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Cutchin v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 27, 2019

DEMANNE CUTCHIN, Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants. [1]

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          REGGIE B. WALTON United States District Judge.

         Demanne Cutchin (“the plaintiff” or “Cutchin”) brings this action against Metropolitan Transit Police Department (“MTPD”) officers Christian Muñoz (“Muñoz”) and Francisco Santiago (“Santiago”) in their individual capacities. Amended Complaint (“Am. Compl.”) ¶¶ 6-8.[2] Cutchin alleges that these defendants violated his rights protected by the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution when they falsely imprisoned him and used excessive force when they arrested him. Id. ¶¶ 27-28. In addition, Cutchin brings an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim against the two officers. Id. ¶ 29. He demands a declaratory judgment and compensatory and punitive damages. Id. (Prayer for Relief). This matter is before the Court on Defendants Santiago and Muñoz's Motion for Summary Judgment. For the reasons discussed below, the Court grants the motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. The Defendants' Asserted Facts

         Santiago and Muñoz were partners, Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of Plaintiff['s] Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (“Pl.'s Opp'n”), Exhibit (“Ex.”) 1 (Trial Transcript) at 47:3-9[3], assigned to the Metro Enforcement Division, “a casual clothes unit specifically for the buses, ” id., Ex. 1 at 43:24-44:1, to work at the Anacostia Metro Station “due to high robberies and continued [fare] evasion problems” at that location, id. at 45:6-7, see also id. at 124:25-125:13.[4] On January 29, 2013, id., Ex. 1 at 44:17-19, at or about 5:40 p.m., id., Ex. 1 at 47:16, they “were at the 90 bus bay” because that particular route was “having issues with [fare] evasions and . . . assaults, ” id. at 47:18-20.

         Muñoz was seated in the front of the bus near the entrance door approximately three feet from the fare machine. Id., Ex. 1 at 48:15-22. The bus driver had disembarked to take a break. Id., Ex. 1 at 48:5-8. During such breaks, Muñoz testified that occasionally “customers who would take advantage of the situation kind of jump on the bus without paying” the fare. Id., Ex. 1 at 47:23-25. If a passenger paid his fare using a SmarTrip card, the machine beeps, id., Ex. 1 at 48:22-49:4, and if the payment has not “gone through, ” id., Ex. 1 at 49:2-3, the machine makes “a real loud annoying noise” instead, id., Ex. 1. at 49:5-6. A passenger who transfers from one bus to another may use a SmarTrip card, and he would have “about two hours to get onto another bus without . . . having to pay another [fare].” Id., Ex. 1 at 49:9-14.

         From his seat at the front of the bus, Muñoz observed two or three passengers board the bus and pay their fares. Id., Ex. 1 at 50:4-22. Muñoz then observed Cutchin board the bus, id. at 50:23-25, with a female companion, id. at 51:6-9, and “kind of look[] to his left and to the right, ” id. at 51:1-2. Muñoz took this as “an indication” that Cutchin was “looking for the bus driver to see if [he was] being looked at, ” id., Ex. 1 at 51:3-4. Muñoz testified that Cutchin “just walked to the rear of the bus.” Id., Ex. 1 at 51:4-5. In other words, according to Muñoz, he observed Cutchin board the bus without paying his fare. Statement of Material Facts Not In Dispute (“Defs.' Facts”) ¶ 8; see Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 1 at 50:2-51:18. “At that time[, ] [Muñoz] notified [his] partner who was outside to let him know [they had] one individual who didn't pay for the bus and [they] were going to take him off the bus.” Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 1 at 15-18.

         The bus driver returned about five minutes after Muñoz observed Cutchin board the bus. Id., Ex. 1 at 52:9-12. Muñoz asked the driver to open the rear door of the bus, he then walked to the rear of the bus to approach Cutchin, identified himself as an MTPD officer, and displayed his badge. Id., Ex. 1 at 52:22-53:3.

         Muñoz and Cutchin got off the bus and they “walked . . . to the bus bay where people usually sit at to wait for the bus.” Id., Ex. 1 at 53:12-13; see id., Ex. 1 at 104:24-105:16. Muñoz then informed Cutchin that the officers stopped him because he had not paid his fare. Id., Ex. 1 at 53:17-18; see Defs.' Facts ¶ 9. Cutchin told the officers that he had paid his fare with a SmarTrip card and produced a card. Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 1 at 53:19-24. Santiago remained at the bus bay with Cutchin while Muñoz boarded the bus, id., Ex. 1at 53:25, and “rescanned the card to see if it had been processed[, ]” id., Ex. 1 at 54:1; Defs.' Facts ¶ 10. “[I]t showed it had not been processed.” Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 1 at 54:2.

