Estate of Bryant v. Balt. Police Dep't

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)
Docket NumberCivil Action No. ELH-19-384
Decision Date10 February 2020


Civil Action No. ELH-19-384


February 10, 2020


This case stems from the wrongful conviction of Malcom J. Bryant in 1998 in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City for the murder of 16-year-old Toni Bullock. Mr. Bryant was sentenced in 1999 to life imprisonment. In 2016, Mr. Bryant's convictions were vacated, following an investigation by the Baltimore City State's Attorney's Office that concluded he was innocent. Just a year later, in 2017, Mr. Bryant passed away at the age of 42.1

On February 8, 2019, Mr. Bryant's sons, Lamar Estep and Malique Bryant, as personal representatives of the Estate of Malcom J. Bryant,2 initiated this civil rights action against the Baltimore City Police Department ("BPD" or the "Department"); former BPD Detective William F. Ritz; former BPD Forensic Analyst Barry Verger; and "unknown employees" of the BPD. ECF 1 (the "Complaint"). Detective Ritz and Analyst Verger (the "Officer Defendants") are sued in their individual capacities. Id. ¶¶ 15-16.

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The Complaint contains ten counts. Counts I through V are filed under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and Counts VI through X assert claims under Maryland law.

Count I, titled "Failure to Disclose Exculpatory and Impeachment Evidence to the Prosecution," is lodged against the Officer Defendants, and alleges a violation of due process under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. Id. ¶¶ 114-20. Count II asserts a claim of "Fabrication of Evidence" against the Officer Defendants, in violation of due process. Id. ¶¶ 121-25. Count III alleges a claim of "Malicious Prosecution" against the Officer Defendants under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. Id. ¶¶ 126-30. Count IV alleges that the Officer Defendants conspired to deprive Bryant of his constitutional rights. Id. ¶¶ 131-36. In Count V, plaintiffs assert a "Monell" claim against the BPD, pursuant to the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. Id. ¶¶ 138-45; see Monell v. City Dep't of Soc. Servs. of New York City, 436 U.S. 658 (1978).

Count VI asserts a claim against the Officer Defendants for "Malicious Prosecution." ECF 1, ¶¶ 146-53. Count VII, filed against the Officer Defendants, alleges "Abuse of Process." Id. ¶¶ 154-58. In Count VIII, plaintiffs assert a claim against the Officer Defendants for "Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress." Id. ¶¶ 159-60. In Count IX, plaintiffs assert a claim against the Officer Defendants for "Civil Conspiracy". Id. ¶¶ 161-65. And, Count X seeks "Indemnification" from the BPD. Id. ¶¶ 166-68.

Two motions to dismiss are pending. The Officer Defendants have moved to dismiss the Complaint under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) (ECF 25), supported by a memorandum of law. ECF 25-1 (collectively, the "Officer Motion"). They contend that they are entitled to qualified immunity and that plaintiffs' claims for fabrication and intentional infliction of emotional distress are time-barred. The Officer Defendants also argue that plaintiffs fail to state plausible claims.

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The BPD has moved to dismiss, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) (ECF 26), supported by a memorandum of law. ECF 26-1 (collectively, the "BPD Motion"). The BPD asserts that it is protected by sovereign immunity, and it maintains that plaintiffs' Monell claims fail as a matter of law. Plaintiffs oppose both motions (ECF 29; ECF 30), and defendants have replied. ECF 36; ECF 37.

No hearing is necessary to resolve the motions. See Local Rule 105(6). For the reasons that follow, I shall grant the motions in part and deny them in part.

I. Factual Background3
A. The Investigation Concerning Mr. Bryant

At approximately 8:30 p.m. on November 20, 1998, Toni Bullock and Tyeisha Powell, both of whom were 16 years old, were approached by a man in the 1300 Block of Harford Road in Baltimore City. See ECF 1, ¶¶ 17, 21. The man demanded that they follow him, grabbed their arms, and forced them across the street to a dark grassy area. Id. ¶ 24. There, the man asked Ms. Bullock and Ms. Powell whether they had any money and threatened them. Id. ¶ 25. Ms. Powell managed to break free from the man's grasp and flee, but Ms. Bullock was unable to escape. Id. The perpetrator stabbed Ms. Bullock multiple times, killing her. Id. ¶ 17.

Detective Ritz, a veteran detective with the Homicide Unit of the BPD, was tasked with investigating Ms. Bullock's homicide. He arrived at the scene at around 9:15 p.m. Id. ¶ 20. Shortly thereafter, Detective Ritz spoke with Ms. Powell, who had returned to the crime scene. Id. ¶¶ 22, 26. In an unrecorded interview, Ms. Powell described the assailant as a black male in his

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mid-20s who was wearing a black jacket, red shirt, and dark jeans. Id. ¶¶ 22, 27. With only this general description, Detective Ritz allegedly identified Mr. Bryant as the perpetrator. Id. ¶ 31. His decision was based either on his "prior history with Mr. Bryant relating to a different investigation or on an unsupported hunch[.]" Id.

