Best v. Balt. Cnty., Civil Action No. ELH-18-3225

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)
Writing for the CourtEllen L. Hollander United States District Judge
Decision Date14 January 2021
Docket NumberCivil Action No. ELH-18-3225

SEAN BEST, Plaintiff

Civil Action No. ELH-18-3225


January 14, 2021


While detained at the Baltimore County Detention Center ("BCDC"), the self-represented plaintiff, Sean Best, filed suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Baltimore County; the Baltimore County Police Department ("BCPD"); and BCPD Officers Joshua Phipps, Jeffrey Dunham, David Crum, and "Doe Officer 4." ECF 1. Best later filed an Amended Complaint (ECF 31), to include claims against BCDC medical staffers Ronald Grubman and Memmie Peal (collectively, the "Medical Defendants").

Notably, the Amended Complaint abandoned the claims against the BCPD and Doe Officer 4. ECF 31. Accordingly, Best's claims against BCPD and Doe Officer 4 shall be dismissed.

The Amended Complaint, which is unverified, is rooted in events that occurred in August 2016. Best claims, inter alia, that Officers Phipps, Dunham, and Crum, who are all Caucasian, discriminated against him, subjected him to an illegal search and seizure in violation of his

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constitutional rights, and refused to take him to a hospital for his resulting injuries. Id. at 8-14. He also alleges that after he was taken to BCDC, the Medical Defendants were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs. Id. at 14-15. Best seeks $270 million in punitive and compensatory damages. Id. at 6-7.

The Medical Defendants have moved to dismiss Best's Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim. ECF 56. It is supported by a memorandum. ECF 56-1 (collectively, the "Medical Defendants' Motion"). Baltimore County and Officers Phipps, Dunham, and Crum (collectively, the "County Defendants") have moved to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. ECF 58. Their motion is supported by a memorandum of law (ECF 58-1) (collectively, the "County Defendants' Motion") and several exhibits.1

Pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), the Court informed Best that the failure to file a response in opposition to the defendants' motions could result in dismissal of his amended complaint. ECF 57; ECF 60. Best filed nothing further.

The matter is now ripe for disposition. Upon review of the record, exhibits, and applicable law, the Court deems a hearing unnecessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). The Medical Defendants' Motion shall be granted. The County Defendants' Motion, construed as a motion for summary judgment, shall also be granted.

I. Factual Background
A. Best's Allegations

Best claims that at approximately 11:00 p.m. on August 16, 2016, he was "assisting a Caucasian woman named Nina" by helping her load items into her car, which was parked at the

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rear lot of the El Rich Motel in Rosedale, Maryland. ECF 31 at 8.2 At the time, Best was staying in a motel room with a female friend and his car was also parked in the rear lot. Id. at 8, 10. As Best lit a cigarette and spoke to Nina, a white male wearing a black hoodie and khaki pants came down the staircase leading from the motel to the parking lot.3 Id. at 8. At the same time, a marked police car came from the side of the motel and two uniformed officers exited the vehicle. Id. Trying to avoid police activity, Best began walking to his motel room. Id.

The officers drew their weapons. Id. Nina asked what was going on. Id. One of the officers responded that he received a report regarding "a black man trying to rape a white woman." Id. Nina then explained that Best was a friend who was helping her load her belongings. Id.

Best claims that he tried to talk to one of the uniformed officers but was ignored. Id. When Best tried to speak to the man in the black hoodie, he was told to "shut my 'nigger mouth' if I 'wanted to live.'" Id. Again, Nina explained that Best was her friend, to which Officer Dunham, the driver of the police car, said: "[S]o your [sic] [a] nigger lover Huh?" Id. at 9. Dunham also allegedly said: "[W]e don't fucking like your kind out in the country." Id. Nina began trying to record the incident on her phone, but Officer Crum snatched her phone and broke it on the ground. Id. Officer Crum then asked Nina for her license, which she provided. Id.

Best again attempted to leave the parking lot and return to his motel room. Id. At that time, he was hit in the back of the head with an unknown object, and he felt cold steel in the back of his neck. Id. He was told to get down on his knees and to place his hands behind his head. Id. Best saw that his car door was open, and an officer was searching his vehicle. Id. Noting

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that Best had New York license plates, the officer then asked Best if he was transporting drugs or weapons. Id. Best said no and asked if he could leave, but he was kicked in the back. Id. at 9-10. Nina yelled for help while Best was kicked in the ribs. Id. at 10.