         Under such circumstances, MTPD officers ordinarily ask the individual for identification for the purpose of issuing a citation, “a ticket for not paying the fare, ” id., Ex. 1 at 55:20, which was done here, id., Ex. 1 at 55:14-20. When Cutchin did not produce any form of identification, Muñoz asked for his name, address, date of birth and other information. Id., Ex. 1 at 55:21-24, 56:21-25. Muñoz had the impression that Cutchin “wasn't being forthcoming, ” id., Ex. 1 at 56:25, and the officers decided to arrest him, id., Ex. 1 at 57:5-6. When Muñoz directed Cutchin to turn around, id., Ex. 1 at 57:5-6, Cutchin complied. Cutchin then “put his hands behind his back[, ] and [Muñoz] placed the handcuffs on him and . . . sat him down on the bench” at the bus bay. Id., Ex. 1 at 57:24-58:1. Meanwhile, Cutchin's companion had gotten off the bus and was speaking with Santiago. Id., Ex. 1 at 55:4-56:17, 58:2-5.

         As Muñoz was “pulling out [a contact] card, “which is a little paper card to collect a person's information if [the person does not] have a hard ID, ” id., Ex. 1 at 58:12-14, Cutchin “just got up and just ran, ” id., Ex. 1 at 58:20-21, with his hands still cuffed behind his back, id., Ex. 1 at 59:1; Defs.' Facts ¶ 14. Cutchin ran “as fast as he could” with the impediment of having his hands handcuffed behind his back. Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 1 at 101:22-23; Defs.' Facts ¶ 16. Muñoz shouted to Santiago, “He's running.” Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 1 at 59:15-16. Cutchin managed to run “about a bus length, ” id., Ex. 1 at 59:3, before Santiago grabbed Cutchin's jacket, id., Ex. 1 at 59:17-18; see id., Ex. 1 at 101:21-25; Defs.' Facts ¶ 15. Santiago “grabbed onto [Cutchin], at which time he fell on [Cutchin], ” Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 1 at 101:8-9, and “[a]ll he could do [was to grab Cutchin] in a tackle position and hold him on the ground” until Muñoz reached them, id., Ex. 1 at 101:7-11; see Defs.' Facts ¶¶ 16-17. Muñoz was about two feet away when Cutchin and Santiago hit the ground. Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 1 at 60:1. When Muñoz reached them, because Cutchin was “still struggling on the ground, ” id., Ex. 1 at 60:8, Santiago attempted to restrain Cutchin's legs, id., Ex. 1 at 60:14-15, while Muñoz attempted to “make it towards [Cutchin's] upper torso, ” id., Ex. 1 at 60:7.

         Cutchin continued to struggle and resist. Id., Ex. 1 at 60:8, 102:1-7; Defs.' Facts ¶ 17. While he remained “facing down on the sidewalk, ” Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 1 at 60:25, the officers “notice[d] that he [kept] trying to bring his arms around to the front, ” id., Ex. 1at 61:3-4. In the officers' experience, Cutchin's efforts “to bring his arms forward” indicated that he was “trying to reach for something.” Id., Ex. 1 at 61:12-14. Cutchin “just kept fighting” the officers, id., Ex. 1 at 62:13-14, as Muñoz “was trying to see what he was reaching for, so [Muñoz] flip[ped Cutchin] up, ” id., Ex. 1 at 62:17-18. Muñoz then observed “the handle of [a] gun coming out of [Cutchin's] waistband, ” id., Ex. 1 at 62:16-17; see id., Ex. 1 at 102:4-103:6, which prompted him to “yell ‘Gun, gun, gun, gun, '” and uniformed officers responded, id., Ex. 1 at 62:24-25. Muñoz “grab[bed] the pistol grip on the weapon, ” id., Ex. 1 at 63:1-2, and realized that the drawstring of Cutchin's pants was “tied around the trigger guard, ” id., Ex. 1 at 63:4-5; see id., Ex. 1 at 92:14-25. Muñoz freed the weapon and handed it to another officer. Id., Ex. 1 at 103:17-18. “[T]his struggle . . . on the ground, ” id., Ex. 1 at 120:4, lasted only “[a] matter of seconds[, ]” id., Ex. 1 at 120:4.

