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Mann v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 8, 2016

David V. Mann, Plaintiff,
v.
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority WMATA, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Amit P. Mehta United States District Judge

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff David V. Mann filed this lawsuit against his former employer, Defendant Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), alleging that he was unlawfully terminated on the basis of race in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. WMATA argues that it is entitled to summary judgment because Mann, a Lieutenant with WMATA’s police department at the time of his termination, was fired for a legitimate reason: he had used excessive and unnecessary force while making an arrest. Mann repeatedly punched an arrestee while he was lying on the ground and dropped him from knee height multiple times. The arrestee suffered facial lacerations, rib fractures, and a lumbar spine fracture.

Mann contends that summary judgment should be denied because a reasonable jury could find that WMATA treated other similarly situated officers of a different race more favorably than him. Having reviewed the evidence, which includes a video of the arrest, the court holds that no reasonable jury could conclude that WMATA’s stated reason for terminating Mann was a pretext and that the actual reason for his firing was his race. The court therefore grants Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

1. The Arrest

Plaintiff David Mann began working for Defendant WMATA’s Metropolitan Transit Police Department (MTPD) in 1990 as a Special Police Officer, a non-law enforcement position. Def.’s Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 34 [hereinafter Def.’s Mot.], Statement of Material Facts Not in Dispute, ECF No. 34 [hereinafter Def.’s Statement], ¶ 6; Pl.’s Opp’n to Summ. J., ECF No. 38 [hereinafter Pl.’s Opp’n], Statement of Disputed Material Facts, ECF No. 38 [hereinafter Pl.’s Statement], ¶¶ 6-8. After two and a half years, Plaintiff was selected to become a MTPD police officer. Def.’s Statement, ¶¶ 7-8; Pl.’s Statement, ¶¶ 6-8. He attended the police academy, qualified as a sworn Transit Police Officer, and rose through the ranks of MTPD to the position of Lieutenant. Def.’s Statement, ¶¶ 8, 10-11; Pl.’s Statement, ¶¶ 6-8.

The incident that led to Mann’s firing occurred on September 2, 2011. As recounted by Mann himself, at approximately 9:30 p.m., he responded to a call from MTPD Communications indicating that a disorderly male was throwing rocks at a special police booth located at the Southern Avenue Bus Annex in Prince George’s County. Def.’s Mot., Ex., Mem. from Lieutenant David V. Mann to Captain Kevin P. Gaddis [hereinafter Mann Mem.], ECF No. 34-9, at 1. When Mann arrived there, he saw seven to nine WMATA employees standing around the suspect, John Dowtin, who was lying on the ground. Id. The WMATA employees informed Mann that Dowtin had been throwing rocks at Special Police Officer Nakisha Merritt while she was in the Special Police Officer’s booth and that he also had broken the window of a bus operator’s vehicle with a rock. Id. Mann also noticed another person nearby, Thomas McDonald, a Metro bus operator, who looked disheveled and appeared to be bleeding from a cut from his head. According to McDonald, Dowtin had asked him for money and, when he refused, Dowtin assaulted him. The two then got into a fight, which ended only after five employees intervened. Id. Mann then notified MTPD Communications that he intended to arrest Dowtin for attempted robbery and destruction of property. Id.

Mann then approached Dowtin, who was lying on the ground. Id. Mann asked him for identification, and Dowtin complied. Id. He then asked Dowtin if he was okay. Id. at 2. Dowtin replied, “‘no, they beat my ass, ’” and began cursing. Id. at 2. Dowtin sat up, and Mann asked him to get back on the ground. Id. Dowtin refused several times, continuing to curse at Mann. In response, Mann “pull[ed]/pushed” Dowtin to the ground, where Dowtin remained while Mann interviewed Officer Merritt. Id. While Mann interviewed Officer Merritt, Dowtin sat up again, began cursing, took off his shoes, and threw them into the street. Id. After Mann completed his interview of Officer Merritt, he asked Dowtin for his social security number. Id. Dowtin responded that he did not have a social security number and continued cursing. Id. While awaiting backup, Mann turned his attention to McDonald to obtain more information about the attempted robbery and assault. Id. While Mann was speaking with McDonald, Dowtin became louder, “shouting profanities and [behaving] erratic[ly].” Id. He took his socks off and threw them into the street. Id.

Concerned that Dowtin would become “more problematic and violent, ” Mann advised him that he was under arrest and attempted to handcuff him. Id. Dowtin resisted, despite Mann’s repeated orders to “give me his hands.” Id. To restrain Dowtin, Mann first used pain compliance tactics by “bending and torqueing” Dowtin’s arm behind his back and by bending his hand at the wrist, but Dowtin still failed to comply, breaking free of Mann’s grasp. Id. Mann then radioed for backup while continuing, unsuccessfully, to gain control of Dowtin’s hands. Id. Trying a different approach, Mann began striking Dowtin in the ribs “several times” and, when that did not work, he used his “O/C spray, ” or pepper spray. Id. After determining that the O/C spray had no effect, Mann again “began to strike . . . [Dowtin] in the ribs repeatedly with the verbal demand ‘[g]ive me your hands’ in a loud and clear voice, prior to and after each strike; however Mr. Dowtin refused to comply and the strikes seemed to have no effect.” Id.

In a final effort to get Dowtin to release his hands from underneath his body, Mann lifted Dowtin “up off the ground about knee high in height and dropped him in an effort to daze/stun him, knock the wind out of him or get him to spread his arms out to brace/catch his fall.” Id. This enabled Mann to gain control of Dowtin’s right arm, but he was still unable to handcuff him. Id. Mann again struck Dowtin “in the sides of his body with no success.” He lifted Dowtin “off the ground two (2) more times and dropped him, looking for the same results as the first time.” Id. After a brief struggle, Mann managed to handcuff Dowtin, at which point “all use of force ceased.” Id. Following the arrest, Dowtin was taken to a hospital and was diagnosed with multiple facial lacerations, multiple rib fractures, and a lumbar spine fracture. Def.’s Statement, ¶ 23; Pl.’s Statement, ¶ 23.

