ("Johnson Dep.") at 54, 59. When Officer Johnson emerged from his apartment with the water, however, Mr. Clinton was coming up the steps to the third floor. Id. at 59. As he handed the water to Mr. Clinton on the stairs, Officer Johnson heard a lot of running in the building and saw police officers coming up the stairs. Id. at 59-60. He immediately started to back up and then heard someone yelling "police, police." Id. at 60. The police had their guns drawn. Id. at 62. As he was backing away from Mr. Clinton, in the direction of his open apartment door, Officer Johnson said, "I'm the police. I'm the police." Id. at 62. The approaching police officers shouted out, "Put your hands up. Put your hands up. Let's see your hands." Id. at 63. In Officer Johnson's words:

I tried to give them the sign [that I am a police officer], was giving them the sign, saw that the sign wasn't being received. So I kind of sensed that I could possibly get shot because I looked at the officer and I saw some fear. And I didn't want to get shot so I just turned towards my door, because my back was to my door. So I just turned towards the door and fell inside my apartment onto the ground. . . .

I [fell] inside the door. And then still saying, "I'm the police. I'm the police," on the ground screaming, "I'm the police. I'm the police." Then the officers came inside the building [sic] and started to assault me.

Id. at 64-65. Officer Johnson was completely inside his apartment when he fell to the floor on his stomach. Id. at 67 ("I mean, I turned around. I pushed the door and I fell onto the floor. So my whole body was completely in the entrance. It wasn't even hanging outside at all.").

It was Officer Bruce who came into Officer Johnson's apartment and it is Officer Bruce who is accused by Officer Johnson of kicking him and stomping him in the buttocks area and groin. Defs.' Facts ¶¶ 24-25; see also Johnson Dep. at 68 ("The officer came in and started kicking me. And he started stomping me. I am, like, 'What are you kicking me for? I'm the police. I'm the police. Why are you kicking me, why are you stomping me?'"). At the request of Officer Bruce, Officer Johnson showed his police identification and was recognized by other members of the arrest team. Johnson Dep. at 68-69; Pltf.'s Opp. at 3.

On July 24, 2001, Officer Johnson went to the Police and Fire Clinic, stating that he was injured as a result of his interaction with the police on July 23, 2001. He reported the following information on his MPD Injury or Illness Report:

On July 23, 2001, I was assisting a citizen with a possible crime in progress. I was off-duty and in plainclothes at 3401 A Street, S.E. I did not recognize the citizen, but the citizen recognized me as a police officer. While assisting the citizen to safety, other MPD plainclothes officers responded to the scene. During the process of the investigation, which led to the arrest of the citizen, I was kicked in the groin by an unidentified MPD officer. I responded to the Police and Fire Clinic on July 24, 2001[,] and was seen by Dr. Faryom and placed in a sick leave status.

Defs.' Mem., Ex. 6.*fn5

Officer Johnson's injury was approved by MPD as having occurred in the performance of duty ("POD") and he was compensated under the PFRDA. Defs.' Facts ¶ 28;

Johnson Dep. at 107. Officer Johnson returned to full duty in August 2001 but returned to sick leave status shortly thereafter due to a psychological injury that he claimed was also a result of the July 23 encounter and also in the performance of duty. See Defs.' Reply at 2, Ex. A, B. However, on May 26, 2004, the Director of the Medical Services Division of MPD re-classified Officer Johnson's psychological injury as ...

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