Middleton v. Balt. City Police Dep't, Civil Action ELH-20-3536

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Maryland)
Writing for the CourtEllen L. Hollander, United States District Judge.
Docket NumberCivil Action ELH-20-3536
Decision Date28 January 2022

Ellen L. Hollander, United States District Judge.

In this civil rights action, plaintiff Henrietta Middleton, an African American police officer with the Baltimore City Police Department (the “BPD” or the “Department”), alleges, inter alia, that in August 2018, while she was off duty, she was “assaulted, battered, and abused” by a fellow BPD Officer, Sergeant Marlon Koushall. ECF 28 (Amended Complaint), ⁋ 2. Further, she claims that she was arrested and detained on false charges. Id. ⁋⁋ 4, 15. According to plaintiff, Koushall was “acting within the scope of his employment” at the time of the incident, and he was “motivated by racial and gender animus . . . .” Id. ⁋⁋ 4, 19; see also Id. ⁋ 13[1]

As a result of the events in issue, Middleton has sued the Baltimore City Police Department (“BPD” or “Department”); the Mayor & City Council of Baltimore (the “City” or “MCC”); Gary Tuggle, the former interim Police Commissioner for Baltimore City, in his individual and official capacity; Koushall, in his individual and official capacity and BPD Lieutenant Jason Yerg, individually and in his official capacity. I shall sometimes refer to Koushall and Lieutenant Yerg collectively as the “Officer Defendants, ” and I shall refer to BPD, the City, and Tuggle collectively as the “City Defendants.”

The Amended Complaint (ECF 28) contains ten counts. In particular, plaintiff lodges claims of battery (Count I) false imprisonment (Count II); malicious prosecution and abuse of process (Count III); violation of Articles 24 and 26 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights (Count IV); intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count V); false arrest (Count VI); a § 1983 claim for violation of plaintiff's rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution (Count VII); false light invasion of privacy (Count VIII); civil conspiracy (Count IX); and a conspiracy claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3) (Count X).[2]

It is not entirely clear which counts are lodged as to which defendants. For example, Count I makes no mention of a particular defendant, and refers instead to Defendant Officer.” See Id. ⁋⁋ 28, 30. However, each count includes an ad damnum clause in which Middleton asks for compensatory and punitive damages from all defendants. See, e.g. id. at 9, 10.[3] The City Defendants have moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) (ECF 29), supported by a memorandum of law. ECF 29-1 (collectively, the City Motion). The Officer Defendants have filed a partial motion to dismiss (ECF 31), pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), along with a memorandum of law. ECF 31-1 (collectively, the “Officer Motion”). Yerg seeks dismissal of Counts I, II, IV, and VI. The Officer Defendants also seek dismissal of Counts V, VIII, IX, and X. And, they seek dismissal of Count IV and Count VII to the extent that these counts concern a claim for denial of medical care. As to Count VII, the Officer Defendants also seek dismissal to the extent the claim is lodged against them in their official capacity.

Middleton opposes the City Motion (ECF 35), accompanied by a memorandum of law. See ECF 35-1 (collectively, the “Opposition/City”). Plaintiff also opposes the Officer Motion (ECF 36), supported by a memorandum of law. ECF 36-1 (collectively, the “Opposition/Officer”). And, defendants have replied. See ECF 39 (Officer Defendants); ECF 40 (City Defendants).

No hearing is necessary to resolve these motions. See Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons that follow, I shall grant the City Motion (ECF 29). And, I shall grant the Officer Motion (ECF 31) in part and deny it in part.

I. Factual Background[4]

Middleton is “an African-American female” who is “a sworn member of the Baltimore City Police Department . . . .” ECF 28, ⁋ 2. At the relevant time, Koushall and Yerg were also officers with the BPD. Id. ⁋ 3. According to Middleton, Yerg was a supervisor and thus “exercised final policy making authority for BCPD . . . .” Id. ⁋ 5. At the time, Tuggle served as the Interim Commissioner of the BPD. Id. ⁋ 8.

The events underlying plaintiff's claim began on the early morning of August 26, 2018. Id. ⁋ 11. Ms. Middleton was a guest at a pre-wedding celebration in Baltimore held at Norma Jean's Club” (the “Club”).[5] Id. At about 1:20 a.m., Ms. Middleton and a group of her friends left the Club. Id. Thereafter, “a member of Ms. Middleton's group informed Ms. Middleton that she had forgotten her personal belongings inside of the establishment.” Id. ⁋ 12.[6] Plaintiff responded that she would retrieve the member's personal belongings and began to walk back to the front door of the establishment.” ECF 28, ⁋ 12.

