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Wood v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

May 31, 2017

DAVID WOOD, Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Emmet G. Sullivan United States District Judge

         David Wood brings this action against the District of Columbia and Metropolitan Police Department officers Charles Kiel, Charandip Sekhon, Andrew Smith, Michael Rodd, Jonathan Rosnick, Daniel Chodak, Jason Bagshaw, and Alicia Carter. His claims arise from an altercation he had with several of the defendant officers that occurred in the front yard of his home the evening of October 27, 2013 and from his subsequent prosecution on charges of assault on a police officer (“APO”). His complaint alleges various common law tort claims, including assault, false arrest, abuse of process, malicious prosecution, and negligent training and supervision, and that the officers violated federal law under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 when they falsely arrested him, used excessive force against him, maliciously prosecuted him, and prosecuted him based on false evidence. Pending before the Court is defendants' motion for summary judgment. Upon review of defendants' motion, the response and reply thereto, the parties' supplemental filings, the applicable law, and the entire record, defendants' motion for summary judgment is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         I. Background

         A. Factual Background

         Around 8:00 p.m. on the evening of October 27, 2013, Officers Charles Kiel, Andrew Smith, Charandip Sekhon, Michael Rodd, and Jonathan Rosnick were in a 7-Eleven convenience store on South Dakota Avenue in Northeast Washington, D.C. when a woman entered the store and alerted them that a taxi cab driver was being assaulted and robbed on nearby Jamaica Street. Defs.' Statement of Material Facts (“Defs.' SMF”), ECF No. 43 ¶ 1; Deposition of Charles Kiel (“Kiel Dep.”), ECF No. 43-4 at 8:14-18; Deposition of Charandip Sekhon (“Sekhon Dep.”), ECF No. 43-7 at 10:1-8; Deposition of David Wood (“Wood Dep.”), ECF No. 43-9 at 22:7-9. The officers immediately reported to Jamaica Street, saw a taxi cab parked in the road with its door open, and then saw a person--whose face was bloodied--on the street calling for help. Defs.' SMF, ECF No. 43 ¶¶ 2, 10. That person was the cab's driver, Minwiylte Gebyehu, who had been attacked and robbed by his passenger and a second assailant who entered the cab on Jamaica Street after the passenger had instructed Mr. Gebyehu to stop the cab on that street. Id. ¶ 41; Gebyehu Aff., ECF No. 45-8 at 1-2.

         Mr. Gebyehu communicated to the officers that two persons had attacked him. Kiel Dep., ECF No. 43-4 at 12:6-8. But the record is not clear as to what exactly Mr. Gebyehu communicated to the officers regarding where the two assailants fled. According to the officers, Mr. Gebyehu, when asked where his assailants fled, pointed to a specific house located at 1214 Jamaica Street--the house in which Mr. Wood lived with his mother and from which he was soon to emerge. Kiel Dep., ECF No. 43-4 at 11:1-3, 12:6-8; Deposition of Michael Rodd (“Rodd Dep.”), ECF No. 43-5 at 11:2-4; Deposition of Jonathan Rosnick (“Rosnick Dep.”), ECF No. 43-6 at 13:1-3, 15:10-12; Sekhon Dep., ECF No. 43-7 at 12:11-17; Deposition of Andrew Smith (“Smith Dep.”), ECF No. 43-8 at 13:17-22. Additionally, in an affidavit provided to the Court by Mr. Wood, Mr. Gebyehu affirmed that he showed the officers who arrived on the scene the house that his assailant-passenger had indicated was his house on Jamaica Street. Gebyehu Aff., ECF No. 45-8 at 3. But Mr. Gebyehu's testimony from Mr. Wood's criminal trial is in tension with this evidence. At one point during his testimony, Mr. Gebyehu said that he did not see where his assailants fled and that he told the officers as much when they asked him where his assailants had gone. Aug. 1, 2014 Criminal Trial Tr., ECF No. 45-3 at 19:2- 10. However, at another point during his testimony, Mr. Gebyehu seems to have said that he did point out a specific house to the officers: the house in front of which he had parked his cab. Id. at 29:1-15. Mr. Wood contends that if Mr. Gebyehu did identify a specific house for the officers, the house identified could not have been his at 1214 Jamaica Street, as the cab was not parked in front of his house. Pl.'s Opp. to Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. (“Pl.'s Opp.”), ECF No. 45 at 10 n.2. The officers' testimony as to the location of the cab in relation to 1214 Jamaica Street is inconsistent. Compare Kiel Dep., ECF No. 43-4 at 11:12-14 (“Q: Where was his cab in relation to the [1214 Jamaica Street] house? A: About two to three doors down, closer to Eastern Avenue.”), with Rosnick Dep., ECF No. 43-6 at 14:21-15:6 (“Q: So how did it come about that you were almost in front of the [1214 Jamaica Street] home? A: We were, again, we were walking from Eastern back towards the scene of the event where the cab was. . . . And [Mr. Gebyehu] had indicated that the two men that had assaulted him had ran into that home, and pointed towards it.”).

