United States District Court, D. Maryland
L. Russell, III United States District Judge
MATTER is before the Court on Defendants', Gary Dunnigan,
Jay Landsman, Thomas Pellegrini's (collectively,
“the Officers”) Amended Motion for Summary
Judgment (ECF No. 159), Defendant Marvin Brave's Motion
for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 157), and Defendant Baltimore
City Police Department's (“BCPD”) Motion to
Strike (ECF No. 171) and Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No.
158). The Motions are ripe for disposition. Having reviewed
the Motions and supporting documents, the Court finds no
hearing necessary pursuant to Local Rule 105.6 (D.Md. 2016).
For the reasons outlined below, the Court will deny the
Officers' Motion, grant Brave's Motion, and grant
U.S.C. § 1983 action arises from the investigation and
prosecution of Plaintiff James Owens for the 1987 murder of
Colleen Williar. On August 2, 1987, Williar was raped,
robbed, and murdered in the second-floor bedroom of her
apartment in Baltimore, Maryland. Defendant BCPD Detective
Pellegrini was assigned to the case, Sergeant Landsman
oversaw him, and Detective Dunnigan assisted as needed.
August 3, 1987, Pelligrini went to the crime scene and one of
Williar's neighbors, James Thompson, approached him.
Thompson told Pelligrini that he found a bloody knife lying
in the grass across the street from Williar's apartment
the night of August 2, 1987. Thompson said he put the knife
in the back pocket of his shorts, took it home, and cleaned
it off. Thompson presented Pelligrini with the knife and
August 5, 1987, Thompson gave a formal statement to a BCPD
detective. Thompson stated that he purchased the knife four
months prior while Owens was present and that Owens stole the
knife before Williar's murder. Thompson further stated
that on the morning of August 3, 1987, Owens came to
Thompson's home and told Thompson that he dropped the
knife in a neighbor's yard and had sex with Williar. Also
on August 5, 1987, Owens gave a formal statement to the
police stating he had no knowledge of Williar's murder
and denied entering her home. Owens was then arrested and
charged with first-degree murder.
on February 23, 1988, Defendant Marvin Brave, the Assistant
State's Attorney responsible for prosecuting Owens's
case in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, Maryland,
presented several witnesses, none of whom saw Owens commit
the murder. One witness testified that Owens worked the
morning of August 3, 1987. Another witness, Larry Oliver,
Brave's jailhouse informant, testified that Owens
admitted to attacking and murdering Williar. On February 26,
1988, Brave met with Thompson to discuss his trial testimony
because he found Thompson was his key witness and he found
Thompson's story to be implausible. During the meeting,
Brave assured Thompson that he would not be prosecuted for
making a false statement. Thompson then changed his story,
stating that he did not find the knife in his neighbor's
yard, but Owens returned the stolen knife to him on the
morning of August 3, 1987. Thompson later testified to the
same during Owens's trial.
Thompson's testimony, Dunnigan realized that Thompson was
lying because Owens worked the morning of August 3, 1987 and,
therefore, could not have been at Thompson's home handing
over a knife. Dunnigan informed Brave of this inconsistency.
Over the weekend after Thompson testified, Brave contacted
Pelligrini on a Sunday night to discuss the pubic hairs found
on Williar's body that were not a match to Owens. Due to
Thompson's apparent inaccurate testimony during trial,
Brave realized that Thompson was not eliminated as a suspect
because he never considered Thompson to be possible suspect.
To obtain evidence negating Thompson's involvement and to
boost his credibility, Brave told Pelligrini to have
Thompson's pubic hair and blood tested.
following Monday, February 29, 1988, during a break in trial,
Brave, Pelligrini, and Dunnigan met with Mark Profili, the
BCPD technician who completed the hair analysis. Profili
stated that he believed the hair found on Williar may have
matched Thompson's hair and the saliva found on a
cigarette at the crime scene matched Thompson's blood
type. Pelligrini called Thompson and requested that he return
to the courthouse for another interview.