However, [a]s soon as Ms. Middleton got to the entrance of the establishment, Defendant Koushall told her to back up.” Id. ⁋ 13. Before she could do so, Defendant Koushall suddenly, without provocation and unexpectedly, struck her three (3) times in her face/head/ear.” Id. Middleton “attempted to retreat, ” but “Koushall continued to pursue her, threw her to the ground, and then grabbed her by her hair and clothing.” Id. And, according to the Amended Complaint, “Koushall's physical attack did not cease until another officer grabbed Defendant Koushall and stopped him from further assaulting and beating Middleton.” Id.

As a result of the assault, plaintiff “sustain[ed] injuries to her face, temple, and head, and experienced severe pain and suffering, . . . physical injury, and substantial emotional distress.” Id. ⁋ 14. According to plaintiff, Koushall “has a history of physically assaulting other African American women.” Id. ⁋ 13. And, she asserts that the assault at issue “was motivated by racial and gender animus as [she] is an African American female.” Id.

Immediately following the assault, plaintiff “was arrested, handcuffed, and further publicly humiliated when she was forced to walk up the public street from the site of the attack to the Baltimore City Police Department's Central District.” Id. ⁋ 15. Specifically, plaintiff contends that the incident “was observed by no less than 50 people and was captured on CCTV, cell phone footage, and body-worn camera.” Id. ⁋ 16.

Upon plaintiff's arrival at “Central Headquarters, ” plaintiff was “handcuffed to the wall, ” where she remained “for approximately ten consecutive (10) hours prior to being released . . . .”

ECF 28, ⁋ 16.[7] During Middleton's period of detention, Defendant Koushall . . . continue[d] his abuse” of Middleton by “remaining in her presence and not seeking medical attention for her injuries that he caused.” Id. Further, plaintiff asserts that even after another BPD official, Detective Dominique Wiggins, “told Koushall that Ms. Middleton needed medical attention, ” he “refused to provide it to her.” Id. By the time Middleton was released, “Koushall's shift [had] ended.” Id.

Prior to plaintiff's release, she was “served with two criminal citations: (i) Failure to Obey the lawful command of an officer designed to keep the peace and (ii) Disorderly Conduct . . . .” ECF 28, ⁋ 16. Both citations were “hand-written by . . . Koushall.” Id. Further, plaintiff alleges that “Koushall intentionally failed to timely file a use of force report pursuant to Baltimore City Police Department General Orders.” Id. ⁋ 17.

Plaintiff sought medical care following her release. Id. ⁋ 18. According to the Amended Complaint, Middleton “was treated for numerous injuries, including a concussion, post-traumatic headaches, and injuries to her neck and back.” Id. Moreover, plaintiff “required physical therapy and multiple doctor's appointments for several months . . . .” Id.

Some unspecified time later, “Lietenant [sic] Yerg was placed on notice by the State's Attorney's Office that they were no longer going to pursue Middleton's charges and instead pursue Sergeant Koushall for multiple charges . . . .” Id. ⁋ 19. According to plaintiff, “Yerg and Koushall remained in constant communication via telephone and email” in order to “coordinate with each other and concoct a way to keep Defendant Koushall free from criminal charges and/or intradepartmental discipline . . . .” Id. Further, Middleton asserts that Yerg and Koushall sought to “damage Middleton in her own criminal case and assure she would not be given an objective, fair assessment within the department.” ECF 28, ⁋ 19. Again, plaintiff contends that the conduct of Koushall and Yerg was “motivated by racial and gender animus based on Ms. Middleton being an African American female.” Id.

On December 1, 2018, Koushall “drew up and filed additional charges against Middleton, ” including “Assault 2nd Degree and Resist/Interfere with Arrest.” Id. ⁋ 20. Plaintiff asserts that [t]hese new criminal charges were sworn out by Defendant Koushall with the advice and guidance of Defendant Yerg, ” who “was assigned to investigate Middleton's allegations of wrongdoing by Koushall . . . .” Id.

Moreover, Middleton alleges that the BPD “broadcast a public statement, wrongfully asserting that Ms. Middleton was intoxicated and charged with being drunk and disorderly.” Id. ⁋ 22. According to plaintiff, a BPD spokesperson, T.J. Smith, offered an “official statement to the 11 News I-Team that Middleton [had been] suspended.” Id. Moreover, Smith said, id.:

‘When officers arrived, they observed the patron acting in a disorderly manner. The female patron approached an officer and refused to comply. She was arrested and charged on a criminal citation for drunk and disorderly conduct. She was identified as Henrietta Middleton, a 12-year veteran of the

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