United States District Court, District of Columbia
E. BOASBERG United States District Judge.
story begins with Plaintiff Jonathan Hedgpeth strewn across
the ground outside the Den of Thieves - an inauspiciously
named bar in Washington's U Street corridor. He is
bleeding from a gash along his forehead, his memory foggy.
All he knows is that two police officers from the
Metropolitan Police Department are now handcuffing his arms
behind his back. After he is restrained, paramedics transport
Hedgpeth to a nearby hospital where he stays overnight; he
spends the next day in jail before being released without
charges. Hedgpeth would later be diagnosed with memory loss
and other post-concussive brain disorders. Since his police
encounter, he has attempted to piece together the events of
that night and now believes that in the course of arresting
him, the officers used a takedown maneuver and rammed his
head into a grated window. Once he identified those two
policemen as Ammar Rahim and Matthew Rider, he filed this
suit against them under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state
now seek summary judgment, principally asserting that they
are entitled to qualified immunity for acting as reasonable
police officers when arresting and using force against
Plaintiff, which unfortunately resulted in unintended
injuries. As they saw it, he was a loud, obnoxious, and
noncompliant drunk, and they had reason to believe he had
been traversing the block, punching strangers. Hedgpeth
counters that he may have been obstinate, but in no way
opened himself up to what he believes was an act of
gratuitous violence. He, of course, does not remember any of
what happened. Luckily for the Court, the testimony of
multiple eyewitnesses pierces the thick fog of
Plaintiff's amnesia. Faced with a clearer picture now
that Defendants did not behave so unreasonably that they
could be liable individually for this incident, the Court
grants their Motion for Summary Judgment.
perusing the record, the Court, as it must, views the
evidence in the light most favorable to Plaintiff. Ye t this
noble-sounding standard bumps up against the stark reality
that a record like this one has certain predictable gaps.
Where a plaintiff's memory ordinarily breathes life into
a narrative, alas, this Plaintiff has no recollection.
See ECF No. 37, Exh. 3 (Psychiatric Examination by
Dr. Gerald Shiener) at 2. Fortunately for Hedgpeth, other
witnesses were present to observe the events, and the Court
credits their testimony where it aids Plaintiff.
evening of March 2, 2015, Hedgpeth, a 37-year-old white male,
was out and about on U Street in Washington's northwest
quadrant. The evening had been going well so far, as he had
been enjoying himself at a local wine tasting. See
Shiener Exam at 1; ECF No. 32, Exh. 5 (Expert Report of Luca
Zarwell). He left that event alone and then stopped by the
downstairs bar of Marvin, a neighborhood restaurant he
frequented often. See ECF No. 40, Exh. 14
(Deposition of Tyler Webb) at 10:12-21. There, he had a few
drinks and began engaging with the bartender and other
patrons. Id. at 11:12-16; see Shiener Exam
at 1. Although it was not outwardly obvious whether Hedgpeth
was thoroughly intoxicated by that time, the floor manager of
Marvin - Tyler Webb - later recalled that he was “being
loud and being like aggressive and saying racially
inappropriate things, ” enough so that customers began
inching away from him at the bar. See Webb Dep. at
10:21-11:16, 12:15-13:18. Over the course of thirty to
forty-five minutes, one customer complained about his
behavior and Webb had to speak with him twice about
“keep[ing] his voice down.” Id. at
12:3-4, 12:15-13:7, 13:21-14:1. Perhaps realizing he had
become an unwelcome gadfly downstairs, Hedgpeth relocated to
Marvin's upstairs club. Id. at 12:4-7. That
proved unsuccessful, as he was swiftly booted from there.
