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Vasquez v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

July 12, 2019

JOSE T. VASQUEZ, Plaintiff,
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants.


          Amit P. Mehta United States District Judge.


         This case arises from the detention of Plaintiff Jose T. Vasquez by the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department (“MPD”) based on mistaken identity. Authorities in Will County, Illinois, erroneously entered Plaintiff's personal information into a warrant database accessible to law enforcement nationwide. Pursuant to the erroneous entry, MPD detained Plaintiff in October 2016 and again in March 2017 for a total of twelve nights-eleven nights the first time, one night the second time. Plaintiff filed suit against the District of Columbia on October 23, 2017, alleging various common law tort and constitutional claims, which the court dismissed without prejudice due to a fundamental error in the Complaint confusing the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia. Plaintiff then filed a Second Amended Complaint.

         The District of Columbia once again moves to dismiss all claims. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss is denied in part and granted in part.


         A. Factual Background

         Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint alleges the following facts. In 1979, Will County, Illinois, issued a warrant of arrest, identifying a murder suspect as having six aliases. Second Am. Compl., ECF No. 40 [hereinafter Second Am. Compl.], ¶¶ 23-24. “Jose Vasquez” was one of the aliases. Id. ¶ 24. The Will County Circuit Court issued a failure-to-appear warrant in 1996, which matched the 1979 warrant but did not include information about the suspect's aliases. Id. ¶ 26. After a 2005 warrant review, a court cancelled the 1996 warrant and issued a new one. Id. ¶ 27. The new warrant contained the suspect's alleged name, date of birth, and sex; it did not include a Social Security number, driver's license number, or physical descriptors. Id. When entering the new warrant in a statewide database, instead of entering the new warrant as written, the Will County Sheriff's Office searched for a person with the name “Jose Vasquez” and an August 25, 1957 birthdate, which returned a profile for Plaintiff. Id. ¶ 29. The Will County Sheriff's Office then entered the new warrant into the state database using Plaintiff's personal information. Id. The Illinois database entry updated automatically to the National Crime Information Center (“NCIC”) database, making the warrant available to law enforcement nationwide. Id. ¶ 30.

         MPD first arrested Plaintiff during a traffic stop on October 23, 2016 (“October detention”). Id. ¶ 37. After pulling Plaintiff over, MPD Officer Terence Sutton conducted an NCIC query that returned the 2005 NCIC entry. Id. An MPD dispatcher contacted Will County, which confirmed that it had an outstanding extradition warrant for Plaintiff. Id. Plaintiff was arraigned on October 24 and jailed pending an extradition hearing. Id. ¶ 41. Throughout his detention-lasting from October 23 to November 3, 2016-Plaintiff proclaimed his innocence, noting that previous arrests in Maryland had resulted in his release once Maryland officials confirmed that Plaintiff was not the suspect wanted by the warrant. Id. ¶¶ 40, 47-48. On October 28, 2016, Plaintiff's counsel submitted a motion for a bond review hearing, explaining that Plaintiff was held based on mistaken identity. Id. ¶ 45.

         That same day, MPD Officer Augusto Ruben emailed a photo of Plaintiff to the Will County Sheriff's Office. Id. ¶ 42. At 11:48 a.m. Central Time, the Will County Sheriff's Office sent a notice to the MPD Fugitive Unit: “release any holds you have on him for county, the person your [sic] holding is not the same person we are looking for[.]” Id. ¶ 43 (internal quotation marks removed). Despite this instruction, Plaintiff remained detained. Id. ¶¶ 44, 47-48.

         At a hearing on November 2, 2016, the court instructed Assistant U.S. Attorney (“AUSA”) Robert Little to “look into a photograph of the person wanted in the demanding jurisdiction.” Id. ¶ 45 (internal quotations omitted). AUSA Little's assistant contacted Illinois authorities, who confirmed that Plaintiff was not the subject of the warrant. Id. ¶ 46. On November 3, 2016, upon motion by the U.S. Attorney's Office, the court dismissed charges against Plaintiff and released him. Id. ¶¶ 47-48. The U.S. Attorney's Office informed MPD of the dismissal and of the fact that Plaintiff was not the person sought by the Illinois warrant. Id. ¶ 49.

         Days later, Plaintiff was arrested in Maryland on the same erroneous warrant. Id. ¶¶ 51, 53. After this arrest, Will County authorities replaced Plaintiff's Social Security number with the true suspect's Social Security number in its warrant entry, thereby updating the NCIC database. Id. ¶ 51.

         Plaintiff's second MPD detention (“March detention”) occurred on March 3, 2017-the result of a traffic stop by a U.S. Secret Service officer. Id. ¶ 55. After the arresting officer received an NCIC hit, the U.S. Secret Service's Joint Operations Center contacted Will County, which confirmed the warrant. Id. The officer arrested Plaintiff, injuring him in the process. Id. ¶ 56.

         Plaintiff was treated for neck and shoulder injuries at a local hospital, transported to MPD's Second District Station, and detained overnight. Id. ¶ 57.

         The next day, Officer Leroy Rollins of the MPD Fugitive Unit executed an affidavit stating that he had “verified” Plaintiff as the person sought by the 2005 warrant. Id. ¶ 58 (quotation marks in original). The U.S. Attorney's Office commenced a fugitive action based on Officer Rollins's affidavit, and Plaintiff was arraigned on March 4, 2017. Id. ¶¶ 60, 62. At the arraignment, the court dismissed the charges against Plaintiff after his counsel explained that he was not the subject of the warrant. Id. ¶ 62.

         B. Procedural Background

         In November of 2018, this court dismissed Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint without prejudice. See Vasquez v. Cty. of Will, et al., No. 17-cv-02194 (APM), 2018 WL 5983386 (D.D.C. Nov. 14, 2018). Each of Plaintiff's claims-unlawful arrest, malicious prosecution, negligence, and constitutional violation pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983-required the District of Columbia, through the MPD, to have known about the flawed NCIC entry. See id. at *4. Plaintiff alleged the District knew of the entry's errors because it directed and eventually dismissed fugitive proceedings against Plaintiff in November 2016. But the United States-not the District-directed those proceedings. See Id. at *3. Absent allegations of District knowledge, the court held, Plaintiff's claims could not survive a motion to dismiss. See Id. at *4.

         On November 28, 2018, Plaintiff filed a Second Amended Complaint. See Second Am. Compl. Defendant District of Columbia moved to dismiss on December 21, 2018. See Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 47 [hereinafter Def.'s Mot.].

         III. ...

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