the interview, Landsman advised Thompson of his
Miranda rights and told him that his hair and blood
was found in Williar's home. Thompson then stated he was
in Williar's house with Owens on August 2, 1987, but only
remained on the first floor. The Officers then told him that
his hair was found on the second floor. Thompson then stated
he was on the second floor, Owens went into Williar's
bedroom, and Thompson stood on the stairs. Thompson further
stated he heard a woman pull up towards the home in a car and
when she came inside, he hid in the bathroom. Owens attacked
her and Thompson ran out of the house. The Officer then told
Thompson that his pubic hairs were found on Williar's
buttocks, which implied that his pants were down. Thompson
then stated he entered the bedroom and masturbated over her
body while Owens attacked Williar. At that point, the
Officers decided to stop questioning Thompson and take a full
written statement from him.
walked to the courtroom and passed a note to Brave indicating
that Thompson confessed to burglarizing Williar's house
with Owens. There is a dispute, however, regarding whether
the Officers told Brave about the multiple stories Thompson
told leading to his final confession. Brave approached the bench
with Owens's defense counsel, David Eaton, and read
Landsman's note. Before the Officers could get a written
statement from Thompson, Brave called him back to testify. On
the stand, Thompson testified about the final version of his
story. Owens was ultimately convicted of felony-murder and
burglary and sentenced to life imprisonment.
2006, Owens filed a post-conviction petition for DNA testing
in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. Through DNA
evidence, Owens showed that neither he nor Thompson matches
for either the blood or semen found at the crime scene.
Through an agreement between counsel and the court, the court
granted Owens a new trial on June 7, 2007. On October 15,
2008, the Maryland State's Attorney's Office entered
nolle prosequi and released Owens from detention.
October 12, 2011, Owens filed the instant case in the Circuit
Court for Baltimore City, alleging violations of his due
process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United
States Constitution. (ECF No. 1). On November 16, 2011, BCPD
removed the matter to this Court under federal question
jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331.
(Id.). On December 9, 2015, Owens filed a Second
Amended Complaint against the Officers, Brave, and BCPD. (ECF
No. 147). On December 23, 2015, Brave and BCPD each filed a
separate Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF Nos. 157, 158), and
on December 28, 2015, the Officers filed an Amended Motion
for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 159). On February 12 and 13,
2016, Owens filed Responses to the Motions. (ECF Nos.
163-165). On March 21, 2016, Brave filed a Reply to
Owens's Response. (ECF No. 170). On April 4, 2016, the
Officers and BCPD each filed a Reply to Owens's
Responses. (ECF No. 173).
Standard of Review
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), the Court must grant
summary judgment if the moving party demonstrates there is no
genuine issue as to any material fact, and the moving party
is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In reviewing a
motion for summary judgment, the Court views the facts in a
light most favorable to the non-moving party. Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986) (citing
Adickes v. S. H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157
(1970)). Once a motion for summary judgment is properly made
and supported, the opposing party has the burden of showing
that a genuine dispute exists. Matsushita Elec. Indus.
Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986).
If the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient
showing on an essential element of her case where she has the
burden of proof, “there can be ‘no genuine
[dispute] as to any material fact, ' since a complete
failure of proof concerning an essential element of the
nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other
facts immaterial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,
477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986).
mere existence of some alleged factual dispute
between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly
supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is
that there be no genuine issue of material
fact.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48. A
“material fact” is one that might affect the
outcome of a party's case. Id. at 248; see also
JKC Holding Co. v. Wash. Sports Ventures, Inc., 264
F.3d 459, 465 (4th Cir. 2001) (citing Hooven-Lewis v.
Caldera, 249 F.3d 259, 265 (4th Cir. 2001)). Whether a
fact is considered to be “material” is determined
by the substantive law, and “[o]nly disputes over facts
that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing
law will properly preclude the entry of summary
judgment.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; accord
Hooven-Lewis, 249 F.3d at 265.
Officers' Motion for Summary Judgment
bottom, a genuine dispute exists regarding whether the
Officers informed Brave of the multiple stories Thompson told
them during his February 1987 interrogation. The Court must
determine whether the Officers' failure to disclose the
multiple stories to Brave would constitute a violation of
Owens's due process rights, whether the Officers would be
entitled to qualified immunity for such a violation, and
whether Owens's claim is barred by the doctrine of
Officers argue that if they did fail to disclose
Thompson's multiple stories, such a failure does not
constitute an unlawful suppression of evidence under
Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). In Brady, the
Supreme Court of the United States held that a
prosecutor's suppression of evidence “favorable to
the accused” violates the Due Process Clause of the
Fourteenth Amendment when the evidence proves “material
to either guilt or punishment.” Id. at 87. The
duty to disclose such evidence “encompasses impeachment
evidence as well as exculpatory evidence.”