Two days later, on September 4, 2011, Mann’s weapon and police powers were taken away, and he was restricted to administrative duties. Compl., ECF No. 1, ¶ 18.

2. The MTPD Investigation

a. Gaddis’ investigation

In September 2011, Captain Kevin Gaddis (now Deputy Chief Gaddis) was the Commander of MTPD’s Office of Professional Responsibility and Investigation (OPRI) and reported directly to MTPD’s Police Chief, who at the time was Michael Taborn. Def.’s Statement, ¶¶ 13, 18, 20; Pl.’s Statement, ¶ 13-16, 18, 20. Taborn directed Gaddis to investigate Mann’s arrest of Dowtin. Def’s Statement, ¶ 22; Pl.’s Statement, ¶ 22.

On September 5, 2011, just as Gaddis was starting his investigation, MTPD received a call from a concerned citizen, who said that she knew someone who had cell phone video footage of Mann’s arrest of Dowtin. Def’s Mot., Ex., Mem. from Captain Kevin P. Gaddis to Chief Michael A. Taborn, ECF No. 34-4 [hereinafter Mann Investigation Rep.] at 3. That same day, Captain Gaddis and an MTPD video technician retrieved a copy of the video. Def’s Statement, ¶ 25; Pl.’s Statement, ¶ 25. Gaddis also interviewed the person who recorded the arrest, but was unable to obtain a written statement from him. Mann Investigation Rep. at 3.

After reviewing the video footage, Gaddis took numerous additional investigative steps, which included eliciting evidence from eyewitnesses and from Mann himself

• On September 6, 2011, Gaddis obtained a written statement from MTPD Special Police Officer Nakisha Merritt, who had called the MTPD after observing Dowtin break a car window. Mann Investigation Rep. at 3-4; Pl.’s Opp’n, Ex. 14, ECF 38-14.
• On September 9, 2011, Gaddis visited the Southern Avenue Bus Annex to interview additional witnesses. Mann Investigation Rep. at 4. He interviewed and obtained a written statement from Metro bus operator Thomas McDonald, whom Dowtin had assaulted and had attempted to rob. Id. at 5; Pl.’s Opp’n, Ex. 10, ECF No. 38-10. Captain Gaddis also attempted to interview other Metro employees, but they either refused to cooperate or claimed to have not seen anything. Mann Investigation Report at 5.
• Later, Gaddis obtained written statements from three MTPD officers-Sergeant K. Honick, Officer Colin Jackson, and Lieutenant Robert Kirkpatrick-all of whom had arrived after Mann had handcuffed Dowtin. Pl.’s Opp., Exs. 11, 9, 12, ECF Nos. 38- 11, 38-9, 38-12.

On September 19, 2011, Gaddis met with the State’s Attorney for Prince George’s County. Mann Investigation Rep. at 7. The purpose of the meeting was to find out whether the State’s Attorney intended to prosecute Mann. Id. In an affidavit submitted during discovery, Gaddis explained that sometimes MPTD will delay performing a full internal disciplinary investigation if it might interfere with an ongoing criminal investigation. Pl.’s Opp’n, Ex. 27, Aff of Deputy Chief Kevin Gaddis, ECF No. 38-27 [hereinafter Gaddis Aff], ¶ 5. Gaddis further attested, however, that if MPTD has sufficient information to make a disciplinary decision, it will not await the conclusion of the criminal prosecution to impose discipline. Id. ¶ 6. In this case, after the State’s Attorney reviewed the video, it informed Gaddis that its criminal investigation of Mann’s conduct would proceed, but that MPTD’s investigation could continue without interfering with the criminal case. Def’s Statement, ¶¶ 29-30; Pl.’s Statement, ¶¶ 29-30.

Then, on October 20, 2011, Gaddis conducted a formal interview of Plaintiff, which was transcribed. Pl.’s Opp’n, Ex. 4, Interview of Lieutenant David Mann, ECF No. 38-4 [hereinafter Mann Interview]. Before the interview commenced, Mann provided Gaddis with a three-page memorandum, dated September 8, 2011, which described Mann’s version of events and provided an explanation for his use of force. Mann Investigation Rep. at 8; Pl.’s Opp’n, Ex. 5, ECF No. 38-5. Also, before the interview began, Gaddis showed Mann the video footage of Dowtin’s arrest. Mann Interview at 3:11-15. Mann then proceeded to explain the nature and extent of the force he had used to arrest Dowtin. See generally Mann Interview.

The final step of Gaddis’ investigation involved consulting with a use-of-force expert. On October 26, 2011, Gaddis met with Captain Rudolph Dawson, Commander of the MTPD Training Academy. Dawson also had served as the Assistant Director of the Northern Virginia Regional Training Academy for three years. Mann Investigation Rep. at 9. Gaddis provided Dawson with a copy of the video of Dowtin’s arrest and a copy of Mann’s transcribed interview. Id. After reviewing those materials, Dawson concluded, in a written memorandum, that “Mann’s actions were not in compliance with the defensive tactics taught by the Northern Virginia Criminal Justice Training Academy, the [Metropolitan Transit Police Academy], or those addressed in General Order #130, Use of Force.” Def.’s Mot., Ex., Mem. from Captain Randolph Dawson to Captain Kevin Gaddis, ECF No. 34-11 [hereinafter Dawson Mem.], at 1. Dawson further opined that, because Dowtin had ...


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