Wesby v. Dist. of Columbia

Decision Date18 January 2012
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 9–cv–501 (RLW).
Citation841 F.Supp.2d 20
PartiesTheodore WESBY, et al., Plaintiffs, v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia

841 F.Supp.2d 20

Theodore WESBY, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants.

Civil Action No. 9–cv–501 (RLW).

United States District Court,
District of Columbia.

Jan. 18, 2012.


[841 F.Supp.2d 23]


Gregory L. Lattimer, Law Offices of Gregory L. Lattimer, PLLC, Washington, DC, for Plaintiffs.

[841 F.Supp.2d 24]

Denise J. Baker, Office of the Attorney General for District of Columbia, Civil Litigation, Washington, DC, for Defendants.


MEMORANDUM OPINION

ROBERT L. WILKINS, District Judge.

In the present action, sixteen Plaintiffs bring claims against the District of Columbia and five officers (Edwin Espinosa, Jason Newman, Anthony Campanale, Andre Parker and Faraz Khan) of the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department (“MPD”). (Doc. 1, Compl. ¶¶ 19–24.) In Count I of the complaint, Plaintiffs bring a civil rights false arrest claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“Section 1983”) against the five officers in their individual capacities.1 In Count II, Plaintiffs assert a state common law claim for false arrest against the five officers, and also against the District of Columbia (“District”) on the basis of respondeat superior. Count III alleges negligent supervision solely against the District.

Presently before the Court are cross motions for summary judgment. The Defendants seek summary judgment on all claims. (Doc. 31.) Plaintiffs likewise seek summary judgment on all claims. (Doc. 25.) 2

For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that both motions are due to be granted in part and denied in part.

I. FACTS
A. Overview

The overall facts are generally undisputed. In the early morning hours of Saturday, March 15, 2008, Plaintiffs were attending a gathering at 115 Anacostia Avenue, N.E., in Washington, D.C.3 At approximately 1:30 a.m., officers from the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) arrived at the house in response to a call about the property. The officers entered the residence and spoke to the Plaintiffs, an assortment of twenty-one men and women (sixteen of whom are Plaintiffs in this action). Several of the women were scantily dressed and had currency tucked into their garments. None of the Plaintiffs owned the home, but one or more of the Plaintiffs informed one or more of the police officers that a woman named “Peaches” 4 had invited the Plaintiffs

[841 F.Supp.2d 25]

to the house for a bachelor party. When an officer spoke to Peaches via telephone, she indicated she had given the Plaintiffs permission to hold a bachelor party at the house. However, the officer later spoke to the purported owner of the home and he indicated that, while he had discussed leasing the property to Peaches, she did not have a lease for the property and that the Plaintiffs did not have his permission to be in the house.

At some point during the investigation, Sergeant Suber arrived at the house and took control of the situation. Upon learning that Peaches did not have permission from the owner to occupy the property, Sgt. Suber made the decision to arrest the Plaintiffs for unlawful entry.5 Suber is not a defendant in this action.

After Plaintiffs were taken to the police station, they were eventually released at the direction of the watch commander, Lieutenant Netter, who disagreed with Suber's decision regarding the unlawful entry arrests. Before the Plaintiffs could depart, however, Netter ordered the arrest of Plaintiffs for disorderly conduct 6 for using “loud voices,” based on advice or direction from a representative of the District of Columbia Office of the Attorney General (“Attorney General” or “OAG”). Neither Lieutenant Netter nor the attorney from the OAG have been named as Defendants in this action.

Although Suber objected and informed Netter that the disorderly conduct charge was not appropriate, Netter failed to reverse his decision. Suber and the other officers who were at the scene have since testified that they did not observe any activities consistent with a disorderly conduct charge. Between the time spent detained at the house, at the police station, and in lock up on the disorderly conduct charges, each Plaintiff was in police custody a total of several hours. The disorderly conduct charges were later dropped as to each Plaintiff.

That was a summary. Because the role of each officer, the reasonableness of each officers' actions, the state of the collective knowledge of the officers, and other particularized issues have been raised, set forth below are more detailed descriptions of the evidence from the accounts of several key police officer witnesses and an arrest report.

