Simpson v. Bell, 18-cv-1378 (ERK)

CourtUnited States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
PartiesCEDRIC SIMPSON, Petitioner, v. EARL BELL, Respondent.
Docket Number18-cv-1378 (ERK)
Decision Date27 August 2021


EARL BELL, Respondent.

No. 18-cv-1378 (ERK)

United States District Court, E.D. New York

August 27, 2021




Petitioner Cedric Simpson stabbed his unarmed friend Carl Richardson to death with a pair of scissors after the two had a dispute over $30. Richardson, who was 19 at the time, came to the barbershop petitioner owned, and at which petitioner also worked, to collect the money that Richardson believed petitioner owed him for a pair of headphones. ECF No. 11-2 at 324, 338.[1] Despite the fact that petitioner was fifteen years older than Richardson, the two were friends, had known each other for some time, and had never had any disagreements before. Id. at 336, 338. This time, however, Richardson and petitioner disagreed about how much money petitioner still owed for the headphones. Id. at 323-24. Richardson picked up petitioner's iPad, told petitioner that he would hold onto it until he received his money, and left the barbershop to return to his car, which was parked around the corner and down the block. Id. at 324-25. Petitioner followed, attempting to persuade Richardson to return his iPad. Id. at 325.

Their interaction on the way back to Richardson's car was captured by two different security cameras.[2] While the two initially appeared friendly, with petitioner placing his arm on Richardson's shoulder, the encounter soon turned hostile. Petitioner grabbed Richardson's arm and was angrily slapped away. When Richardson walked back to his car and tried to get in, petitioner physically blocked the door and pushed Richardson back. The two argued next to Richardson's car for some time, gesturing animatedly.

At one point, they appeared to agree to return to the barbershop. After a few steps in that direction, Richardson turned around and went back to his car. Petitioner jogged back after him and again pushed Richardson, who deflected him with his forearm. Richardson then began opening his jacket as the camera momentarily lost sight of him. Petitioner later testified that in the moment Richardson was off-camera, Richardson reached toward his waist as if for a weapon and asked “what you want me to do? Kill you for my money[?]” ECF No. 11-2 at 325. Back on camera, the video showed that Richardson had not removed a weapon from his waist. Instead, Richardson reached for the door handle of his car and petitioner grabbed Richardson's hand and pushed him away from the door. Richardson then shoved petitioner back from the car, appeared to make contact with petitioner's face, and pushed him a second time back onto the sidewalk. Petitioner turned and fled back to the barbershop with Richardson in pursuit. Significantly, petitioner never claimed that he actually saw Richardson holding a weapon, at this or any subsequent time.

A. Petitioner Stabs Richardson in the Barbershop

Because petitioner stabbed Richardson to death and none of the six to nine customers in the barbershop “wanted to help” the police investigation, the only testimony about the events was from two barbers who were working at the shop- whom the prosecutors were forced to call-and the testimony of the petitioner. ECF No. 11-1 at 436-37. The first was Sheldon Hunter, who was petitioner's nephew, lived in a home owned by petitioner before and after the incident, and got his job through petitioner, who owned the barbershop and rented Hunter his chair. ECF No. 11-2 at 178-82. Hunter saw petitioner and Richardson “running in the shop” after their altercation. Id. at 186. At first, Hunter thought the two were just “joking” or “playing.” Id. Hunter saw Richardson put petitioner in a “bear hug” near petitioner's station. Id. Hunter demonstrated Richardson's hold at the trial, which the trial court described for the record as “standing up, using both arms, and he folded them over, and he is grabbing the upper arms, the pectoral muscles, of each of his respective arms.” Id. at 187. Petitioner then “tried to wrestle out of [Richardson's] hands” and the two “continue[d] to the back of the shop” while “moving side to side.” Id. at 190. Hunter saw a pair of scissors in petitioner's hand as he tried to wrestle out of the bear hug. Id. at 194. Hunter went to the front of the shop to calm down his customer-who had left the chair when the fighting started- and by the time he turned his attention back to petitioner and Richardson, their altercation was over and Richardson was bleeding to death. Id. at 192. Hunter claimed he did not see petitioner stab Richardson.

