Johnson v. Balt. Police Dep't

Decision Date07 April 2020
Docket NumberCivil Case No. SAG-18-2375
Parties Shirley JOHNSON, et al., Plaintiffs, v. BALTIMORE POLICE DEPARTMENT, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Maryland

Jonathan A. Azrael, John Ritchie Solter, Jr., Azrael, Franz, Schwab, Lipowitz & Solter, LLC, Towson, MD, for Plaintiff Shirley Johnson, Personal Representative of the Estate of Elbert Davis, Sr.

John Ritchie Solter, Jr., Azrael, Franz, Schwab, Lipowitz & Solter, LLC, Towson, MD, for Plaintiffs Shirley Johnson, Delores A. Davis, Mary A. Cox, Gloria A. Davis, Albert Cain, Elbert Davis, Jr., Anita Cain, Shirley Johnson, Personal Representative of the Estate of Phosa Cain.

Joshua Leland Insley, Saller and Bishop, Baltimore, MD, John Ritchie Solter, Jr., Azrael, Franz, Schwab, Lipowitz & Solter, LLC, Towson, MD, for Plaintiffs To the Use of Gail S Davis, To the Use of Leroy Davis, To the Use of Elbert Lee Davis.

Alexa Ackerman, Baltimore County Office of Law, Towson, MD, Brent David Schubert, Justin Sperance Conroy, Kara K. Lynch, Natalie Rose Amato, Baltimore City Department of Law, Baltimore, MD, for Defendants Baltimore City Police Department, Dean Palmere.

Neil E. Duke, Baker Donelson, Baltimore, MD, for Defendant Wayne Earl Jenkins.

James Howard Fields, Fields Peterson LLC, Baltimore, MD, for Defendants Ryan Guinn, Richard Willard, William Knoerlein, Lt. Michael Fries, Keith Gladstone.


Stephanie A. Gallagher, United States District Judge This case is one of many filed in this District against current and former Baltimore Police Department ("BPD") officers, stemming from allegedly illegal conduct in plainclothes units within the BPD. On April 28, 2010, BPD officers allegedly ambushed Umar Burley and Brent Matthews, who were sitting in a car on Parkview Avenue in Baltimore City, Maryland. Fearing for their lives, Burley, the driver, sped away, and the officers gave chase. Several blocks later, with the officers in pursuit, Burley ran a stop sign, and crashed into a car driven by Elbert Davis, Sr. ("Davis" or "Decedent"). The crash killed Davis, and left his passenger, Phosa Cain ("Cain"), severely injured.

On August 2, 2018, Plaintiff Shirley Johnson, personally and as personal representative of the Estates of Davis, and of Cain, along with Plaintiffs Delores Davis, Mary Cox, Gloria Davis, Albert Cain, Elbert Davis, Jr., Anita Cain (the administrator of the Estate of Arthur Cain), and the Use of Gail Davis, Leroy Davis, and Elbert Lee Davis (collectively, "Plaintiffs") sued the BPD, along with Dean Palmere ("Palmere"), Wayne Jenkins ("Jenkins"), Ryan Guinn ("Guinn"), Richard Willard ("Willard"), William Knoerlein ("Knoerlein"), Michael Fries ("Fries"), and Keith Gladstone ("Gladstone") (collectively, "Defendants"). ECF 1. Plaintiffs filed a Third Amended Complaint on August 16, 2019. ECF 57. Jenkins answered on October 4, 2019. ECF 64.

Before the Court are three Motions to Dismiss the Third Amended Complaint: one by the BPD and Palmere, ECF 63; one by Guinn, ECF 65; and one by Fries, Gladstone, Knoerlein, and Willard, ECF 66. The Court has reviewed each Motion, along with the related Oppositions and Replies thereto. See ECF 71 to 76. No hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). For the reasons that follow, the Motions will be granted in part and denied in part.


The following facts from the Third Amended Complaint are accepted as true, and all reasonable inferences are drawn in Plaintiffs' favor. See, e.g. , E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Kolon Indus., Inc. , 637 F.3d 435, 440 (4th Cir. 2011).

A. Defendants' Positions within the BPD

In 2010, the BPD employed each Defendant as a police officer. ECF 57, ¶ 21. At the time, Palmere led the Violent Crime Impact Section ("VCIS") within the BPD.1 Id. ¶ 28; see also id. ¶¶ 169-70 (explaining that Palmere led the VCIS from 2008 to 2010, and still oversaw VCIS when, in 2010, he was promoted to the Chief of the Criminal Investigation Division, into which VCIS merged). Palmere later served as a Deputy Commissioner in the BPD from 2013 to 2018, overseeing all plainclothes units and the BPD's Patrol and Operations Bureaus. Id. ¶ 28. Palmere retired from the BPD in 2018. Id. ¶ 28.

In 2010, Fries was a Lieutenant in VCIS, and Willard and Knoerlein were both Sergeants. Id. ¶¶ 25-27. Fries, Willard, and Knoerlein therefore all held supervisory roles. Id. ¶ 133. Plaintiffs allege that Jenkins, Gladstone, and Guinn ("the Officer Defendants") worked together in VCIS, under the supervision of Fries, Willard, Knoerlein, and Palmere. Id. ¶¶ 23-27, 133. Fries, Knoerlein, and Guinn are still BPD officers. Id. ¶¶ 22-28.

