McCullough v. Anne Arundel Cnty.

Decision Date30 March 2022
Docket NumberCivil Action CCB-19-926
PartiesANTHONY MCCULLOUGH v. ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY, MARYLAND, et al.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Maryland

ANTHONY MCCULLOUGH
v.
ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY, MARYLAND, et al.

Civil Action No. CCB-19-926

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 30, 2022


MEMORANDUM

CATHERINE C. BLAKE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Plaintiff Anthony McCullough was driving in Anne Arundel County late one night in July 2016 when Anne Arundel County police officer Corporal Paul Smith stopped him for speeding. The traffic stop escalated into an arrest (involving Smith and officer-co-defendants Radzibaba and Simmons), and McCullough sued the officers and Anne Arundel County for a variety of state and federal claims.

After a motion to dismiss, this court allowed claims for excessive force, due process and equal protection, battery, malicious prosecution, and gross negligence to proceed while bifurcating and staying state and federal charges aimed at the practices of the county police department. Following discovery, the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment (ECF 66, Mot. Summ. J.), to which McCullough responded in opposition (ECF 72, Opp.) and the defendants replied in support (ECF 83, Reply). The motion for summary judgment has been fully briefed, and no oral argument is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2021). For the reasons stated herein, the court will grant the motion in part and deny the motion in part.

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BACKGROUND

On July 24, 2016, shortly after one o'clock in the morning, plaintiff Anthony McCullough — an African-American resident of Glen Burnie — was driving his Toyota Celica on Manchester Road in Anne Arundel County. That night, Corporal Paul Smith was conducting radar traffic enforcement in the area of Ft. Smallwood Road and Manchester Road, where the speed limit drops from 50 miles per hour to 35 miles per hour. When McCullough drove by just before 1:10 a.m., Smith received radar readings between 49 and 50 miles per hour (ECF 66-4, Ex. 2, Smith Dep. at 25), though McCullough disputes this and says he was driving at 25 miles per hour at the time (ECF 72-2, Ex. A, McCullough Dep. at 235-36).[1] Smith initiated a traffic stop, which was captured by Smith's dashboard camera.[2]

McCullough pulled over off Manchester Road and stopped his vehicle (1:10:32). About 30 seconds later, at the same time as Smith exited his cruiser to approach McCullough's car, McCullough slowly pulled his car forward by about two car lengths (1:11:04) and stopped for a second and final time (1:11:10). Smith returned to his vehicle (1:11:11), repositioned it (1:11:16), and verbally commanded McCullough to put his hands out the driver's window (1:11:18). Smith radioed for backup (1:11:32). McCullough, who had limited mobility due to his weight and recent surgeries on both rotator cuffs, could not reach his right hand across his body to put it out the driver's side window, and instead he put his left hand out the window and his right hand slightly out of the sunroof, more easily within reach (1:11:45).

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Smith, hand on his service weapon, approached McCullough (1:11:54). He asked why McCullough had moved his vehicle (1:12:00), noting he was concerned for his safety due to the move. McCullough explained that Smith's lights were in his eyes (1:12:06). Smith ordered McCullough to keep his hands up (1:12:00) and also to turn off his vehicle (1:12:21). After Smith asked him to turn off his vehicle, McCullough brought his hands down and inside his vehicle, and at that moment, Smith saw McCullough reaching with his right arm and displaying a dark object toward Smith (1:12:21). Smith believed it could be a gun (ECF 66-4 at 49) and reached into McCullough's car (1:12:22), grabbing the object from McCullough's hand and tossing it over McCullough's vehicle onto the ground (1:12:23-25). It was not a gun but rather a cell phone. McCullough indicated to Smith that he was trying to record the incident (1:12:25). McCullough says that Smith knew immediately that it was a cell phone; Smith says he did not determine until about 90 seconds later (1:14:39, after handcuffing McCullough) that it was a cell phone. The defendants" expert testified that Smith should have known within a second or two of holding the phone that it was not a gun. (ECF 72-6, Ex. E, Gleason Dep. at 88).[3]

Smith continued to command McCullough to turn off his vehicle. He reached into the car through the open window to grab at McCullough's keys and turn the engine off, but he was unsuccessful (1:12:28). At this point, the horn began to blow (1:12:29); Smith says that McCullough honked it in resistance, but McCullough says that Smith activated the car's security alarm when he reached into the car. Smith reached in again to try to turn the car off (1:12:32) but was unsuccessful. The horn continued to blow. Smith tried but failed to open the car door; he yelled at McCullough to get out of the car but simultaneously grabbed the top of the seatbelt, thereby pinning McCullough to the front seat (1:12:41). He then let go of the seatbelt (1:12:45).

