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Queen v. Prince George's County

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

May 25, 2016

PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY, et al., Defendants.


          Paul W. Grimm, United States District Judge.

         Defendant Christopher May, who at the time was a police officer with Prince George’s County (the “County”), responded to two noise complaints early on January 19, 2014, along with other County police officers, and found Plaintiff Demetrious Queen at the scene both times, alone, yelling loudly. The second time, they handcuffed Queen but then released him when he calmed down. Both times, they decided not to arrest him. But, about fifteen minutes later, May arrested Queen, striking him in the face with the heel of his palm when he resisted efforts to place him under arrest.

         Queen retained counsel and filed suit against May and the County, claiming that “Officer May and other Prince George’s County Police Officers hit plaintiff with their fists and a baton seven to eight times and dragged him down seven flights of stairs despite the fact that plaintiff had not committed a crime and despite the fact that plaintiff had not tried to escape or resist arrest.” Am. Compl. ¶ 7, ECF No. 17-1. His Amended Complaint includes claims for assault, battery, false arrest, and section 1983 claims based on arrest without probable cause and use of excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Id. ¶¶ 13-32. I granted the County’s unopposed Motion to Bifurcate, ECF No. 11, bifurcating the claims against May from the claims against the County for purposes of trial, with the claims against May to be considered first, and staying discovery as to the County’s liability. ECF No. 26. Queen’s counsel withdrew his appearance, and Queen now proceeds pro se. ECF Nos. 33, 36.

         Now pending is May’s Motion for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 45. Although it is unopposed, and the time for filing an opposition has passed, see Loc. R. 105.2(a), I find that the materials in the record show that genuine disputes exist as to material facts.[1] Therefore, I will deny May’s motion and appoint pro bono counsel to represent Queen at trial, and this case will proceed to trial on the claims brought against May.

         Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is proper when the moving party demonstrates, through “particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations . . ., admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials, ” 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), (c)(1)(A); see Baldwin v. City of Greensboro, No. 12-1722, 714 F.3d 828, 833 (4th Cir. 2013). If the party seeking summary judgment demonstrates that there is no evidence to support the nonmoving party’s case, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to identify evidence that shows that a genuine dispute exists as to material facts. See Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986).

         When May stated his intention to move for summary judgment, ECF No. 40, the Court scheduled a pre-motion conference call and notified Queen, ECF No. 43, but Queen did not participate in the call, ECF No. 44. May then filed his motion, and the Court informed Queen of his right to respond to the motion, ECF No. 46, but he did not respond. Under these circumstances, “those facts established by the motion” are “uncontroverted.” Custer v. Pan Am. Life Ins. Co., 12 F.3d 410, 416 (4th Cir. 1993). Nonetheless, Queen’s “failure to respond … does not fulfill the burdens imposed on moving parties by Rule 56, ” which “requires that the moving party establish, in addition to the absence of a dispute over any material fact, that it is ‘entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.’” Id. (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)). Thus, “the court, in considering a motion for summary judgment, must review the motion, even if unopposed, and determine from what it has before it whether the moving party is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law.” Id.

         Significantly, what is before the Court includes not only May’s motion but also the exhibits he attached. ECF Nos. 45-1 - 45-5. Moreover, on a motion for summary judgment, although “[t]he court need consider only the cited materials, ” it “may consider other materials in the record.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3). And, I am cognizant that Queen is unrepresented, even if the principle that “[a] document filed pro se is ‘to be liberally construed, ’ and ‘a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers, ’” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)), is inapplicable, given that Queen had counsel at the time he filed suit, ECF No. 1, and amended his complaint, ECF No. 17, and has not filed any documents independently. In this case, I have considered not only the cited material that May selected to support his motion, but all of the materials in the record, which includes transcripts from the depositions of Keona Singletary (Exhibit 1), Shearda Gerald (Exhibit 2), and May (Exhibit 3), as well as the Affidavit of Pofc. Christyal Boone (formerly Officer Rood) (Exhibit 4), and Queen’s medical records (Exhibit 5).

         Factual Background[2]

         In the early morning hours of Sunday, January 19, 2014, Prince George’s County police officers responded to two 911 calls from Burnside Road in Palmer Park, Maryland, the first reporting a vehicle theft, May Dep. 4:20 - 6:9, and the second reporting a fight on the front lawn, Gerald Dep. 21:5 - 22:3. May was one of the responding officers on the first call. May Dep. 5:20 - 6:11. When he first arrived, he found Demetrious Queen “pacing back and forth in front of the house, . . . talking to himself.” Id. at 6:22-25. Queen and his girlfriend Keona Singletary were attending a party at that location. Singletary Dep. 11:4 - 12:13. Queen had started Singletary’s car to warm it up and left it unattended, at which time it was stolen. Id. at 4:13. Singletary recalled that she was “angry” and “kind of got upset with him about the incident, why did he have the car running, things of that nature, ” but Queen “really wasn’t upset. He just said that, you know, he didn’t intend for [her] car to get stolen or whatever.” Id. at 19:1-8.

         The police returned when “two gentlem[e]n that were at the party or out in front of the party had some words with Demetrious or something of that nature. . . . [A] verbal exchange took place.” Singletary Dep. 21:9-12. The scene escalated to involve about twenty people “fighting and yelling” outside. Id. at 22:20 - 23:2. Singletary was inside, but she recalled “a lot of arguing. . . . It was loud. A bunch of arguing back and forth.” Id. at 22:4-5, 47:18-21. She “believe[d]” that Queen was a part of the argument, and that it “started from the car situation.” Id. at 24:6-16. Queen left before the police arrived, and “the commotion kind of died down when he left.” Id. at 41:14-18, 48:4-5.

         About an hour later, May and other County police officers responded to a noise complaint from outside 900 Hill Road, Apartment 302, Seat Pleasant, Maryland, where Queen lived with Singletary.[3] Gerald Dep. 19:9-10; 51:17 - 52:11; May Dep. 17:1-21. There, they found Queen outside, “being loud, screaming, seem[ing] to be at himself, ” and smelling of alcohol. May Dep. 19:4-7, 20:8-9. The officers “had Mr. Queen sit down, began speaking with him, trying to get him to calm down and figure out why he was outside at that time in the morning being loud.” Id. at 20:13-16. They “decided that no action needed to be taken, and [they] left.” Id. at 20:17-19.

         “[S]hortly after” they left, they “got called backed there for the same incident, with a loud person-or a disturbance at 900 Hill Road. May Dep. 21:24 - 22:3. When they returned, “Mr. Queen was outside, yelling again . . . at himself, ” loudly. Id. at 22:9-22. They asked him to calm down, warned him that “it’s an arrestable offense for disturbing the peace due to the fact that it was so early in the morning, individuals were calling in on him, ” and temporarily handcuffed him in an effort to calm him down, id. at 23:4-10; Gerald Dep. 12:6-7.

         According to May, Queen’s “girlfriend show[ed] up and tr[ied] to calm him down.” May Dep. 23:11-12. Singletary testified to the contrary that she did not arrive until Queen was inside the apartment. Singletary Dep. 51:2 - 52:5. Queen’s sister Shearda Gerald testified that it was she who arrived and convinced Queen to calm down. Gerald Dep. 12:4-20. Gerald stated that the officers “allowed [Queen] to make a decision to either . . . leave with [his] sister or . . . to go back upstairs.” Id. at 17:8-17. Queen chose to go upstairs. Id. These inconsistencies are immaterial. What is significant is May’s undisputed testimony that, after Queen calmed down and “stat[ed] that he’s going upstairs ...

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