Strickler v. Greene, 527 U.S. 263, 280 (1999)
(citing United States v. Bagley, 473 U.S. 667, 676
(1985)). The evidence is considered material “if there
is a reasonable probability that, had the evidence been
disclosed to the defense, the result of the proceeding would
have been different.” Id. (quoting
Bagley, 473 U.S. at 682).
constitutional violation extends to a police officer's
suppression of evidence. Barbee v. Warden, Md.
Penitentiary, 331 F.2d 842, 846-47 (4th Cir. 1964); see
Strickler, 527 U.S. at 280-81 (explaining Brady
“encompasses evidence ‘known only to police
investigators and not to the prosecutor.'” (quoting
Kyles v. Whitley, 473 U.S. 419, 438 (1995))).
“[A] police officer violates a criminal defendant's
constitutional rights by withholding exculpatory or
impeachment evidence from prosecutors.” Owens v.
Balt. City State's Attorneys Office, 767 F.3d 379,
396 (4th Cir. 2014) (citing Goodwin v. Metts, 885
F.2d 157, 163-64 (4th Cir. 1989)).
prove a claim for a violation of his due process rights by
unlawfully suppressing exculpatory evidence, Owens must
demonstrate that “(1) the evidence at issue was
favorable to him; (2) the Officers suppressed the evidence in
bad faith; and (3) prejudice ensued.” Id. at
396-97. Because it is uncontested that Thompson's various
stories are favorable to Owens, the Court will turn to the
second and third elements of the Brady violation claim.
“Suppressed” in Bad Faith
the Officers argue that Thompson's multiple stories were
not “suppressed” because the information was
readily accessible to Owens. Specifically, the Officers state
that Thompson's confession was revealed in open court in
Owens's presence and Owens knew Thompson changed his
story previously. The Court, however, is not persuaded by
this argument. The simple fact that Owens was aware that
Thompson's story changed several times during the
investigation did not give Owens reason to believe that
Thompson would give four versions of his confession during
his February 29, 1988 interrogation, as the Officers slowly
informed him of the evidence they believed placed him at the
crime scene. If the Officers failed to disclose the four
versions to Brave, Owens could only be aware of
Thompson's stories told to the Officers on August 3 and
5, 1987, on the witness stand on February 26, 1988, and to
the Officers as his final confession on February 29, 1988. As
such, the Court concludes that such a failure to disclose
could constitute “suppression” under Brady.
the Officers argue Owens cannot demonstrate that they failed
to disclose the impeaching evidence in bad faith. Owens,
however, has produced evidence showing that the Officers may
have acted in bad faith. Though Dunnigan informed Brave of
Thompson's inconsistency, the Officers made the decision,
after some disagreement, not to inform Brave of the multiple
stories they elicited from Thompson. As soon as Thompson
stated a version of events placing him at the crime scene
with Owens, the Officers decided to stop questioning Thompson
and immediately informed Brave that Thompson confessed.
“The temporal proximity between Thompson's
succession of narratives and the Officers' report to
[Brave] lends support to the contention that Thompson's
inconsistent narratives were fresh in the Officers'
minds, and thus, the Officers' omissions were not
accidental, but intentional and malicious.” Owens, 767
F.3d at 398. The Court, therefore, concludes that Owens has
demonstrated that the Officers exhibited bad faith during
their disputed failure to disclose.
Officers also contend Owens cannot demonstrate that the
undisclosed impeachment evidence resulted in prejudice.
Prejudice ensues if “there is a reasonable
probability” that the jury would have reached a
different result had the evidence been properly disclosed.
The adjective “reasonable” is important in this
context. As the Supreme Court has explained, “[t]he
question is not whether the defendant would more likely than
not have received a different verdict” had the evidence
been disclosed. Rather, the question is whether, in the
absence of disclosure, ...