Toy v. District of Columbia

Decision Date14 October 1988
Docket NumberNo. 87-289.,87-289.
Citation549 A.2d 1
PartiesJanie TOY, et al., Appellants, v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Appellee.
CourtD.C. Court of Appeals

Samuel M. Shapiro and Cassandra P. Hicks, Rockville, Md., for appellants.

Martin B. White, Asst. Corp. Counsel, with whom Frederick D. Cooke, Jr., Corp. Counsel, Charles L. Reischel, Deputy Corp. Counsel, and Lutz Alexander Prager, Asst. Deputy Corp. Counsel, Washington, D.C., were on the brief, for appellee.

Before MACK, FERREN and ROGERS, Associate Judges.

ROGERS, Associate Judge:

n this wrongful death and survival action, appellants Janie Toy and Diane Toy, the mother1 and widow of the decedent William Toy, seek to reinstate a jury verdict in their favor. They contend on appeal that the trial court erred in entering a judgment notwithstanding the verdict and in instructions to the jury on false arrest. We hold that because appellants failed to present expert testimony sufficient to establish the standard of care owed to the decedent by the District of Columbia, they failed to establish a prima facie case of negligence. Accordingly, because we also find no error in the false arrest instructions, we affirm.2


William Toy died after being in a coma for thirteen months following his attempted suicide by hanging himself in a jail cell when he was arrested for driving while under the influence of alcohol. His mother and wife, appellants, sued the District of Columbia contending that it had acted negligently once Toy was found hanging in his cell. To prove their case, appellants relied on the expert testimony of Robert diGrazia to establish that the District had breached the applicable standard of care in responding to the situation. For purposes of this appeal, the central issue is whether diGrazia's testimony established that the District was negligent because it failed to have certain equipment on hand at the Traffic Division where Toy was taken and failed correctly to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to him.


The evidence at trial showed that in the early morning hours of October 30, 1982, William Toy drove his car into a streetlight pole after failing to negotiate successfully a left turn at the corner of Third Street and Florida Avenue, N.W. Officer John Coursey of the Metropolitan Police Department arrived at the scene approximately forty-five minutes later, and saw Toy, in the driver's seat, bent over the dashboard as though he were removing the car radio. Efforts at the scene and later at the Traffic Division to have Toy take a breathalizer test proved unavailing and he was taken to D.C. General Hospital for a blood test. While at the Traffic Division, Toy became disruptive and belligerent, jumping up and down on his chair, cursing and screaming in a loud voice. Officer Milton James testified that at one point Toy also banged his head against the wall and said, "Why me, God?" James stated that this kind of behavior was not unusual for persons who are arrested for driving under the influence. At the hospital, Toy generally behaved in a calmer, non-belligerent manner, although he remained somewhat boisterous.

Two blood samples taken from Toy showed blood alcohol levels of .28 and .27%. According to Dr. Robert Reisch, the chief toxicologist at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of the District of Columbia who was qualified as an expert witness for the District, this level of alcohol ordinarily produces severe intoxication, significant impairment of judgment, and can depress the respiration and heart functions in some individuals.

After the blood sample was drawn, Officer Williams took Toy back to the Traffic Division. According to desk sergeant Officer Daniel Clinesmith, Williams and Toy returned to the police station at approximately 3:50 a.m. After the citation release program was explained to Toy, and he refused to sign the release forms, the rest of Toy's property was removed and Officers Williams and Clinesmith placed Toy in a holding cell. The precise time when Toy was placed in his cell is unclear. Officer James testified that it could have been five or ten minutes after Toy returned to the Traffic Division, but he admitted that he was not sure of the time. Officer Williams testified that it probably took three to four minutes to read Toy the citation release forms and another minute or two to remove Toy's property and escort him to the holding cell.