         Whatever directional information Mr. Gebyehu actually conveyed to the officers, Officers Kiel, Sekhon, and Smith ended up walking towards Mr. Wood's house at 1214 Jamaica Street, while Officers Rodd and Rosnick remained in the street with Mr. Gebyehu. Defs.' SMF, ECF No. 43 ¶ 4; Rosnick Dep., ECF No. 43-6 at 19:6-8, 22:16-18. Inside the living room of the house, Mr. Wood, who had “had a few drinks, ” Wood Dep., ECF No. 43-9 at 22:2-3, was on the telephone when he saw a red streak reflect on his television screen. Defs.' SMF, ECF No. 43 ¶ 33; Wood Dep., ECF No. 43-9 at 13:8-10. Thinking that the flashing red light could have been from an emergency vehicle arriving for a beloved elderly neighbor, Mr. Wood--after jumping up and unsuccessfully attempting to reach his neighbor by telephone--exited the house, heading to his neighbor's house to check on her. Wood Dep., ECF No. 43-9 at 17:1-3, 19:8-9, 20:7-22; Pl.'s Answers to Defs.' Interrogs., ECF No. 45-10 at 9.

         When Mr. Wood exited his house he was clad in just his underwear and a tee shirt and was “worried” and “panicking.” Defs.' SMF, ECF No. 43 ¶ 15; Wood Dep., ECF No. 43-9 at 13:18-14:1, 19:4-6; Sekhon Dep, ECF No. 43-7 at 18:5. Officer Rosnick observed that Mr. Wood had “an agitated character and expression, ” Rosnick Dep., ECF No. 43-6 at 25:6-7, and Officer Kiel observed that Mr. Wood “had a very confused something-was-wrong-with-him look in his eyes” and “appeared to be under the influence of some kind of substance.” Defs.' SMF, ECF No. 43 ¶ 17; Kiel Dep., ECF No. 43-4 at 15:7-8, 17:18-19. Officer Kiel identified himself as a police officer and told Mr. Wood that he needed to stop and speak with the officers in view of the assault and robbery that had just occurred nearby, Kiel Dep., ECF No. 43-4 at 15:16-20, 16:20-17:10; Sekhon Dep., ECF No. 43-7 at 18:14-19:8; Smith Dep., ECF No. 43-8 at 19:10-20, but, according to the officers, Mr. Wood refused to stop and speak with them. Kiel Dep., ECF No. 43-4 at 17:3-4, 18:15; Sekhon Dep., ECF No. 43-7 at 25:7-26:18; Smith Dep., ECF No. 43-8 at 19:16-20:4. Mr. Wood maintains that at this point--prior to Officer Kiel grabbing him and handcuffing one of his arms--he was unaware of any police presence. Wood Dep., ECF No. 43-9 at 17:10-17, 21:1-22:1.

         Officer Kiel told Mr. Wood that he would have to handcuff him and proceeded to grab and handcuff one of Mr. Wood's arms. Kiel Dep., ECF No. 43-4 at 18:15-18, 20:7-8; Rosnick Dep., ECF No. 43-6 at 26:17-18; Sekhon Dep., ECF No. 43-7 at 27:3-22; Smith Dep., ECF No. 43-8 at 20:6-7. Now aware of the officers' presence, Wood Dep., ECF No. 43-9 at 17:10-15, Mr. Wood contends that, upon being grabbed, he told Officer Kiel to “stop” and raised his hand to Officer Kiel to indicate that he should stop grabbing him. Wood Dep., ECF No. 43-9 at 17:1-7, 22:18-24:5. According to the officers, Mr. Wood did not merely raise his hand to indicate that they should “stop”; rather, he swung at Officer Kiel right after Officer Kiel had secured one of his arms in handcuffs. Kiel Dep., ECF No. 43-4 at 21:7-10; Rosnick Dep., ECF No. 43-6 at 31:2-5; Sekhon Dep., ECF No. 43-7 at 31:7-22; Smith Dep., ECF No. 43-8 at 24:19-21.

