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Holloman v. Rawlings-Blake

United States District Court, D. Maryland

July 22, 2015



CATHERINE C. BLAKE, District Judge.

Plaintiff Marcella Holloman, proceeding pro se and on behalf of her deceased son, Maurice Donald Johnson, filed this civil rights lawsuit based on the shooting death of her son in an incident involving two Baltimore Police Department ("BPD") officers. All defendants but the officers have already been dismissed. ( See Mem. & Order, ECF Nos. 46, 47.) The officers- Paul Markowski and Gregory Bragg-have filed a motion for summary judgment. Holloman has filed a second motion for appointment of counsel, and a motion for reconsideration of the court's prior order dismissing the Mayor and City Council as defendants.[1] For the reasons stated below, the officers' motion will be granted, and Holloman's motions will be denied.


The undisputed record reflects the following.[2] Maurice Donald Johnson was a 31-yearold man who was living with his mother, Marcella Holloman, at their shared home in Baltimore. (Holloman Tr. 1, 17.) Johnson had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2009. ( Id. at 5.) On several occasions, his behavior required Holloman to call the police for help. ( Id. at 4.) Those incidents-including one in which he was found "jumping on top of cars... naked"-sometimes led him to a hospital psychiatric ward. ( Id. at 5.)

On the afternoon of May 19, 2012, Holloman was hosting a birthday party in her backyard for her six-year-old granddaughter. ( Id. at 1.) Roughly ten people, including five other children, were at the party. ( See id. at 3.) At around 5:00 p.m., Holloman heard a big "splash" that sounded as if something heavy had fallen and broken on the upper floor of the house. ( Id. at 1; Am. Compl. 10, ECF No. 6.)[3] When she went upstairs to Johnson's room, Holloman saw that he had "busted" both his wall mirror and 42-inch television. (Holloman Tr. 1, 3-4.) When Holloman asked why he was "breaking up stuff in [her] house[, ]" Johnson said they were his belongings and he could break them if he wanted. ( Id. at 1.) Believing that Johnson's behavior was "getting out of hand[, ]" Holloman said she needed to take him to the hospital after the party to get treatment. ( Id. at 1, 4.) Upset by that statement, Johnson responded that she should call the police, as she had done previously, because he "ain't going nowhere." ( Id. ) Holloman did not call the police at that time, and instead went back outside to "try to continue with the birthday party[.]" ( Id. at 1.)

Soon after, Holloman's daughter entered the house, went upstairs, and got into a verbal fight with Johnson that turned into a "tussl[e]." ( Id. at 1, 8-9.) At that point, to ensure that "all the kids w[ere] safe[, ]" Holloman directed everyone else to leave the house and get into a car. ( Id. at 2.) Meanwhile, Johnson began pulling at the screen to the back door in an attempt to "rip it off the frame." ( Id. at 1, 9.) He succeeded, ripping two door screws out of the wall. ( Id. at 10.) He then went upstairs, grabbed his mattress, and somehow pulled it outside onto the front lawn. ( Id. at 2, 11.) He then began tearing up the mattress. ( Id. at 11-12.) Holloman's daughter locked the front door, while Holloman called 911 from the back of her house at about 5:05 p.m., requesting that both the BPD and Baltimore Fire Department assist her in bringing Johnson to the hospital. ( Id. at 12; Am. Compl. 10.) Meanwhile, Johnson tried to reenter the house through the front door but, finding it locked, began kicking it. (Holloman Tr. 13.) Unable to enter through the front door, Johnson announced "he [was] coming in" and proceeded around the house to the back door. ( Id. ) But Holloman successfully locked that door before he could get inside. ( Id. ) Johnson then began "kicking the hell out of the door." ( Id. at 14.)

At about 5:17 p.m., Officer Markowski arrived. ( Id.; Am. Compl. 10.) Holloman let him in through the front door. (Holloman Tr. 14.)[4] Soon after, Officer Bragg arrived. (Am. Compl. 11.) Holloman then told the officers[5] that Johnson had "psych issues, " had "zapped out, " and "wasn't gonna stop." (Holloman Tr. 14.) Holloman also told the officers, "don't sho[o]t him but just taze him cause I do know tazing make him stop." ( Id. ) Johnson was still kicking on the door as Holloman, her daughter, and the two officers were assembled just on the other side. ( Id. )

