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Richards v. Gelsomino

United States District Court, District of Columbia

April 8, 2019

RUTH E. RICHARDS, Plaintiff,



         On May 29, 2013, plaintiff Ruth Richards was arrested following her involvement in a domestic dispute with her ex-husband and his girlfriend. She brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the arresting officer, defendant Jennifer Gelsomino, alleging that Gelsomino arrested her without probable cause and because of her race and national origin in violation of her Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights. Gelsomino has moved for summary judgment, which Richards opposes. See Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. (“Def.'s Mot.”) [ECF No. 37]; Pl.'s Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. (“Pl.'s Opp'n”) [ECF No. 39]. For the reasons explained below, the Court will grant Gelsomino's motion.


         I. Facts

         The facts of this case are largely undisputed. Richards' description of the domestic dispute has not been challenged by the defendant and both parties agree on the facts pertinent to Gelsomino's investigation of the incident and Richards' Fourth Amendment claim. Disputes between the parties as to facts relevant to Richards' Fifth Amendment claim are noted where applicable.

         A. The Domestic Dispute

         Richards has known her now-ex-husband, George Richards, [1] since she was 13 years old, when they both lived on the same street in Jamaica. Pl.'s Objs. & Resps. to Def.'s 1st Set of Interrogs. (“Pl.'s Objs. & Resps.”), Ex. A. to Pl.'s Opp'n [ECF No. 39-3] at 6. The two eventually married and moved to Washington, D.C. At some point, their marriage dissolved, ending in divorce. It is not clear from the record whether their divorce was acrimonious. However, it apparently became so the first time Richards encountered George with his new, younger girlfriend, Sharneisha Grady.

         Richards often visited Grady's neighborhood because she had friends who lived nearby, including Richards' former mother-in-law, Eva Woods, who lived next-door to Grady. See id. at 5; District of Columbia Office of Police Complaints (“OPC”) Report of Investigation (“OPC Report”), Ex. D to Pl.'s Opp'n [ECF No. 39-6] at 19. But until the dispute that led to this lawsuit, Richards and Grady had never met. See Pl.'s Objs. & Resps. at 6.

         That changed on May 29, 2013. Richards, who had visited a friend in the area, was walking down Woods' street when George pulled his car up in front of Grady's house. Id. George got out of his car-as did Grady and her young son. Id. Richards walked up to George and Grady and asked, sarcastically, “Is that your daughter?” Id.

         George slapped Richards across the face. Id. Richards began yelling in response, swinging her handbag at George. Richards Dep., Ex. B. to Pl.'s Opp'n [39-4] at 24:1-8; Pl.'s Objs. & Resps. at 6. The commotion was loud enough to attract the attention of neighbors down the street. See OPC Report at 27. It is unclear how long the shouting lasted, but the parties eventually dispersed, and Richards retreated to Woods' house, while George, Grady, and her child went next door to Grady's house. Pl.'s Objs. & Resps. at 6.

         B. Richards' Arrest

         Shortly after the altercation, both Grady and her son called 911 to report the dispute. Grady requested police assistance, stating that Richards was outside her home talking loudly and making threats. Sharneisha Grady 911 Call, Ex. 3 to Def.'s Mot. (on file) at 0:53-2:10. Grady's son also called 911, stating that Richards was “talking crap to [his] mom” and had threatened to call the police on them. D. Grady 911 Call, Ex. 4 to Def.'s Mot. (on file) at 0:35-1:24. The dispatch team broadcasted to Metropolitan Department Police (“MPD”) officers that a woman matching Richards' description had threatened bodily harm at Grady's address, and that Richards was believed to be at the scene. Radio Run, Ex. 5 to Def.'s Mot. (on file) at 1:46-2:20.

         Gelsomino and her partner, Officer Nelson Alas, responded to the dispatch request. After arriving at the scene, the officers split up. Alas went to Woods' house to speak with Richards, while Gelsomino went to Grady's house. Pl.'s Objs. & Resps. at 7; Gelsomino Dep. Ex. 2 to Def.'s Mot. [ECF No. 37-3] at 72:4-12. Grady told Gelsomino that Richards had “got in [her] face” and said, “bitch, I'm going to smack you.” Def.'s Stmt. of Undisputed Material Facts (“Def.'s Stmt.”), Ex. 1 to Def.'s Mot. [ECF No. 37-1] ¶¶ 10-11; Pl.'s Stmt. of Material Facts for Which There Is a Genuine Dispute (“Pl.'s Stmt.”), Ex. 1 to Pl.'s Opp'n [ECF No. 39-1] ¶¶ 10-11.[2] She also said that she believed that Richards was going to hurt her and was capable of carrying out the threat. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 12; Pl.'s Stmt. ¶ 12. George corroborated Grady's statement, telling Gelsomino that Richards had approached Grady very aggressively and had “threatened to assault her.” Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 13; Pl.'s Stmt. ¶ 13.

         After speaking with Grady and George, Gelsomino went next door to Woods' house and signaled to Richards to come down from the porch. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 14; Pl.'s Stmt. ¶ 14. Gelsomino, who is white, then asked Richards, who is black, where she was born. Pl.'s Objs. & Resps. at 5, 7; Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 15; Pl.'s Stmt. ¶ 15. Although the parties dispute how many times Gelsomino asked the question-Gelsomino says she asked it once, while Richards alleges she asked it twice- there is no dispute that it was the only question Gelsomino asked. See Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 15; Pl.'s Stmt. ¶ 15. Richards, who speaks with an accent, told Gelsomino that she was from Jamaica. OPC Findings of Fact & Merits Determination (“OPC Findings”), Ex. E to Pl.'s Opp'n [ECF No. 39-7] at 6; Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 16; Pl.'s Stmt. ¶ 16.

         At that point, Gelsomino arrested Richards and placed her in handcuffs. Def.'s Stmt. ¶ 17; Pl.'s Stmt. ¶ 17. Richards alleges that she asked Gelsomino to interview neighbors down the street who had seen the dispute, but Gelsomino allegedly responded that she wasn't “going down there.” Pl.'s Objs. & Resps. at 8. Gelsomino did not question Richards about the alleged threats, nor did she provide Richards with a reason for the arrest. Grady Dep., Ex. C to Pl.'s Opp'n [ECF No. 39-5] at 111:13-18; Pl.'s Objs. & Resps. at 7.

         After Richards was arrested, one of Woods' neighbors, Katherlean Johnson, approached the officers. OPC Report at 28. Johnson told Gelsomino and Alas that she had witnessed the dispute and had seen George hit Richards across the face. See id. Alas then arrested George as well. Id.; see George Richards Arrest Report, Ex. 7 to Def.'s Mot. [ECF No. 37-5] at 1-2.

         Gelsomino brought Richards to the police station, while Alas took George. Pl.'s Objs. & Resps. at 8. Gelsomino asserts that while in the car, she asked Richards for basic biographical information, including her date of birth, social security number, and birth place, in order to fill out a required booking form. See Def.'s Stmt. ¶¶ 18-21. Richards disputes this, arguing that there is no evidence that the booking form was ever filled out and notes that her place of birth was not included on her arrest form. Pl.'s Stmt. ¶ 18.

         Gelsomino charged Richards with violating D.C. Code § 22-407, which prohibits threats to commit bodily harm. See Ruth Richards Arrest Report, Ex. 6 to Def.'s Mot. [ECF No. 37-4] at 1. Richards was held overnight in jail and was released the following day. Pl.'s Objs. & Resps. at ...

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