Id. at 14:4-6.
libertines find sobriety after a stroll in the brisk night
air. But, in this case, two police officers found Hedgpeth
first. Rahim and Rider were in the area attending to a
homeless man when they heard a loud voice. See ECF
No. 32, Exh. 1 (Deposition of Ammar Rahim) at 45:15-46:5; ECF
No. 43, Exh. 2 (Deposition of Matthew Rider) at 69:3-20. It
was Hedgpeth. The officers watched him walk toward them,
alongside a “tall black male”; Plaintiff pushed
him, and the man pushed back. See Rahim Dep. at
46:2-49:11, 52:2-9. The man then headed toward the officers,
proclaiming: “[H]ey did you see that? This guy just
pushed me.” Id. at 53:5; see Rider
Dep. at 70:15-71:4. The officers told the tall black
gentleman to hold fast and wait, as they would approach his
assailant. See Rahim Dep. at 56:9-16.
meanwhile, had bumped into a former coworker, Marcus Lee.
See ECF No. 37, Exh. 4 (Deposition of Marcus Lee) at
6:4-12. Lee was then outside the Den of Thieves - an
establishment right next door to Marvin - where he had left
his sunglasses the prior night. Id. at 8:1-7; Webb
Dep. at 7:14-16. Hedgpeth approached him from behind and gave
him a friendly “buddy punch” on the shoulder.
See Lee Dep. at 8:12-13. Although the two were once
coworkers, they had not seen each other for a few years.
Id. at 6:4-17. Naturally, the pair started to catch
up - a brief exchange that Lee later gauged as
“coherent.” Id. at 8:14-16, 65:1.
reunion was cut short. Although it is not clear from the
record how much time it took for Rahim and Rider to wrap up
with the homeless man and pursue Hedgpeth, it apparently was
not long. “All of a sudden, ” they approached
from his rear and began interrogating the pair of friends.
Id. at 8:17-19. The officers stated,
“[W]e've got reports of somebody hitting people, up
and down the street that we were on.” Id. at
10:16-18; see id. at 9:11-13, 14:14-15, 49:15-17.
They expressed curiosity as to where Plaintiff had been that
night. Id. at 49:12-13. Thinking that Hedgpeth was
somehow soon to get in trouble for the friendly fist greeting
moments earlier, Lee explained, “[N]o, no, he's a
friend of mine, we're just talking, it's not what you
think.” Id. at 9:14-16. Uninterested, the
officers dismissed Lee's suggestion and ushered him to
the side, directing their focus on Hedgpeth instead.
Id. at 9:13-21.
when they repeatedly asked Hedgpeth for his name, he would
not answer them. Id. at 20:4-6, 49:19-20. Rahim and
Rider then broke off and chatted amongst themselves, coming
to the conclusion that a different approach was warranted.
“Have you been drinking tonight, ” they probed;
“I know you've been drinking.” Id.
at 14:17-20, 49:20-50. Plaintiff would not give them an
answer to this either. In contrast to his one-on-one with
Lee, however, Hedgpeth's demeanor grew less sociable. He
began telling the police that “he didn't do
anything, ” speaking in slurred speech and acting like
he was drunk. Id. at 71:19-72:1; see id. at
44:18-20, 75:6-12; Rider Dep. at 169:2-4. Lee suspected,
however - because Hedgpeth covertly winked to the side - that
he was “faking” it. See Lee Dep. at
64:21-65:5, 68:13-69:2, 72:15-73:8.
Hedgpeth drunk or simply tipsy? It's hard to say. Lee
testified that Hedgpeth was not wavering or unable to stand
up. Id. at 65:17-66:3. A barely audible cellphone
video filmed by Lee during the encounter also shows Plaintiff
steady with both feet firmly planted, without any significant
teetering movements that one might associate with someone a
few sheets to the wind. See ECF No. 41 (Pre-Arrest
Video). After seven seconds of Hedgpeth's standing there,
the video ends. Rahim and Rider recounted, conversely, that
he had been trying to (but could not) keep his balance.
See Rahim Dep. at 53:16-18; Rider Dep. at 169:2-5.