The officers proceeded to unlock and open the back door. ( Id. ) Once the door was opened, "everybody" converged in a "bundle around [Johnson], " while yelling at him to calm down. ( Id. at 14-15.) The officers each tried to grab one of Johnson's arms to restrain him. (Am. Compl. 12.) But Johnson "wouldn't stop, " and instead dragged the group through the kitchen, living room, and into the dining room. (Holloman Tr. 15.) Once there, the "fighting" began. ( Id. ) Johnson started "lunging" at, and "punched, " one of the officers. ( Id. ) Eventually, Johnson "got [Officer Markowski] down" onto the floor. ( Id. ) Johnson was now "on top" and Officer Markowski was "on the bottom." ( Id .; see also Am. Compl. 12 ("Maurice was able to get on top of Officer Markowski....").) Officer Bragg tried to pull Johnson off of Officer Markowski, but Johnson "lunged back at him." (Holloman Tr. 15.) Throughout this struggle, everybody was "telling [Johnson] to calm down, calm down" and "to stop, " but Johnson would do neither. ( Id. at 2, 14.) As Officer Markowski and Johnson continued to tussle on the dining room floor, Holloman saw Officer Bragg's arm "go up" and down several times. ( Id. at 16.) At some point, she observed Officer Bragg "reach for his gun[.]" ( Id. at 2.) Holloman then heard several gunshots. ( Id. at 16.)[6] Johnson died as a result of the wounds. (Am. Compl. 12.)

Holloman's amended complaint alleged a plethora of claims against many defendants.[7] In July and August of 2014, three separate groups of defendants filed motions to dismiss, ( see ECF Nos. 11, 13, 32), all of which the court granted on December 12, 2014, (ECF Nos. 46-47). On February 19, 2015, the two remaining defendants-Officers Markowski and Bragg-filed a motion for summary judgment, to which Holloman responded on February 26, 2015. On April 15, 2015, Holloman filed a second motion for appointment of counsel. On May 11, 2015, Holloman filed a motion for reconsideration of the court's prior order dismissing the Mayor and City Council from this case. The officers filed no response to either motion.


I. Motion for Summary Judgment

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that summary judgment should be granted "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a) (emphases added). "A dispute is genuine if a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'" Libertarian Party of Va. v. Judd, 718 F.3d 308, 313 (4th Cir. 2013) (quoting Dulaney v. Packaging Corp. of Am., 673 F.3d 323, 330 (4th Cir. 2012)). "A fact is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.'" Id. (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). Accordingly, "the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment[.]" Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48. The court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1866 (2014) (per curiam), and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor, Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007) (citations omitted); see also Jacobs v. N.C. Admin. Office of the Courts, 780 F.3d 562, 568-69 (4th Cir. 2015). At the same time, the court must "prevent factually unsupported claims and defenses from proceeding to trial." Bouchat v. Balt. Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 526 (4th Cir. 2003) (quoting Drewitt v. Pratt, 999 F.2d 774, 778-79 (4th Cir. 2003)).

Holloman brings a claim under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 based on the officers' alleged use of "excessive and deadly force" in violation of the Fourth Amendment. (Am. Compl. 13.) The officers invoke the doctrine of qualified immunity, which "shields government officials from liability for civil damages, provided that their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights within the knowledge of a reasonable person." Meyers v. Balt. Cty., Md., 713 F.3d 723, 731 (4th Cir. 2013). Qualified immunity applies unless (1) "the facts that a plaintiff has... shown make out a violation of a constitutional right" and (2) "the right at issue was clearly established' at the time of defendant's alleged misconduct." Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 232 (2009). The officers argue that neither step is satisfied here. The court concludes that the record does not show the violation of a Fourth Amendment right because, under the circumstances, neither officer used excessive force against Johnson.[8]

An excessive force claim is evaluated under the Fourth Amendment's "standard of objective reasonableness." Henry v. Purnell, 652 F.3d 524, 531 (4th Cir. 2011) (en banc) (citing Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 381 (2007)). "[T]he question is whether the officers' actions are objectively reasonable' in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them, without regard to their underlying intent or motivation." Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 397 (1989). Reasonableness is "judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight." Id. at 396. The standard's "proper application requires careful attention to the facts and circumstances of each particular case, including the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others, and whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight." Id. And the analysis "focus[es] on the moment that the force is employed." Henry, 652 F.3d at 531 (citing Elliott v. Leavitt, 99 F.3d 640, 643 (4th Cir. 1996)). Because "[t]he ...

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