United States District Court, District of Columbia
CHRISTOPHER R. COOPER United States District Judge
observing Plaintiff Bernard Campbell participate in what they
suspected was a drug deal, two Washington D.C. Metropolitan
Police Department (“MPD”) officers followed him
into a liquor store. When one of the officers stopped
Campbell to question him further, Campbell broke from the
officer's grasp and attempted to exit the store.
Surveillance video captured the ensuing struggle, including
the officer pulling Campbell to the ground by his scarf and
arresting him. A subsequent search uncovered the narcotic
suboxone hidden in the lining of Campbell's jacket.
Campbell was charged with assaulting a police officer and
unlawful possession of a controlled substance, but
prosecutors ultimately decided not to pursue either charge.
Alleging that the District of Columbia and the two officers
violated his constitutional rights by unlawfully seizing,
arresting, and prosecuting him, Campbell later filed suit
under both 42 U.S.C § 1983 and District of Columbia
common law. With discovery now complete, Defendants move for
summary judgment on all remaining claims on the grounds that
the officers were justified in stopping and arresting
Campbell, and are protected from liability by qualified
immunity. Having closely examined the surveillance video, and
for the reasons explained below, the Court will award summary
judgment to Defendants on all claims save one-the initial
investigatory stop of Mr. Campbell inside the liquor store.
evening of March 5, 2014, veteran MPD Vice Unit officers
Newton and Croson were patrolling New York Avenue N.W. in an
unmarked car when they spotted Mr. Campbell facing another
man at the corner of 1st Street N.W. Pl.'s Opp'n Mem.
Supp. Mot. Summ. J. (“Opp'n”), Ex. 3
(“Newton Dep.”) at 13:17-21. Officer Newton
testified in his deposition that Campbell had his arm
outstretched, “displaying something in his hand.”
Id. at 14:11-12. At no point during this
interaction, which lasted under a minute, did either officer
see the other man gesture at Campbell or hand him anything.
Id. at 15:1-7. Nevertheless, believing that a
narcotics transaction was taking place, the officers drove
towards the pair, but did not activate any emergency
equipment to indicate that they were police officers.
Id. at 17:2-20. Campbell then began walking east
towards the corner of North Capitol Street and New York
Avenue, where the iconic Big Ben liquor store is located.
Id. at 18:10-12. Officer Newton, wearing a black
tactical vest with “POLICE” written prominently
in white on the front and back, got out of the car and
followed Campbell on foot. Id. at 19:1-6. Newton
started out five to ten feet behind Campbell but closed the
distance to within two to three feet by the time Campbell
reached the entrance of Big Ben. Id. at 22:18-22.
Campbell was walking quickly, but did not run or otherwise
quicken his pace while he was being followed. Id. As
soon as Officer Newton entered Big Ben, he says he observed
Campbell make a tossing motion toward a trash can located in
the corner of the store, but did not see what was in his
hand. Id. at 23:22-24:5. Newton grabbed Campbell by
his waist, at which point, Newton testified, Campbell punched
him in the face before attempting to flee through the open
door. Id. at 28:14-21.
Campbell recounts things differently. See Pl.'s
Opp'n, Ex. 4 (“Campbell Dep.”). He testified
in his deposition that he was on his way to Big Ben with a
friend who had asked Campbell to buy alcohol for him.
Id. at 11:1-9. His mother lived on 1st Street and
Campbell was using a shortcut to reach New York Avenue.
Id. at 11:16-22. Campbell denies ever stopping to
show his friend anything and insists that he did not know he
was being followed until he was inside the store and people
“ran up behind [him] . . . [and] just started grabbing
[him].” Id. at 14:6-18. Campbell purports not
to have realized that his pursuers were police officers until
well into the encounter because they did not announce
themselves and “POLICE” was not clearly visible
on the front of their vests. Id. at 14:14-16.
parties have also submitted surveillance video footage
(without audio) that captures what transpired inside Big Ben
from multiple angles. See Def.'s Mem. Supp. Mot.