The other barber who testified was John Reid, to whom petitioner rented a chair at the barbershop. Reid saw Richardson and petitioner run back into the barbershop. ECF No. 11-2 at 141. Petitioner returned to his barber station before Richardson put him in a “bear hug” from behind. Id. at 142. Reid testified that Richardson's arms were “wrapped around” petitioner, over the latter's arms. Id. As a result, petitioner's arms were “locked down” and he could not move them. Id. at 142-43. Richardson and petitioner were “fumbling” and “everybody [was] moving” and “trying to get them apart.” Id. at 143. Reid saw that “everybody's hands [was] movin' around” and petitioner had “scissors in his hands.” Id. at 145. When Reid and others managed to separate the two, he saw that the scissors in petitioner's hand were bloody and that Richardson had blood on him. Id. at 146. Like Hunter, Reid claimed that he did not see the stabbing. Id. at 148.

After Hunter and Reid, petitioner testified on his own behalf. He claimed that Richardson acted “crazy” when they were outside, and that he fled back to the barbershop because he knew it was “much safer inside there.” ECF No. 11-2 at 325. Petitioner said that when he got back in the shop, Richardson “pounce[d] on me . . . Grab me from behind trying to put me on the ground. I just want to get out of his hand.” Id. at 326. Richardson grabbed petitioner and “swung [him] to the right, ” Id. Petitioner testified that he tried to grab onto his barber station, causing items on the station to fall to the ground as the two were “tussling, tussling” and petitioner was “try[ing] to get out of his hand.” Id. Petitioner then said that he grabbed a pair of scissors remaining on his station, presumably with his free hand, as he and Richardson were “fighting back and forth with him trying to grab me down.” Id.

The exact sequence of events during the fight was unclear from petitioner's testimony. Petitioner testified that Richardson actually grabbed him “two time[s] in the barbershop”-“one of the time[s] when I reach the station and grab the scissors and he come back over and grab me again.” ECF No. 11-2 at 365. Petitioner claimed that during one of these periods, Richardson grabbed him “underneath” his arms rather than locking them to his sides as Reid and Hunter testified, which would presumably have left his hands free to stab Richardson. Id. at 364-65. Petitioner also claimed that Richardson “tried to hold me in between [] two chairs.” Id. at 327. Then, petitioner said “I don't know how I get so strong, but I get up back on my feet. I balance up myself. I come to the middle of the shop fighting, going down to the back of the shop.” Id.

As Richardson was holding him down “trying to drop [him] down on the floor, ” petitioner swung the scissors three times because he “want[ed] to get away from [Richardson].” Id. Although expert testimony established that Richardson's fatal wound was very slightly to the left of the middle of his chest between the second and third ribs, petitioner claimed that he only swung his “hands three times over my shoulder and under my arm” while Richardson was behind him, and that he did not know if he had stabbed Richardson because “[w]hen you stab somebody, you go in front of somebody and stab them. I didn't do that.” Id. at 335.[3] Petitioner claimed that he was “scared for [his] life” as the fight unfolded and that all he wanted to go was “get away.” Id. at 329. He also claimed that he thought Richardson “had a weapon in his hands, ” but he never testified that he actually saw a weapon, even though he would easily have been able to see anything in Richardson's hands when they were wrapped around him. Id. at 362-63. Instead, he claimed that he only learned that Richardson was unarmed after stabbing him. Id.

Richardson initially appeared not to realize how serious his wounds were. Reid testified that after the two were separated, Richardson was “[j]ust walking around” the shop. ECF No. 11-2 at 149. At some point Richardson put his hand on petitioner's shoulder and said something like “you're going to kill me for like $80?” Id. Petitioner responded that Richardson should “just chill” before leaving to retrieve his iPad. Id. at 150. The video footage from this time shows petitioner calmly jogging back to Richardson's car and picking up the tablet from where Richardson had dropped it during their initial confrontation. Back inside, Richardson lifted up his shirt and Reid and Hunter saw that he was bleeding. Id. at 151, 196. Richardson said that he did not “want to die” and asked those present to “pray for me” before falling down on the barbershop's waiting bench. Id. at 151. The petitioner then came back in and asked Richardson if he wanted to go to the hospital. Id. at 153. Ultimately, Richardson dialed 911 because he thought “he [was] going to die” and handed the phone to Hunter. Id. at 196-97. Reid separately called 911. Id. at 153. While paramedics transported Richardson to the hospital and unsuccessfully attempted to save his life, video footage showed that petitioner was walking into a bodega next door, calmly browsing the shelves and chatting with other customers.

Petitioner was eventually arrested after he returned to the barbershop and Reid pointed him out to police. ECF Nos. 11-1 at 404; 11-2 at 157. As an officer...

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