         Whether Mr. Wood merely raised his hand at Officer Kiel or swung at him, at about the same time or immediately after Officer Sekhon commanded Mr. Wood, “On the ground, motherfucker, ” to which Mr. Wood responded by telling Officer Sekhon, “Don't try it, Junior.” Wood Dep., ECF No. 43-9 at 22:21-23:4. Telling Mr. Wood not to call him “Junior, ” Officer Sekhon then “ram[med] himself into [Mr. Wood], ” tackling Mr. Wood with the help of Officers Kiel and Smith. Id. at 14:9-13, 23:5-10. A melee ensued during which the officers punched, pulled, stepped on, and kicked Mr. Wood. Id. at 14:14-20, 23:5-10, 25:8-26:7; Sekhon Dep., ECF No. 43-7 at 42:1-22; Smith Dep., ECF No. 43-8 at 28:15-29:21. Soon after the struggle began, Officers Rodd and Rosnick ran over to assist the three other officers. Rosnick Dep., ECF No. 43-6 at 33:11-14. Officer Rodd was able to grab ahold of Mr. Wood's free arm and pull it behind his back so that it could be handcuffed. Defs.' SMF, ECF No. 43 ¶ 9; Rodd Dep., ECF No. 43-5 at 33:14-34:1. Although Mr. Wood insists that he “[c]ouldn't struggle” because of the handcuffs, Wood Dep., ECF No. 43-9 at 27:1-2, he concedes that during the melee he was hitting the officers while they were hitting him. Wood Dep., ECF No. 43-9 at 26:10-16 (“Q: And while they were hitting you, where were your hands? A: Well, I was hitting--they were hitting me at one point, my hands were in front of me. They put them behind me. They grabbed them, they're pulling it, they yanked and pulled and then put them in handcuffs.”). After Mr. Wood was handcuffed and subdued, he contends that the officers continued to punch, kick, and step on him. Id. at 15:4-6 (“I was handcuffed and I remember one of the officers just punching me and punching me.”), 23:13-15 (“[W]hen I was on the ground they had me in handcuffs and still were still stepping on me, punching me.”). The officers maintain that any use of force ceased once Mr. Wood was fully handcuffed. Kiel Dep., ECF No. 43-4 at 35:10-15 (“A: At some point we were able to handcuff him. Yes. Q: And then what happened? A: We all immediately got off of him, assessed what the rest of the situation, and carried on with the investigation.”).

         Officer Daniel Chodak arrived on the scene after the melee was in progress but stayed on the street with Mr. Gebyehu throughout its duration. Defs.' SMF, ECF No. 43 ¶¶ 24-26. During a subsequent show-up procedure that occurred after Sergeants Jason Bagshaw and Alicia Carter arrived on the scene, Mr. Gebyehu did not identify Mr. Wood as one of his assailants. Id. ¶¶ 28-31; Deposition of Jason Bagshaw, ECF No. 43-1 at 15:1-3. Mr. Wood was then transported from the scene to a police station house and eventually taken to a hospital to receive medical attention for atrial fibrillation, an accelerated heart rate, post-concussive syndrome, and injuries to his head and shoulder. Defs.' SMF, ECF No. 43 ¶ 39; Pl.'s Opp., ECF No. 45 at 4.

         B. Procedural Background

         Mr. Wood was subsequently charged with misdemeanor APO but, following a bench trial on July 31 and August 1, 2014 in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, was found not guilty. Defs.' SMF, ECF No. 43 ¶ 40; Criminal Trial Docket Sheet, ECF No. 45-9. On October 24, 2014, Mr. Wood commenced this lawsuit in the Superior Court alleging: (1) common law assault against all defendants (Counts I and II); (2) common law false arrest against all defendants (Counts III and IV); (3) common law abuse of process against all defendants (Counts V and VI); (4) common law malicious prosecution against all defendants (Counts VII and VIII); (5) excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against all individual officers (Count IX); (6) false arrest in violation of the Fourth Amendment, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against all individual officers (Count X); (7) prosecution based on false evidence in violation of unspecified civil rights, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against all individual officers (Count XI); (8) malicious prosecution in violation of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against all individual officers (Count XII); and (9) negligent training and supervision against the District of Columbia (Count XIII). See Compl., ECF No. 19-1 ¶¶ 39-87.

         Defendants removed the case to this Court on December 5, 2014. See Joint Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1. The Court partially granted Officer Chodak's motion to dismiss, dismissing Counts I, V, IX, and XI as to him. Order, ECF No. 27. On December 23, 2015, defendants filed the motion for summary judgment that is presently before the Court. See Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 43. In his brief in opposition, Mr. Wood expressly abandons and requests the Court to dismiss the following claims: all Counts as to Officers Bagshaw and Carter, and Counts V, VI, XI, and XIII in full. Pl.'s Opp., ECF No. 45 at 1 n.1. The Court thus grants defendants' motion as to those abandoned claims and has considered the parties' summary judgment arguments as they pertain to the remaining claims.

         II. ...


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