Summ. J. (“MSJ”), Ex. 4 (Video). The video shows
Campbell enter the store with Officer Newton close behind
him. Almost immediately upon entering, Officer Newton grabs
Campbell's right arm and then takes his other arm while
glancing behind his right shoulder at something located off
screen. Campbell-who appears to be much larger than either
officer-starts to jerk in the direction of the open door
while using his hands to break Officer Newton's grasp.
Officer Croson at that point comes through the open doorway
to assist and the two officers are able to corner Campbell.
To Campbell's right is an icebox, which the officers
attempt to have him bend over with his hands and face flat on
its surface. When Campbell hesitates, Officer Newton puts his
hand around Campbell's neck to try to force his head down
to the icebox. Still unable to pull Campbell's head down,
Officer Newton puts both of his hands around Campbell's
neck to try again. Campbell reacts by pushing Newton in the
chest. After stumbling back a few steps, Newton latches onto
Campbell's scarf and uses it to pull Campbell down to the
ground, where he pins him to the floor while Officer Croson
calls for back-up. The two officers struggle to keep Campbell
on the floor, but within minutes multiple officers arrive to
assist and secure the suspect. Campbell, propped up by
multiple officers, is led off camera. The video does not show
Campbell punching Officer Newton, nor does it show either
officer striking Campbell during this encounter.
Martello, the commanding officer at the scene, authorized the
officers to charge Campbell with assault on a police officer,
a misdemeanor offense under D.C. Code § 22-405. The
arrest report states that the officers discovered suboxone
sublingual film strips (a Schedule III
narcotic) in the lining of Campbell's jacket and
recovered $300 from a trash can inside Big Ben. See
Def.'s MSJ, Ex. 5 (Arrest Report). Campbell complained of
dizziness and chest pains after the arrest. He was taken to a
nearby hospital, but was released several hours later after
tests came back negative. See Pl.'s Opp'n,
Ex. 7 (Medical Records).
his arrest on March 5, 2014, an Information charged Campbell
with (1) Assaulting, Resisting or Interfering with a Police
Officer in violation of D.C. Code § 22-405(b); and (2)
Unlawful Possession of a Controlled Substance (Suboxone) in
violation of D.C. Code § 48- 904.01(d). On September 4,
2014, weeks before the case was set for trial, the Government
filed a Notice of Nolle Prosequi, indicating their intention
not to pursue charges. Def.'s MSJ, Ex. 6. Campbell
subsequently filed a complaint in the Superior Court for the
District of Columbia against Officers Newton, Croson, and the
District of Columbia, raising § 1983 and common-law tort
claims. Defendants removed the case and moved for a partial
dismissal, which the Court granted, dismissing all §
1983 claims brought under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment
and the § 1983 and punitive damage claims against the
District of Columbia. The parties proceeded to discovery, and
Defendants now move for summary judgment on all remaining
claims. The Court held a hearing on the motion on March 1,
2017. At the hearing, Campbell's counsel conceded that
nothing found in discovery supported his negligent
supervision and hiring claim. The Court therefore dismisses
that claim and addresses the remaining claims below.
Court will grant summary judgment only if the movant shows
that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A fact is material if it could affect the
outcome of the litigation and a dispute is genuine if it
could move a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the
nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,
477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A court considering a motion for
summary judgment must draw all reasonable inferences in favor
of the non-movant. Id. at 255. The court's role
at this stage does not include making credibility
determinations or weighing the evidence; instead, it is
limited to deciding if there is a genuine issue warranting a
trial. Id. at 249.
prevail on a motion for summary judgment, therefore, the
moving party must show that the evidence, even when viewed in
favor of the non-movant, cannot support an essential element
of the case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317,
322 (1986). To defeat summary judgment, the non-moving party
cannot simply rely on unsupported allegations or denials but
must offer affidavits or other competent evidence to
establish that material factual disputes exist. Id.
at 324. When video evidence is available and “opposing
parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly
contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could
believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the
facts for purposes of ruling on a motion for summary
judgment.” Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378
(2007). Rather, “in a case where the court has the
benefit of video evidence, the Supreme Court has stated that