         Santiago testified that he remained outside of the bus near its rear door while Muñoz approached Cutchin. Id., Ex. 1 at 127:15-21. After Cutchin had been handcuffed, Santiago observed Cutchin's female companion get off of the bus, and Santiago spoke with her while standing about five feet away from Muñoz and Cutchin. Id., Ex. 1 at 128:7-17. While speaking with the companion, Santiago saw Cutchin “attempt[] to flee” by running “towards the back of the bus.” Id., Ex. 1 at 129:24-25, see id., Ex. 1 at 129:7-10. Santiago “chased him, ” id., Ex. 1 at 129:12, and he yelled, “Police. Stop, ” id., Ex. 1 at 129:23, yet Cutchin kept running, id., Ex. 1 at 129:24-25; see Defs.' Facts ¶¶ 16-17. When Santiago neared Cutchin, he “yanked” Cutchin by his jacket from behind, at which time both men fell to the ground. Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 1 at 129:15-17; see Defs.' Facts ¶ 17. Santiago hit the ground “elbow first, ” Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 1 at 130:22, with Cutchin “slightly . . . on top of [him], ” id., Ex. 1 at 130:21-22, and Muñoz then “was able to get ahold of [Cutchin who] continued to resist, ” id., Ex. 1 at 130:23-24. According to Santiago, Cutchin “kept shaking, ” “was always moving trying to flee” and “never stood still.” Id., Ex. 1 at 136:22-23. He estimated that “maybe . . . five seconds” elapsed between the time Muñoz “yelled ‘Gun'” and the time Muñoz “was able to pull [] the gun from . . . the front of [Cutchin's] waistband.” Id., Ex. 1 at 131: 1-3. The gun was “a 40 caliber semi automatic handgun, ” id., Ex. 1 at 131:18, manufactured by Taurus, id., Ex. 1 at 131:21. The handgun was loaded and later found to be operable. See id., Ex. 1 at 65:6-66:11, 70:16-71:3.

         Because Cutchin remained handcuffed, his “head and body hit the ground when he fell.” Defs.' Facts ¶ 22. “Santiago dropped his weight into [Cutchin's] lower back as he squeezed the handcuffs tight around [Cutchin's] wrists and raised [Cutchin's] arms toward his head.” Id. ¶ 23. After the incident, Cutchin “was taken to United Medical Center.” Id. ¶ 24.

         Thaddeus Ferguson, a uniformed MTPD officer, Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 1 at 113:7-19, testified that he was on patrol on January 29, 2013, at approximately 5:40 p.m. at the Anacostia Metro Station entrance across from the bus bay, id., Ex. 1. at 113:7-22, 114:1-5. While standing approximately six feet away, id., Ex. 1 at 114:10-14, he observed Santiago and Muñoz chasing Cutchin, id., Ex. 1 at 114:8-9, who “was running from the bus stand towards the street, ” id., Ex. 1 at 115:6-7. Officer Ferguson searched Cutchin after the handgun had been retrieved and found in Cutchin's pocket a plastic bag containing ammunition.[5] Id., Ex. 1 at 116:16-117:1.

         Cutchin ultimately was found guilty by a jury in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia of carrying a pistol outside of his home or business, unlawful possession of a firearm, possession of an unregistered firearm, and unlawful possession of ammunition; the Superior Court imposed a 48-month prison term. See Defs.' Facts ¶ 25; Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of Defendants Santiago's and Muñoz's Motion for Summary Judgment (“Defs.' Mem.”), Ex. 2 (Sentence of the Court, United States v. Cutchin, No. 2013 CF2 001496 (D.C. Super. Ct. Mar. 14, 2014)) (exhibit number designated by the Court). Cutchin appealed, and among other arguments, contended that the officers lacked probable cause to stop him. See Am. Compl., Ex. 1 (Excerpt from Reply Brief of the Appellant, Cutchin v. United States, Nos. 13-CO-1318, 14-CO-25 and 14-CF-296 (D.C. Ct. of App. Nov. 7, 2014)) at 12, 14. However, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals affirmed the convictions. See Cutchin v. United States, 111 A.3d 647 (D.C. 2015) (Table)).

         B. The Plaintiff's Asserted Facts

         On January 29, 2013, at approximately 3:40 p.m., Cutchin and a female friend boarded a W4 bus on Division Avenue, N.E. Am. Compl. ¶ 9.[6] Cutchin paid the bus fare using a SmarTrip card. Id. At approximately 5:20 p.m., Cutchin and his friend transferred to a 90 bus at the Anacostia Metro Station. Id. ¶ 10; “Opposition” to Defendants['] Statement of Material Facts Not In Dis[pute]; Plantiff['s] Statement of Material Facts Not In Dispute Reply” (“Pl.'s Facts”) ¶ 2. He contended that he used the same SmarTrip card “to pay [his] fare, which was (FREE) before (2) hours under (WMATA) rules.” Am. Compl. ¶ 10. Roughly five to ten minutes after Cutchin and his friend took seats in the back of the bus, “Hispanic men in sweathoods, ” later identified as Santiago and Muñoz, “[boarded] the bus through the back door and told [Cutchin] to get up and get off the bus with them.” Id. ¶ 11; Pl.'s Facts ¶ 3.