The day after the murder, Detective Ritz met with Ms. Powell and another detective to create a composite sketch of the suspect. Id. ¶ 33. The interview with Ms. Powell was not documented, nor were any notes made concerning the composite sketches. Id. According to plaintiffs, Detective Ritz used "direct or indirect suggestion" during the interview to guide Ms. Powell to describe an individual resembling Mr. Bryant. Id. ¶ 35. One of the draft composites depicted a suspect with no hair, which was consistent with the appearance of an individual (referred to hereafter as "John Doe"), "who wore his hair closely shaven." Id. ¶ 34. However, another drawing depicted the suspect with medium-length bushy hair. Id. The suspect in the published sketch was wearing a red t-shirt, blue jeans, and a dark colored waist-length puffy jacket. Id. ¶ 36.

At the time of Ms. Bullock's murder, Mr. Bryant had medium-length, bushy hair. Id. ¶ 34. Only the composite drawing depicting the suspect with medium-length bushy hair was published and disclosed to the prosecution and the defense. Id.

On November 24, 1998, four days after Ms. Bullock's murder, Mr. Bryant was arrested on unrelated charges. Id. ¶ 37. At the time of the arrest, Mr. Bryant's hair was short-to-medium length. Id. ¶ 34. He also had a bandage above his left eye. Id. ¶ 48. In his booking photo, Mr. Bryant wore an orange shirt. Id. ¶ 37.

Detective Ritz conducted his first formal interview with Ms. Powell on December 1, 1998, at approximately 12:20 p.m. Id. ¶ 38. During the taped portion of the interview, which lasted a total of nine minutes, Ms. Powell recounted the events of the evening of November 20th. Id.

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Again, she described the assailant as wearing a black puffy jacket. Id. During the interview, Detective Ritz asked Ms. Powell whether the assailant could have been wearing an orange t-shirt. Id. Ms. Powell responded that the perpetrator's shirt was red. Id.

After the conclusion of the recorded interview, Detective Ritz showed Ms. Powell a photographic array, consisting of six individuals, including Mr. Bryant. Id. ¶ 41. Of the six pictures, Mr. Bryant was the only individual wearing an orange-colored shirt. Id. Ms. Powell identified Mr. Bryant as the person who murdered Ms. Bullock. See id. ¶ 43. Detective Ritz allegedly suggested that response to Ms. Powell. Id.

On December 2, 1998, Detective Ritz arrested Mr. Bryant on charges of first-degree murder and possession of a deadly weapon with intent to injure. Id. ¶ 43. Later that day, shortly before 7:30 p.m., Detective Ritz interviewed Mr. Bryant. Id. Mr. Bryant told detectives that he was with friends the night of the murder. Id. ¶ 44. And, he provided the police with several alibi witnesses, including his friend Antonio "Tony" Brooks, whose home he visited on the day of the murder, as well as Tony's mother and younger sister. Id. Further, Mr. Bryant told detectives that on the night of Ms. Bullock's murder he was involved in an altercation at a nightclub, which resulted in an injury to his eye. Id. ¶ 45. Mr. Bryant described getting into a fight, ripping his shirt, and losing his sweater. Id. According to Mr. Bryant, his friend, Donte, gave him a spare orange shirt to wear. Id. In addition, Mr. Bryant provided the names, and in some instances, the phone numbers of at least five additional people who had been with him at the nightclub. Id. ¶ 46.

Further, Mr. Bryant told detectives that after the fight at the nightclub, he drove himself to Mercy Medical Center to receive treatment for the cut to his eye. Hospital records obtained by Detective Ritz indicated that Mr. Bryant did, in fact, receive treatment for a laceration to his eye, and that he gave medical personnel the name of a friend, "Donta Smith," who had medical

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insurance. Id. ¶ 48. During the interview, Detective Ritz also asked Mr. Bryant to list the jackets that he owned. Id. ¶ 49. Mr. Bryant, who was homeless at the time, stated that he only owned one jacket—an army fatigue coat. Id.

In a second statement that Mr. Bryant made to detectives on December 2, 1998, he provided "clarifying details" regarding his whereabouts during the evening of November 20th. Id. ¶ 50. In particular, Mr. Bryant stated that before proceeding to the nightclub, he was with three friends at a store called Gabriel Brothers. Id. Mr. Bryant told detectives that after he left the store, he and his friends went to Subway and then, at around 10:00 or 10:15 p.m., to the home of another friend. Id.

Although Mr. Bryant provided Detective Ritz with numerous alibi witnesses, Detective Ritz never interviewed or investigated any of those individuals. Id. ¶¶ 47, 52. Nor did he provide any information regarding those witnesses to prosecutors. Id. ¶ 52. And, although Detective Ritz spoke with Mr. Bryant's mother, Vanessa Bryant, he did not record Ms. Bryant's statement or...

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