After Toy was placed in his cell, space was needed for another prisoner. Clinesmith returned to the holding cell area to see if a cell was available and saw that Toy had hanged himself from the bars on the cell door by using his shirt. Clinesmith immediately yelled for Officer John Mahaney to get a cell block key and to come assist him. Clinesmith reached through the bars and attempted to unwrap the shirt from around Toy's neck but was unable to do so until Mahaney, who arrived moments later, lifted Toy up to take some of the weight off the shirt. Clinesmith and Mahaney, assisted by at least one other officer, then tried to get the cell door open. At first the door only opened a couple of inches because the knot that was tied in the shirt around the cell bars was impeding the door's passageway. The officers were finally able to force enough of the shirt material through the bars to yank the door open and Toy was pulled into the hallway of the cell block. Officer Clinesmith estimated that it took about fifteen or twenty seconds to get the cell door open. After checking for a pulse and respiration, Clinesmith went to the front of the police station, called for an ambulance, and then returned to the cell block area, where he saw two officers administering CPR.

Officer David Daniels testified that he went to the cell block in response to the calls for help and arrived as Toy was being removed from his cell. Daniels checked Toy for a pulse and could not find any. Toy's eyes were fixed and he appeared to be dead. Daniels called for an ambulance and began administering CPR in the form of chest compressions starting "probably not 30 seconds" after Toy was on the ground. Daniels testified that Officer Stuart Smith, who he knew to be an emergency medical technician (EMT), arrived a minute or two later, and together they continued CPR, Smith performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and Daniels doing chest compressions, until an ambulance crew arrived about seven minutes later.

Officer James testified that he was one of the first three officers who responded to the cell block area and assisted in opening Toy's cell door. James stated that he checked Toy's pulse and, unlike Officer Daniels, was able to discern a faint pulse. James testified that someone administered ammonia capsules and that Toy moved his head in response to the ammonia fumes. James did riot administer CPR since it appeared to James that Toy was alive and James believed it was unnecessary to administer CPR to someone who was alive and breathing. James testified that he did not see Officers Clinesmith or Mahaney perform CPR in the three to five minutes that he was down in the cell block area. James stated that he left the cell block area as Officer Smith was arriving and that it was his understanding that Toy was alive at that point.

Officer Stuart Smith testified that he arrived at Traffic Division with a prisoner and was met at the front door by someone asking if he had a ventibreather3 in his vehicle. He replied that he was an EMT4 arid, after being told that there was a prisoner in the cell block who was not breathing, proceeded down to the cell block area. Smith stated that when he got to the cell block area he observed about six or seven officers in the immediate vicinity. Smith did not recall seeing any of the officers performing CPR on Toy when he arrived, but he could not rule out that possibility because events were happening so quickly. Smith checked Toy, found no pulse or respiration, and then commenced mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on Toy while Officer Daniels performed chest compressions. Smith testified that he started mouth-to-mouth resuscitation at approximately 4:15 a.m. and that he and Daniels continued CPR until an ambulance arrived fifteen or twenty minutes later.5

Toy was then taken to Howard University Hospital and was admitted to the emergency room at 4:45 a.m. Hospital records reflect that when Toy arrived at the hospital he exhibited no pulse or respiration, but a pulse reappeared at 5 a.m. following treatment by a hospital cardiac respiratory team. Toy never regained consciousness, however, and he remained in a coma for thirteen months until he died on November 30, 1983.6

Robert diGrazia testified on the Toys' behalf as an expert in the field of criminal administration. Mr. diGrazia testified that the District of Columbia did not follow reasonable police practices and procedures in three relevant respects: (1) failure to render proper assistance, (2) lack of proper emergency equipment, and (3) false arrest. According to Mr. diGrazia, the District was negligent in two respects in the manner in which the officers responded to Toy's situation after he was discovered hanging. He stated that the officers should have rendered assistance to Toy in the form of CPR or mouth-to-mouth resuscitation immediately after he was found, or at least within four minutes. National standards recognized that the failure to commence assistance within four minutes could result in extensive brain damage. On cross-examination, Mr. diGrazia acknowledged that cardiopulmonary resuscitation would have been inappropriate to the extent that Toy exhibited a pulse, but contended that mouth-to-mouth resuscitation would have been appropriate even if Toy was breathing shallowly when he was found. Mr. diGrazia stated that all of his testimony was to a reasonable degree of professional certainty.

In addition, Mr. diGrazia testified that the District of Columbia should have been equipped with...

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