United States District Court, District of Columbia
MICHAEL D. THOMAS, Plaintiff,
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant.
CHRISTOPHER R. COOPER United States District Judge.
District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department
("MPD") officer Michael Thomas, while off duty and
in another jurisdiction, shot an unarmed civilian who he
believed had tried to burgle his truck. Following an internal
investigation and an administrative hearing, MPD terminated
Thomas on the grounds that the shooting was unjustified and
violated several MPD policies. Thomas, who is
African-American, responded by suing the District of Columbia
for race discrimination. He disputes the Department's
factual findings regarding the incident and claims the MPD
has disciplined non-African-American officers less severely
for comparable infractions. The District now moves for
summary judgment. Finding that Thomas has not offered
any evidence to suggest that he was terminated
because of his race, the Court will grant the District's
motion and dismiss the case.
The September 13. 2009 Incident
following facts are drawn from police reports of the incident
that led to Thomas's termination and materials cited by
the parties from subsequent MPD administrative proceedings.
Thomas was off-duty in the early hours of September 13, 2009.
Def's Mot. Summ. J. ("MSJ") Ex. B, 10. While he
watching television in bed at a residence in Hyattsville,
Maryland, Thomas heard his key fob sound an alarm,
potentially indicating that someone was breaking into his
truck. From the front window of the house, Thomas saw a
stranger-later identified as Julio Lemus-standing next to the
truck. Thomas grabbed his MPD-issued badge and gun and ran to
the front porch. Id. According to Thomas, he twice
identified himself as a police officer and asked Mr. Lemus to
move on. When Lemus refused, Thomas walked to within
approximately four feet of him. Lemus then asked,
"That's how you are going son?" Id.
Thomas responded, "Police, just leave, " and
shifted his belt so Lemus could see his badge and gun. At
that point Thomas claimed Lemus began to approach him and
reached into the pocket of his sweatshirt. Purportedly
fearing for his safety, Thomas drew his gun and shot Lemus
twice. Lemus survived. There was no damage to Thomas's
provided investigators a somewhat different account. He
testified that he had been walking home from his cousin's
nearby home, where the two had been drinking heavily.
Def's MSJ Ex. C, 6. Lemus explained that he stopped next
to Thomas's truck and attempted to urinate, placing a
bottle of beer on the truck in the process. Id. At
this point, he heard something from behind and turned to see
Officer Thomas "charging" at him. Id. at
6. He raised his hands, but Thomas continued to approach and
pulled his gun. Lemus insisted that Thomas never identified
himself as a police officer. Yet as he turned to run away,
Thomas shot him in the side and leg. Lemus denied ever
walking toward Thomas or provoking him in any way. Lemus was
MPD's Investigation of the Incident
conducted an internal investigation of the incident, which
involved several levels of administrative review. First, the
Force Investigations Branch of MPD's Internal Affairs
Bureau conducted a field investigation. Detective James King
was "assigned as the lead investigator and investigated
the case under the direction of Lieutenant Guy Middleton of
the Force Investigations Branch." See
Defi's MS J Ex. B, 11. Detective King, in his initial
report, found the shooting to be justified. Id. at
23-24. King wrote that "Officer Thomas reacted to what
he perceived as a threat that could result in death or
serious bodily injury and was in fear of his life when he
discharged his [firearm]." Id. at 23.
Lieutenant Middleton disagreed. Middleton cited numerous
flaws in King's report, including its failure to consider
that Thomas had no law-enforcement authority in Maryland.
Id. He added, moreover, that the shooting occurred
following a series of questionable decisions by Thomas, such
as failing to notify local police before confronting a person
suspected of a non-violent property crime and not having
less-than-lethal weapons at hand. Id. at 5. The
Commanding Officer of the Force Investigations Branch
reviewed both reports, ultimately recommending to the Use of
Force Review Board that Thomas's actions were "Not
Justified, Not Within Department Policy." Id.
at 3. The Board concurred and accordingly referred the case
to MPD's Disciplinary Review Branch for violations of MPD
General Orders pertaining to the use of deadly force.
Defi's MS J Ex. B, 1.
the Disciplinary Review Branch, an Adverse Action Panel
("Panel") reviewed the case. The Panel held a
hearing at which Thomas, Lemus, and other witnesses
testified, including Detective King. Notably, King testified
against Thomas and appeared to retract his earlier
assessment that Thomas's use of force was justified.
According to the Panel findings, "Detective King . . .
testified that he did not have all the information, in regard
to this shooting that was available at the time he completed
his report." Defi's MSJ Ex. C, 5. King further
claimed that "there were a lot of facts that he had not
had an opportunity to review or to include in his report[, ]
and that the report was probably not complete to a
percentage." Id. Finally, King acknowledged
that it is MPD policy for off-duty officers to "proceed
cautiously, and . . . that it is prudent for off-duty MPD
personnel to contact on-duty police officers from the
jurisdiction that the incident occurred in prior to taking
police action." Id. at 6. The Panel ultimately
found against Thomas on two charges: 1) "commission of
any act which would constitute a crime, " and 2) use of
deadly force without necessary reason and not "to defend
against an imminent attack posing the risk of serious bodily
injury or death." Id. The Panel recommended
termination. Thomas appealed to the Chief of Police, who
adopted the Panel's findings and terminated Thomas.
exhausted his administrative remedies at MPD, Thomas filed
suit in this Court against the District of Columbia on July
16, 2013. He amended his complaint on September 26, 2013 and
asserted four counts: Count One alleged employment
discrimination on the basis of race under Title VII of the
Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C.
§ 2000e et seq.. and the District of Columbia
Human Rights Act ("DCHRA"), D.C. Code §
2-1402.11. See First Amend. Compl. 1-2. Count Two asserted a
hostile work environment, also under Title VII and the DCHRA.
Id. Count Three sought recovery for constitutional
violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Id. And
Count Four sought equitable relief, including an order for
the District of Columbia to institute an antidiscrimination
policy and for MPD supervisors to undergo antidiscrimination
training. Li at 13-14.
consented to the dismissal of Counts Two and Four on October
1, 2014. Thomas subsequently filed a Second Amended Complaint
on October 14, 2014. See Second Amend. Compl. The
District of Columbia then filed a motion to dismiss
Thomas's § 1983 claim, arguing that a municipality
cannot be liable under § 1983 absent "an official
custom, practice, or policy that caused the alleged
constitutional violation." See Def.'s Mot. Dismiss
Second Amend. Compl. 4-5. The Court granted this motion on
December 15, 2014, and the case proceeded to discovery. The
Court now considers the District of Columbia's motion for
summary judgment on the remaining discrimination claim.
Court shall grant summary judgment if "there is no
genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(a). A dispute is "genuine" only when a
reasonable fact-finder could find for the non-moving party.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248
(1986). A fact is "material" only if it is capable
of affecting the outcome of litigation. Id.