Officer Dunham asked Best why he was at the motel and whether he had a license. Id. Best said that his license was in the room where he was staying. Id. At that time, Best's friend, a white woman with whom he was sharing a room, came outside and began to yell at the officers. Id. The officers "told her to take her nigger loving ass back in the room" and began to punch and kick Best. Id. Officer Phipps then placed his gun in Best's mouth and told Best not to breathe while Officer Dunham performed a "Terry frisk."4 The officers found a lighter, cigarettes, a room key, an electric bill under the name of Best's brother, Keith McDermott, and $136 in cash to pay for the bill. Id. The officers took the items, along with Best's wallet, which Best's friend had brought down from the room, but not Best's ID card. Id. at 10-11.

Approximately 15 minutes later, the officers handcuffed Best because of an open warrant in Baltimore City. Id. at 11. Best claims that Officer Phipps placed the handcuffs on so tightly that they caused numbness and scarring. Id. Best was then placed in the back of Officer Dunham's vehicle. Id.

While in the car, the officers pulled up a picture of McDermott, whom Best believes is the person they were looking to arrest. Id. Best explained that he was not McDermott. Id. The officers asked Best to state his name, but he refused, asserting his constitutional rights. Id.

Upon arrival at the precinct, Best was taken to a holding cell and strip searched. Id. About an hour later, the officers acknowledged that Best was not McDermott and stated that Best could not leave unless he told them his name. Id. at 12. Best continued to refuse and Officer

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Matteo took him to be fingerprinted. Id. Upon being identified, Best was taken before a county commissioner and charged with fraud "per identity to avoid prosecution" and making false statements to an officer. Id. Bail was set at $5,000. Id. at 14.

Best claims that, at the time, he asked Officer Matteo if he could be taken to a hospital for his injuries, but Officer Matteo refused and declined to document Best's visible injuries. Id. at 14. Best was taken to BCDC, where he was seen by LPN Memmie Peal. Id. Best told Peal that he was assaulted by BCPD officers and asked her to photograph his injuries, but Peal refused, stating that it was not her job. Id. at 14-15. Due to Peal's refusal, Best declined to answer any of Peal's questions, and he refused all services. Id. at 15.

On August 18, 2016, Best returned to the medical unit, where he was seen by PA Ronald Grubman. Id. Again, Best reported that he was assaulted by BCPD officers, and Grubman stated, "That's not what this is for." Id. Best alleges that Grubman threatened him with isolation if he did not respond, so Best answered his questions. Id.

Best claims that, as a result of the incident at the parking lot, two of his teeth were broken and had to be removed; he continues to have migraine headaches and blurred vision; he has permanent scars on his wrists and minimal feeling in his hand due to nerve damage; he suffers from mental anguish; and his vehicle was vandalized after the officers left it open at the motel parking lot. Id. at 4-5.

Further, Best claims that BCPD officers have engaged in a pattern, practice, and policy of violating the rights of African American citizens, and that the officers involved in the incident responded to an anonymous call with racial bias and malicious intentions. Id. at 12-13. He notes that Nina was never charged with a crime. Id. at 13. Best maintains that he was "racially targeted" by the officers. Id.

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According to Best, he was seized without probable cause, his vehicle was illegally searched without his permission, and he was unlawfully detained following an illegal arrest. Id. at 13. Best argues that any information discovered by the officers after obtaining his fingerprints and criminal record were "fruits of the poisonous tree." Id. at 14.

As to the Medical Defendants, Best claims that both Grubman and Peal failed to provide adequate medical care and were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs. Id. at 15. According to Best, Peal stated that he had "good teeth" despite having "Officer Phipps' gun jammed in." Id. However, Peal is not a dentist and thus was not certified to provide dental care. Id.

On August 23, 2016, Best posted bail. Id. at 14. The charges against Best were placed on the stet docket on October 20, 2016. Id. See State v. Best, Case No. 3C00436243 (Dist. Ct. Balto. Cty).

B. The County Defendants

The County Defendants state that on August 16, 2016, an anonymous person called the Baltimore County Central Communications Center and asked the police to investigate a black male taking photographs of a white female who was removing her clothes in the parking lot behind the El Rich Motel. Call Data Sheet, ECF 58-5 at 2. Officer Crum was dispatched to the scene while Officers Dunham and Phipps monitored the call and also responded. Id...

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