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Hayes v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

February 7, 2013

Vanessa T. HAYES, as the Personal Representative of the Estate of Gerard El Hayes, Plaintiff,

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Gregory L. Lattimer, Law Offices of Gregory L. Lattimer, PLLC, Washington, DC, for Plaintiff.

James Anthony Towns, Sr., Robert A. Deberardinis, Jr., Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia, Washington, DC, for Defendant.


BERYL A. HOWELL, District Judge.

Plaintiff Vanessa T. Hayes, as the Personal Representative of the Estate of Gerard El Hayes, brought this lawsuit in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (" D.C. Superior Court" ) against the District of Columbia seeking damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the United States Constitution, including the Fifth Amendment, as well as common law claims, following the death of her son while he was in police custody. Complaint (" Compl." ), ECF No. 1-1. [1] The District of Columbia removed this action to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441 and 1446, see Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1, and the plaintiff then filed a six-count Amended Complaint alleging wrongful death (Count I), denial

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of medical care (Count II), denial of protection from harm (Count III), negligence (Count IV), negligent supervision (Count V), and assault and battery (Count VI). Amended Complaint (" Am. Compl." ), ECF No. 12. Pending before the Court is the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 26. For the reasons explained below, the Court grants the motion.


On January 28, 2010, the plaintiff's decedent, Gerard El Hayes, was arrested on an outstanding warrant for armed burglary, abduction, and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony and taken to the Seventh District Station of the Metropolitan Police Department in Southeast Washington. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 3, 6; Def.'s Statement of Facts (" Def.'s Facts" ), ECF 26-1, at 1; Final Investigative Report Concerning the Death in Police Custody of Mr. Gerard Hayes (" Final Investigative Report" ), ECF No. 28-2, at 1. The Final Investigative Report states that the arrest warrant " stemmed from an incident in which Mr. Hayes entered the residence of his former girlfriend ... and held her against her will at gunpoint." Id. The Final Investigative Report noted that Mr. Hayes was apparently " distraught over their ‘ break up.’ " Id. That incident ended without anyone being harmed, and Mr. Hayes " expressed remorse" to his former girlfriend and told her " that he wasn't going to jail." Id. He also " mentioned suicide to her." Id. [2]

The officers who arrested Mr. Hayes described him as being " calm and compliant at the time of his arrest," and the police report notes that " [n]o force was used during the apprehension of Mr. Hayes," an assertion that is not disputed. Id. at 2.

After Mr. Hayes was brought to the Seventh District Station, an " inventory search" was conducted by civilian Cellblock Technician Mr. Gary Forbes, who found only cash and a watch on Mr. Hayes. Id. While the plaintiff alleges in the Amended Complaint that her son showed signs of " distress, disorientation, and confusion," at the police station, Am. Compl. ¶ 8, Technician Forbes " described Mr. Hayes as being very compliant during his contact with him," Final Investigative Report at 2, and there is no evidence cited in the record for the plaintiff's allegation that the decedent was agitated or confused.

Technician Forbes also searched " holding cell number one" before placing Mr. Hayes inside. Id. The empty cell was apparently clear and Mr. Hayes was placed in the cell, where he was alone. See id. The Final Investigative Report notes that " [n]o member of the Metropolitan Police Department was informed that Mr. Gerard Hayes had mentioned suicide to his ex-girlfriend or was contemplating suicide." Id. at 1 n. 1.

Soon after he had been placed in the holding cell, Mr. Hayes requested water from Technician Forbes, a request that was then relayed to Cellblock Technician Agnes Jackson. Id. at 2. Besides this request for water, there is no evidence in the record that Mr. Hayes had any other interaction or contact with anyone else while he was alone in the holding cell.

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Technician Jackson went to inform Mr. Hayes that she would get him the water after talking with a female prisoner, Complainant/Witness Statement of Agnes Jackson, dated Jan. 28, 2010 (" Jackson Witness Statement" ), ECF No. 28-4 at 2,[3] but when Technician Jackson returned to the cell block area, " she discovered Mr. Hayes sitting on the floor of holding cell number one with a ligature [or string] around his neck." Final Investigative Report at 2. " The ligature was also tied to the bar of the cell door." Id. Upon seeing Mr. Hayes hanging from the bars, she " began screaming and hollering for help and ... she attempted to remove Mr. Hayes from the cell bars." Report of Investigation by Detective John Hendrick, dated Jan. 28, 2010 (" Report of Investigation" ), ECF No. 28-4, at 1.[4]

According to Detective Hendrick's Report of Investigation, after Technician Jackson called for help, Technician Forbes, and Officers Washington and Robertson " entered the cellblock and assisted her with removing Mr. Hayes from the cell bars where he had attached a string to his neck." Id. According to Technician Jackson, Officer Robinson " began" performing CPR on Mr. Hayes, Jackson Witness Statement at 2, and an officer then called 9-1-1, Report of Investigation. Mr. Hayes was then transported to a hospital where he was pronounced dead. Final Investigative Report at 2.

The medical examiner, Lois Goslinoski, later confirmed that Mr. Hayes, who was 38 years old, died by hanging and ruled his death a " suicide." Am. Compl. ¶ 6; Autopsy Report, ECF No. 26-3. The medical examiner explained that it would take " anywhere from eight to fifteen seconds" for an adult to lose consciousness from hanging from a ligature, Deposition of Lois Goslinoski, dated May 16, 2012 (" Goslinoski Dep." ), ECF No. 28-3, at 30:11-12, and that someone being hung from a ligature like the one found hanging the decedent could keep it from getting tight around his neck by standing up, id. at 28:9-19.[5] In this case, the medical examiner found no evidence that the decedent attempted to stand up or defend himself from being hung. Id. at 29:13 (" There's no evidence of defense here." ). In fact, the medical examiner found " no other injuries" on the plaintiff, and no " indication that [the hanging] was done against his will." Id. at 21:4-6, 29:10-13.

When the scene of the decedent's death was later " processed" by Forensic Science Services Division Technicians Julius Smith and Ralph Nitiz, two " separate pieces of cloth string" were discovered. Final Investigative Report at 2. " One piece was a single segment, light gray in color and appeared to have been cut on both ends." Id. The second piece was also " light gray in color." Id. The technician searching the cell before the decedent was placed inside of it had not " notice[d] any strings in the cell." Id.

Following the initiation of this action in the D.C. Superior Court, the defendant removed the ...

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