Defendants' expert, after scanning Plaintiff's later
hospital records that recorded his blood-alcohol content,
likewise determined that he had the equivalent of
fourteen alcoholic beverages in his system at the
time. See Zarwell, ¶ 10. Even so, intoxication
is tricky: Alcohol affects individuals differently, and even
an inebriate can feign sobriety for a short while and
matter. If Plaintiff was mimicking a drunkard, he apparently
did so all too well. Rider told Lee that they thought
Hedgpeth was drunk and asked if Lee would be willing to take
his friend home. See Lee Dep. at 14:22-15:2, 50:4-7.
Lee responded that although he was keen on helping, Hedgpeth
could be “hard to handle.” Id. at
that, Defendants had enough of their fruitless back and forth
with the two old comrades. Rahim took out his handcuffs and
told Hedgpeth that they were arresting him. Id. at
50:21-51:1. Once Plaintiff realized he was jail bound, he
began yelling at the top of his lungs. Id. at
47:20-48:4, 52:19-53:7; see Rider Dep. at 95:1
(recounting that he was screaming at the sky “[l]ike
the Hulk”). He howled the same three phrases again and
again - “no”; “let me go”; “I
didn't do anything” - perhaps laced with other
profanities. See Lee Dep. at 53:5-7, 75:19-76:2;
Rahim Dep. at 75:17-78:1. Some people in the vicinity began
slowing down and paying attention. See Lee Dep. at
53:12-14. Next door at Marvin, Webb sat by the window,
rubbernecking to watch the incident unfold. See Webb
Dep. at 14:21-15:4.
something went awry. The record here is hazy, but however
Hedgpeth ended up on the cement, it happened fast.
Id. at 16:16-17 (“I looked away for one second
and the next thing I know he's on the ground.”);
Rahim Dep. at 89:14-15 (“It happened so fast.”).
catch a breath, let's freeze the scene right before the
incident and pause to look around. At this moment, a passerby
with his head turned would see Hedgpeth still standing on the
sidewalk with his back facing the Den of Thieves.
See Pre-Arrest Video; Rahim Dep. at 87:4-6. That
establishment has a large, nearly floor-to-ceiling window as
its storefront. See ECF No. 37, Exh. 1 (Incident
Pictures) at 9-10. A matte-black metal grating covers the
glass, creating a windowpane-like effect; the horizontal bars
are roughly one-and-a-half feet apart, and the vertical bars
are separated by about a foot. Near the ground - say, two
feet above it - the glass stops. Below the glass, a short
wall borders the bottom of the window forming a thin ledge,
much like a picture frame. As for Rahim, a bystander would
see him preparing to arrest Hedgpeth by approaching from
behind. See Lee Dep. at 18:10-12.
happened next is a toss-up. Various eyewitness accounts
differ as to whether Hedgpeth was in motion. Perched at his
window, Webb recalled how Plaintiff was either in the act of
“lunging or wavering back and forth because he was
intoxicated or maybe trying to escape talking to the
police.” Webb Dep. at 16:11-15. Lee recounted, however,
that he never saw any lunging motions or attempts to flee.
See Lee Dep. at 18:8-10, 36:15-17. Rahim
corroborated that Plaintiff was not trying to flee and does
not recall him lunging. See Rahim Dep. at 54:3-7,
73:14-74:15. Rider admitted to not paying much attention. His
eyes were instead trained on Hedgpeth's driver's
license while he attempted to take a picture of it.
See Rider Dep. at 99:4-105:1. Contradicting his own
officers' accounts, the police sergeant who later arrived
on the scene recalled that the police duo informed him that
Hedgpeth had tried to lunge at Rider. See ECF No.
39, Exh. 12 (Deposition of Stephen Keirn) at 59:11-13.
subject to debate are Plaintiff's hand gestures. Webb saw
that, moments before Hedgpeth went down, “his fists
were clenched.” Webb Dep. at 16:15-16. Rahim likewise
testified at length about how Plaintiff had clenched his
fists with his fingers facing forward and his arms pinned by
his side. See Rahim Dep. at 67:16-70:15; Rider Dep.
at 137:1-3, 138:12-15. Lee, however, begged to differ:
Hedgpeth never did ball his fists up. See Lee Dep.
flickering details of these few moments are no doubt lost.