B. Sergeant Andre Suber

Sergeant Suber admits he made the decision to arrest the Plaintiffs for unlawful entry on the night in question. (Suber Dep. 24.) After some of the officers had already entered the property, Sergeant Suber arrived at the scene and entered the house, which had working electricity. (Suber Dep. 11.) In the course of his debriefing, he asked the officers if the owner of the property was on the scene and they said no. (Suber Dep. 17.) He then asked those present if someone was renting the house and “they” began to tell him about Peaches who “claimed to be renting the house,” but no one present could provide proof of such rental and Peaches was not on the scene. ( Id. 17.) Suber then asked who gave the Plaintiffs permission to entertain at the house and “no one at the location could provide [him] a name or number of an owner. They only gave a name of ... Peaches.” ( Id. 18.) Suber further testified:

A: We called Peaches several times on the phone, a female. We asked her, “Who gave you permission to be inside this house?” She said no one. She said she was possibly

[841 F.Supp.2d 26]

renting the house from the owner who was fixing the house up for her. And that she gave the people who were inside the place, told them they could have the bachelor party.

....

I asked her again who gave her permission to give them permission to come into an establishment or house that's not under her control. The [sic] she became evasive and hung up the phone.

....

I called her back. She again began yelling and saying she had permission—she didn't know the owner's name, but she had permission to be inside the residence because she was going to rent the place out. Then she hung up.... [We got her on the telephone again and] she stated that she didn't have permission to be inside the location. At that time they all were there unlawfully.

Q. So she told them that they could be there right?

A. Yes.

Q. Okay. And then you all determined that she didn't have the right to tell them that they could be there right?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. And then because she told them—gave them misinformation, you then arrested the people who thought they had a legal right to be there?

A. If a person comes to a location, it's upon them, their responsibility, to find out if they can in fact be at the residence lawfully.

....

Q. And it did not matter whether or not they believed, based on what Peaches told them, that they had a right to be there?

A. Peaches nor the other individuals occupying that location did not have the right to be there.

( Id. 18–19, 39) (emphasis added).


Around the time of the arrests Suber apparently informed the night watch commander, who was at another location, about the course of events and she was “okay” with his “decision” to arrest Plaintiffs for unlawful entry. (Suber Dep. 31.) Around 5:00 a.m., the next watch commander, Lieutenant Netter, came on duty at the precinct. ( Id. 28, 31.) While the order of events is somewhat unclear, Netter consulted with other upper level officers and decided he was going to release the Plaintiffs, to which Suber responded by providing Netter with the unlawful entry statute. ( Id. 28–29.) Netter decided “he didn't care, and that he was going to release these people,” to which Suber responded “You're the watch commander, I'm a sergeant, you have that authority and I don't.” ( Id. 28–29, 39–40.)

At some juncture, Netter again consulted with two other upper level officers and they telephoned the Attorney General's office. (Suber Dep. 40–41.) As the Plaintiffs were being released and were getting their belongings from the front counter, Suber is told that someone from the Attorney General's office said “Lock them up for disorderly conduct, loud voices.” ( Id. 29–30, 41.)

Suber, however, was of the opinion that the disorderly conduct charge did not fit the circumstances because “you can't be disorderly inside of a house” and there was no evidence that the Plaintiffs had become loud or boisterous causing people to wake up, turn on their lights, and/or come outside to investigate a commotion. ( Id. 42–43.) Although the details of the entire conversation are not in the record, Suber testified he told Netter that the disorderly conduct charge was not “an appropriate

[841 F.Supp.2d 27]

charge,” but Netter indicated that as watch commander he was going to charge the Plaintiffs. ( Id. 42–43.) Suber walked out and the Plaintiffs were then gathered and processed for disorderly conduct. ( Id. 43, 30.)

C. Defendant Officer Andre Parker

At one point in Officer Parker's deposition, he testified that prior to his arrival at the scene a call went out for assistance at the house because “there was some unlawful people inside of this home.” (Parker Dep. 10.) At another point he testified

there was a call. The call that came out was for a loud party at the location. And there had been like previous calls to that house that there were some—I mean, I've heard officers have talked about that there was some—a lot of partying going on at this particular location over course of time [sic].

(Parker Dep. 11.) Parker further testified that the person who called the precinct indicated there was illegal activity going on at the house and this information was passed on to the officers. (Parker Dep. 17.) At some point, he was told the “house was due to be vacant. It was a vacant home. And no one had permission to be...

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