         Both Santiago and Muñoz escorted Cutchin off the bus. Am. Compl. ¶ 11; Pl.'s Facts ¶ 3. “Once off the bus, ” the officers “said in a mysterious way that [Cutchin] did not pay [his] fare[.]” Am. Compl. ¶ 12. They then “place[d Cutchin] in handcuffs[ and] said [he] was under arrest.” Id.; Pl.'s Facts ¶ 12. While the officers searched Cutchin and his backpack, Am. Compl. ¶ 13; Pl.'s Facts ¶ 5, Cutchin “ask[ed] them to stop because [he] paid [his] fare [and stated] that yall [sic] is wrong, ” Am. Compl. ¶ 13; Pl.'s Facts ¶ 7. Cutchin either “presented” a SmarTrip card for the officers to examine, Pl.'s Facts ¶ 10, or Santiago removed a SmarTrip card from Cutchin's pocket, Am. Compl. ¶ 14, presumably to verify whether the card had been used to pay the fare when Cutchin boarded the 90 bus, see id.; Pl.'s Facts ¶ 10. Cutchin maintained that he was transferring from one bus to another and that he “touch[ed the fare] machine with [his SmarTrip] card.” Pl.'s Facts ¶ 9. Santiago presumably went to see if the SmarTrip card had been used to pay Cutchin's fare, Am. Compl. ¶ 14, but when he returned, he did not state whether Cutchin paid the fare; instead, “he kept trying to search [Cutchin] and [his] backpack, ” id. ¶ 15.

         After Cutchin apparently identified himself by giving the officers his name, id. ¶ 16; see Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 2 (Police Report), he contends that he then “stepped out into the open[] area at the metro station (street) in front of the 90 bus stop, ” Am. Compl. ¶ 17; Pl.'s Facts ¶ 15 (“Plaintiff step[ped] out in the open about a bus length as oppos[ed] to running a bus length claim by defendants.” (emphasis removed)). It is then when, according to Cutchin, “Santiago had to be using all of his might because he slammed [Cutchin] very hard to the cement ground on [his] head, ” causing “the side of [his] face” to hit the ground “very hard.” Am. Compl. ¶ 18; Pl.'s Facts ¶¶ 16-17.[7] Cutchin further contends that Santiago and Muñoz picked him up, only to have Santiago “slam[ him] back to the cement ground very hard again, ” causing Cutchin to “hit [his] head [and become] dazed[.]” Am. Compl. ¶ 20. Cutchin also represents that “Santiago then dropped his knee and body weight into [Cutchin's] lower back real hard, raised [Cutchin's] arms toward [his] head while squeezing the handcuffs around [his] wrist past tight and he made [Cutchin's] face drag the cement[.]” Id. ¶ 21. According to Cutchin, the officers “left [him] on the cement cold ground handcuff[ed] until the ambulance came.” Id. ¶ 22. Cutchin contends that his head was bleeding; his wrist was swollen; and his “back felt broke.” Id. He was subsequently taken to the emergency room at the United Medical Center, id. ¶ 23, for injuries sustained during this encounter, see id., Ex. 2 (Medical records and requests for treatment), particularly “an abrasion to the right side of his face, ” Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 3 (MTPD Digital Video Recording Request (“DVR Request”)) (emphasis removed); see id., Ex. 4 (photo of Cutchin's face). Cutchin was then taken to the Metropolitan Police Department's Seventh District police station house for processing. Am. Compl. ¶ 26.

         Although the amended complaint does not mention the handgun and his criminal convictions related to the seizure of the a gun and ammunition from his person, Cutchin does not dispute the defendants' assertions that he has been convicted of four firearms-related offenses. Pl.'s Facts ¶ 25. He notes, however, that he was “never charged or convicted for fare evasion.” Id.

         II. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         A. Summary Judgment

         Courts may grant summary judgment if there is “no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Rule 56 further provides:

A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by . . . citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents . . . affidavits or declarations, stipulations . . ., admissions, [or] interrogatory answers[, or by] showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a ...

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