B. The BPD's Allegedly Unconstitutional Policing Practices in April, 2010

Beginning in the "early 2000s," the BPD held a "widespread, persistent pattern and practice of unconstitutional police conduct, including illegal stops without probable cause or reasonable suspicion, illegal pursuits and arrests, and falsification of evidence by plainclothes officers regularly employed within the BPD." Id. ¶¶ 70, 80. The pattern of unconstitutional practices began, according to Plaintiffs, when the BPD first utilized "elite units comprised of plainclothes officers," including "flex squads" and "Special Enforcement Teams" ("SETs"), who had "wide latitude to investigate and arrest persons suspected of dealing drugs and/or gun violations." Id. ¶ 77. These officers, who drove unmarked cars, were often referred to as "knockers" or "jump out boys," because of their tendency to drive up to citizens, jump out of their cars, chase citizens, and conduct "aggressive illegal searches" of them. Id. ¶ 79. Plaintiffs recount a number of instances, leading up to 2010, in which BPD officers in units like VCIS raped, robbed, and even killed Baltimore residents while on duty. Id. ¶¶ 81-99.

Plaintiffs specifically allege previous instances of misconduct by Jenkins and Gladstone. Id. ¶¶ 107-130. Gladstone was involved in a 2003 incident that a federal judge held violated the arrestee's constitutional rights. Id. ¶ 108. Further, Plaintiffs allege that, upon information and belief, Gladstone had an internal affairs finding of misconduct upheld against him in 2004, and allowed confidential sources to keep drugs in exchange for information "on multiple occasions." Id. ¶¶ 109-10. Gladstone became Jenkins's "mentor" once they started working together in 2008. Id. ¶ 111.

Jenkins had a much more colored past. Id. ¶¶ 112-25. Plaintiffs allege that Jenkins "repeatedly crashed BPD-issued vehicles, damaging them and/or rendering them inoperable," and that he allegedly "went through as many as one department-issued vehicle per month." Id. ¶ 113. Plaintiffs also recount instances in which Jenkins assaulted a Baltimore resident, but incurred no departmental consequences, id. ¶ 117-20, and in which Jenkins fabricated evidence in order to incriminate an individual in 2008, id. ¶¶ 121-25. According to one of Jenkins's former colleagues on the Gun Trace Task Force ("GTTF"), "Jenkins was very reckless, you know. I mean, he was just out of control, putting citizens at risk, you know, driving on the side of the street, going in people bumpers. I just never saw anything like this...." Id. ¶ 128.

Plaintiffs allege that Willard, Knoerlein, and Fries each "held supervisory roles within the plainclothes units in which the Officers worked." Id. ¶ 133. Beginning in 2004, Fries supervised Jenkins when Jenkins served on a SET, and knew of the "widespread abuse[s]" officers in that SET committed. Id. ¶ 134, 152. Plaintiffs allege that Fries selected Jenkins to join VCIS, which Fries supervised in 2006, despite "knowledge of Jenkins's prior misconduct." Id. ¶ 139. Fries was also Gladstone's supervisor in VCIS starting in 2008, and upon information and belief, was his supervisor when Gladstone committed misconduct prior to 2010, as well as during the April 28, 2010 incident giving rise to this lawsuit. Id. ¶¶ 140-41. Plaintiffs further allege that Knoerlein had "actual or constructive knowledge" of Jenkins's and Gladstone's prior instances of misconduct while supervising them, and that he supervised them during some of those instances, including the April 28, 2010 incident. Id. ¶¶ 143, 145-56. Willard also allegedly had "actual or constructive knowledge" of Jenkins's prior instances of misconduct before joining VCIS. Id. ¶¶ 147-48.

Despite knowing that their subordinate VCIS officers were "committing widespread abuse[s]," Plaintiffs allege that Willard, Knoerlein, and Fries took no steps "to report or remedy illegal conduct," and that this failure to properly investigate demonstrated "a gross disregard for the constitutional rights of the public." Id. ¶¶ 154-55. Plaintiffs also allege that Willard, Knoerlein, and Fries failed to properly train Jenkins and Gladstone, despite knowing about their history of misconduct, and also "encouraged plainclothes officers under their supervision ... to violate the constitutional rights of Baltimore residents." Id. ¶¶ 156-57, 160. Willard, Knoerlein, and Fries encouraged VCIS officers to commit "overtime fraud," and to conduct illegal searches "to get as many guns off the street by whatever means necessary." Id. ¶¶ 161-62.

Palmere, as a high-ranking, senior command-level officer in the BPD, is alleged to have had "the authority and responsibility to discipline officers he knew had engaged in misconduct." Id. ¶ 166. Despite this, Palmere failed to take any actions to report or remedy illegal conduct. Id. ¶¶ 177-78, 182. For example, in 2005, Palmere, while serving on an officer's trial board, voted to only give the officer a "reduced sentence" for his actions in engaging in an unlawful search of a home, and later lying and saying that he had a warrant to search the home. Id. ¶ 167. With Palmere as head of VCIS, the unit saw "increased citizen complaints and widespread abuses," which included one incident that resulted in a $200,000 payout to the victim, and another in...

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