DC Court Grants Partial Summary Judgment for Plaintiff in Police Brutality Case After Officer Pleads Guilty to Assault

A DC federal judge granted a plaintiff’s motion for partial summary judgment in a case alleging that two Metropolitan Police Officers used unreasonable and unnecessary force against him. Jenkins v. District of Columbia, et al, opinion (D.D.C., Dec. 18, 2013). One of the defendants pleaded guilty to two counts of misdemeanor assault in a separate criminal case, served a brief jail sentence, and resigned from the police department. The plaintiff then moved for partial summary judgment as to that defendant’s liability for excessive force. The court found that the factual proffer included in her guilty plea included enough material facts to bar her from denying liability for one of the two alleged assaults.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff encountered Officer Kisha Coley while walking on Georgia Avenue NW during the early morning of March 27, 2010. She ordered him to “move on,” but continued to follow him. They got into a verbal argument, and although the plaintiff says he was not behaving in a threatening manner, she struck him in the back of the head with a metal baton. The plaintiff ran towards a police cruiser driven Officer Rodney Fitts, who ordered the plaintiff against the rear of the vehicle with his hands on the trunk. Officer Coley swung the baton, hitting the plaintiff in the hand and Officer Fitts in the knee. She then hit the plaintiff again with the baton. The plaintiff received treatment for injuries to his head, right wrist, and left hand.

Officer Coley was charged with assaulting the plaintiff and Officer Fitts. She pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor assault counts and was sentenced to six days in jail plus a year of probation. The plaintiff sued Officer Coley, Officer Fitts, and the District of Columbia in D.C. Superior Court. After the case was removed to federal court, the plaintiff filed a motion for partial summary judgment as to Officer Coley’s liability on two causes of action: excessive force in violation of the plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment rights, and retaliation in violation of his First Amendment rights.

The plaintiff alleged two separate acts of assault by Officer Coley in his Fourth Amendment claim: the blow to the back of his head, and the blow when he was standing by Officer Fitts’ cruiser. The court noted that Officer Coley is protected by qualified immunity for actions performed as part of her job duties, unless they clearly and reasonably violate rights established by statute or the Constitution.

The first assault, the court found, was not protected by qualified immunity. The facts proffered by Officer Coley as part of her guilty plea were enough to establish her liability for that assault, and the court held that both judicial estoppel and collateral estoppel barred her from denying liability. Her liability for the second assault, however, remained unclear.

With regard to the plaintiff’s First Amendment claim, the court found that Officer Coley did not adequately oppose the issue in her summary judgment response, and treated the claim as conceded. The court therefore granted partial summary judgment as to Officer Coley’s liability for one of the Fourth Amendment assault claims and the First Amendment claim.

At Lebowitz & Mzhen, our personal injury attorneys help people in the Washington, DC area recover their just compensation when they have suffered injuries due to police brutality and other unlawful or negligent conduct. To schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case, contact us today online or at (800) 654-1949.

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