Although judges might be umpires, the record does not carry
with it all the technological features of present-day
multiple-angle instant replay. So let's unfreeze and
march forward. After deciding to make an arrest, Rahim
approached Plaintiff from behind and grabbed his left arm,
preparing to handcuff his wrist. See Lee Dep. at
51:1-2. The officer repeatedly commanded Hedgpeth to
surrender his other arm. Id. at 51:2-4. This went
nowhere, as Hedgpeth refused. Id. at 51:4-7. Done
with asking, Rahim then drove his knee forward and cut out
Hedgpeth's legs from underneath him to take him down to
the ground. Id. at 51:8-14, 58:19-59:3. In the
process, Hedgpeth fell forward and spun to his left: His head
flew into the window's grating or ledge, and he collapsed
onto the cement sidewalk. Id. As this all unfolded,
Lee texted his wife to explain that the police slammed
Hedgpeth into the window after he refused to place his arms
behind his back. Id. at 70:20-71:3. Later when
asked, Lee clarified that Rahim initiated a “take-down
maneuver” but that he did not think the officer
specifically “meant for Jonathan to slam his head in to
the side of the building.” Id. at 21:16-18,
rest of the story is undisputed. Hedgpeth remained lying on
the ground as the officers placed handcuffs on him.
Id. at 52:8-10; Rahim Dep. at 90:9-11. The fall left
a large gash over his left eye, and blood splattered all over
the sidewalk. See Incident Pictures at 1-2, 6-8.
Hedgpeth, unsurprisingly, continued to scream. See
ECF No. 41 (Post-Arrest Video). Paramedics, who had been
attending to the homeless man down the block, came and
wrapped Plaintiff's head in gauze. See Rahim
Dep. at 101:1-8. He was then taken to Howard University
Hospital, where he was treated overnight and apparently
received a number of stitches. See Shiener Exam at
2; Zarwell Report, ¶ 4; Incident Pictures at 11. The
next morning, Hedgpeth was transported to a courthouse
cellblock, where he was detained. See Shiener Exam
at 2. The government sent him home that same day without
bringing charges. Id.
wrote the incident up as “Disorderly Affray.”
See ECF No. 37, Exh. 6 (Metropolitan Police
Department Report). In a lengthier examination-request form
submitted to the hospital following the arrest, conversely,
the officers noted that the charge was “SA/APO” -
i.e., simple assault and assault on a police
officer. See ECF No. 37, Exh. 7 (Request for
Examination) at 1. That document also described:
“Suspect fell into glass window as he was being turned
away from officer. No use of force. Suspect is heavily
intoxicated.” Id. at 2. Indeed, Rahim has
since denied using any substantial amount of force. He
testified at a deposition only that he “tried to grab
[Hedgpeth's] shoulder or arm” to handcuff him, but
that the arrestee pulled away and fell on his own accord.
See Rahim Dep. at 82:2-21. The officer admits only
to putting “part of [his] fingers” on Hedgpeth.
Id. at 83:22-85:12.
after the incident, a doctor's office at George
Washington University examined Plaintiff. The doctor reported
“recurrent headaches, vertigo after a concussion that
is consistent with post-concussive syndrome.” ECF No.
37, Exh. 2 (George Washington University Medical Faculty
Associates Report). A much later psychiatric examination
added “post-traumatic stress disorder” to this
list. See Sheiner Exam at 6-7.
30, 2015, Hedgpeth brought this suit against Rahim and Rider.
In his Complaint, he lodged one cause of action under 42
U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his Fourth and
Fifth Amendment rights. See ECF No. 1 (Complaint),
¶¶ 32-43. Namely, he claimed Defendants had
arrested him falsely and wielded excessive force in doing so.
His other two counts were brought under state law - for
assault and battery and, again, for false arrest.
Id., ¶¶ 44-52.
the parties completed discovery, Rahim and Rider filed the
present Motion for Summary Judgment, primarily seeking
qualified immunity on Count One for their actions, which ...