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Stephen Ifeanyi Amobi Ngozi Amobi v. District of Columbia Government

August 9, 2012

STEPHEN IFEANYI AMOBI NGOZI AMOBI
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA GOVERNMENT, ET AL.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Frederick Motz United States District Judge

OPINION

Stephen Amobi ("Amobi") and his wife, Ngozi Amobi, have instituted this action against the District of Columbia, Devon Brown, Stanley Waldren, Robert Clay, Albert White, Joan Murphy, and Denise Shell.*fn1 Amobi claims that his rights were violated as a result of the events described in this Opinion. Defendants, other than Albert White, have filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings or for summary judgment. The motion will be granted. Judgment also will be entered in favor of Albert White because he is entitled to summary judgment for the same reasons as Waldren and Clay.*fn2

I.

On June 4, 2006, Amobi was working as a correctional officer at the District of Columbia jail.*fn3 He had been ordered to release Derrick Brown, an inmate who had been serving a sentence over a period of weekends. Brown is transgendered, and he was not happy about the treatment he had been receiving at the jail. Amobi was observed by three of the defendants, Waldren, White, and Clay, to restrain the inmate Brown. They called to Amobi to release Brown, and he immediately did so.

Brown apparently wanted to create a scenario that he thought would be to his benefit. Therefore, as he later admitted at a criminal trial in which Amobi was the defendant, he baited Amobi into a physical confrontation, first "through a barrage of verbal insults" and then by hitting Amobi. As Amobi acknowledges, Waldren, White, and Clay did not hear or see Brown's provocations. After the incident, Waldren informed Amobi that he was being placed on administrative leave. When Amobi tried to leave the facility and go home, Waldren, White, Clay, and defendant Devon Brown, the Director of the District of Columbia Department of Corrections, ordered that he return to the administrative area of the DC Jail. Clay then contacted the Metropolitan Police Department ("MPD") to have Amobi arrested for assault. Amobi was arrested by the MPD, taken in handcuffs from the DC Jail, and was incarcerated until his release pending trial. The MPD officer who made the arrest did not read Amobi's own incident report or review other evidence favorable to Amobi.

On July 12, 2006, Amobi was proposed for summary removal from his position. He exercised his right under his union's Collective Bargaining Agreement to have a hearing before a disinterested hearing officer. Phuoc Nguyen was assigned as the hearing officer. After holding a hearing on August 3, 2006 and reviewing the evidence, Nguyen found inadequate grounds to terminate Amobi on grounds of malfeasance, and she determined that he should be reinstated. She issued a written recommendation to that effect to Director Brown. The Collective Bargaining Agreement required that Nguyen's recommendation be sustained, reduced, or remanded. On August 21, 2006, Director Brown decided it should be remanded. Otherwise, under the CBA and applicable law, Brown would not have been able to increase the penalty imposed upon Amobi, and Nguyen's recommendation that Amobi be reinstated would have had to be followed. The remand memorandum was prepared by Defendant Murphy. As set forth below, at a subsequent arbitration proceeding, Nguyen testified that she felt pressured by Director Brown and Defendant Shell to modify her opinion. Nguyen did change her decision and recommended that Amobi be removed from his position. Director Brown adopted this recommendation and ordered that Amobi be discharged.

Amobi was charged with a criminal offense. The first charge against Amobi was dismissed because the Department of Correction failed to produce in discovery certain photographs and a videotape in its possession. However, Department officials persuaded the U.S. Attorney's Office to reinstitute the case. Several documents that were produced to the U.S. Attorney's Office indicated that the inmate, Derrick Brown, had been interviewed after the incident. However, no report of any such interview was turned over to Amobi's defense counsel in the criminal case.

On June 4, 2007, at the conclusion of a non-jury trial, Amobi was acquitted. During the trial Derrick Brown testified that on the day of the June 4, 2006 incident he was impatient with the delay in his release and, as indicated above, on cross-examination he admitted that he struck Amobi in an attempt to induce Amobi to assault him.

Despite the acquittal, Director Brown went forward with an administrative action to remove Amobi from his position. After a hearing before a hearing examiner, Brown discharged Amobi. Amobi appealed the decision to an arbitrator, as he had the right to do. Prior to the hearing, Amobi was provided with some documents that indicated Derrick Brown had been interviewed after the incident, but again no interview report was turned over.

During the arbitration hearing Amobi called Nguyen as a witness, and she testified that she had felt threatened into changing her original decision recommending that Amobi be reinstated, and that Defendant Shell had directed her to change her original decision. The arbitrator found that Amobi had been wrongfully removed from his position and ordered his reinstatement with backpay on December 27, 2007. The Department of Corrections did not immediately comply with the arbitrator's award, and Amobi filed an action in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia to compel the Department's compliance with the award. Ultimately, the Department did comply with the award when ordered to do so by the Superior Court on May 16, 2008.

During the course of discovery in this action, a document was produced to Amobi's counsel purporting to memorialize the interview with Derrick Brown. Although the interview allegedly was conducted on the day of the incident, it was not was prepared until approximately five weeks later, on July 14, 2006. The memorandum stated that "Inmate Brown stated that he wanted to pursue criminal charges against Officer Amobi for the assault." Amobi contends that the memorandum was fabricated after-the-fact. During a deposition in this case, Valerie Beard, an investigator with the Office of Internal Affairs of the Department of Corrections, who prepared the memorandum, testified that although she had not personally interviewed Brown, she overheard Brown telling Wanda Patten, the chief of the Office of Internal Affairs, what is recorded in the memorandum.

II.

At the outset, I note there are certain aspects of this case that are disturbing. First, it is unfortunate that Amobi was arrested and prosecuted without being able to tell his side of the story and without MPD and the U.S. Attorney's Office reviewing evidence favorable to him.

Second, Director Brown's refusal to accept the recommendation made by Ms. Nguyen and his alleged direction to her to change her recommendation call into question the integrity of the hearing process. Third, a report should not be prepared after the fact ...


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