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Smith unlocked the car door from the inside and successfully opened the driver's-side door (1:12:54), at which point he reached across McCullough's body to attempt to undo the seatbelt (1:12:57). Smith emerged from the car seconds later, pulling the seatbelt and again pinning McCullough (1:13:01).

Smith then attempted to remove McCullough from the car, grabbing his left forearm and pulling. At that moment, Officers Michael Radzibaba and Devin Simmons arrived (1:13:03). As Smith pulled McCullough's left arm, Radzibaba pulled his right arm (1:13:05) to extract McCullough from the car. The seatbelt appears to have been unlatched, though McCullough's left arm was still stuck through the triangle of the seatbelt. McCullough hit the ground at 1:13:07 but remained tangled and restrained in the seatbelt while he was dragged from the car. He experienced abrasions on his knees, and the hospital that examined him later that night applied one bandaid. (ECF 72-8, Ex. G, Ronaghan Dep. at 60; ECF 72-9, Ex. H, Police Rep. at 5-6). While Radzibaba and Smith restrained McCullough on the ground, Simmons cut the seatbelt to untangle McCullough (1:13:09-21).

At that point, McCullough was on the ground, lying on his belly (still tangled at 1:13:07 but untangled at 1:13:21), and the officers handcuffed him with his arms behind his back (1:13:26-52). Smith testified that McCullough stiffened his arms and hands at the moment when the officers tried to apply handcuffs, thus resisting; McCullough testified that he simply tensed up (ECF 66-6, Ex. 4, McCullough Dep. at 106). Once the handcuffs were on (1:13:52), McCullough made no attempts to resist. (ECF 72-5, Ex. D, Radzibaba Dep. at 44). Simmons applied his left knee to McCullough's upper back below his neck (removing knee at 1:15:49). (ECF 72-7, Ex. F, Simmons Dep. at 42, 46-47). The defendants' expert testified that "'the placement and the duration of time ... was in question" for this knee placement, raising

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concerns about McCullough's ability to breathe, an unreasonable knee placement that was too close to the neck; the officers were not getting McCullough in a seated upright recovery position at the time. (ECF 72-6, Ex. E, Gleason Dep. at 13. 18, 19).

Once McCullough was on the ground, he said several times that he had a torn rotator cuff (1:13:16, 1:13:10. 1:13:23, 1:14:01). that he had had surgery (1:13:48, 1:15:00), and that he had his knee replaced (1:14:19). The officers understood this at the time. (ECF 72-5, Ex. D, Radzibaba Dep. at 39-42; ECF 72-3, Ex. B, Smith Dep. at 102). McCullough also said the officers had twisted his arm (1:14:47, 1:14:51). He expressed pain throughout. At one point, he told Simmons, "I told you I just had surgery," to which Simmons replied, "Well, then you should have cooperated." (1:14:49-1:15:03).

From about 1:15:49 a.m. to 1:16:44 a.m., Simmons searched and moved McCullough's person, manipulating McCullough's shoulders to roll him onto his side and feel all parts of his body through gloved hands. Simmons tried to close the car door, but the door could not move past McCullough's hands; once again, he rolled McCullough onto his side swiftly in order to try to finish closing the door (1:16:52). One of the officers ordered McCullough to bring his knee to his chest in order to clear the door (1:17:02), to which McCullough responded that he could not bend his knee past a certain point because of his surgery (1:17:03). Simmons responded that if he could drive, he could bring his knees to his chest (1:17:07-09). Radzibaba said, "Pick him up," and Simmons said to McCullough, "I'll help you!" while yanking McCullough up by his shoulder. With McCullough then hanging by his right shoulder, Radzibaba rushed to attempt to support McCullough from the shoulder on the other side of his body (1:17:19).

McCullough could not bend his knee. Simmons placed his left arm between McCullough's handcuffed arm and his back, running his left hand up McCullough's other arm to

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his shoulder without special care for McCullough's shoulder condition (1:17:24). Simmons said, "Your knee wasn"t bothering you when you were wrestling with us, was it?" (1:17:34). McCullough immediately denied that he had been wrestling with the officers.

After the arrest, the officers searched McCullough's vehicle (1:20:52), which Radzibaba testified would have been standard procedure to inventory the vehicle's contents prior to impoundment. (ECF 72-5, Ex. D, Radzibaba Dep. at 61-62). The cruiser recording the footage drove away at 1:22:13 while the search was in progress; the officers transported McCullough to University of Maryland Baltimore-Washington Medical Center for evaluation due to complaints of knee and arm pain. (ECF 72-9, Ex. H, Police Report at 4). McCullough was treated for "minor abrasions on his knees and given one band aid*' by medical staff who "reported to Mr. Mccullough [sic] that he had no substantial injuries as [a] result of this incident." (Id.)

McCullough was...

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