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Petion v. Maryland State Police

United States District Court, D. Maryland

July 24, 2018

MARYLAND STATE POLICE, et al. Defendants


          Catherine C. Blake United States District Judge

         The Maryland State Police, Sgt. Sean L. Harris, Trooper First Class Jacob R. Burno, Trooper First Class Michael A. York, Corporal Michael S. Cox, and Trooper First Class Charles M. Tittle (collectively "State Defendants") filed a motion to dismiss in response to this civil rights complaint against them. (ECF No. 26.) The Elkton Police Department and Officers Ziegenfuss and Hoffman (collectively "County Defendants") moved to dismiss or for summary judgment in response to the claims asserted against them. (ECF No. 28.) Plaintiff Berry Petion opposes both motions. (ECF No. 31.) No hearing is required to resolve the matters pending before the court. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the reasons below defendants' motions shall be granted and the complaint shall be dismissed.


         In his complaint, as supplemented, Petion alleges he has been systematically harassed and targeted for stops by Maryland State Troopers and the Elkton, Maryland police. (Compl. at 2, ECF No. 1.) Petion describes "a state trooper" following him through the town of Elkton when he was on his way to work in Pennsylvania. (Id. at 3.) He claims he was followed "well into the State of Delaware" and after ten to fifteen minutes of being followed, the State trooper turned on his emergency lights signaling Petion to stop. (Id. at 3.) Petion stopped off a ramp on Interstate 95 in Delaware. (Id.)

         He claims the officer's "aggressive handling caused the reinjury of [his] right knee" and his right shoulder was popped out of joint. (Id.) Petion claims that he provided no resistance and complied with commands he could hear over the noise of the traffic. He states that he complained about the pain being inflicted upon him as the officer searched him, but his complaints were ignored. (Id.)

         During this stop Petion claims that Delaware State Police saw what was happening and asked what was happening. The Maryland State Trooper explained that Petion had stolen the car and did not have a license to drive. Petion states that the Delaware troopers told the Maryland officer that he was "far from Maryland and should and could not be making the stop." (Id.) When the Delaware officers ran Petion's plates they reported that everything came back clear with nothing negative registering on their database. (Id.)

         The Maryland trooper who stopped Petion was joined by another female officer from Maryland and, after speaking in private, they left the scene without providing Petion with the name of the officer who stopped him. (Id. at 3-4.) He claims he was left in handcuffs which were cutting off his circulation and could not be removed by the Delaware officers. The Delaware officer contacted a supervisory officer in Maryland and had the trooper return to the scene to remove the handcuffs. Although the Delaware troopers directed Petion to a nearby hospital for his injury, he states that he went to his job instead. He claims he was fired from the job because he was tardy to an event that night he was promoting that night worth over $12, 000 in pay. He alleges he still has pain to his knee and shoulder and requires surgery to correct the damage. In addition, he states he has PTSD and anxiety. (Id. at 4.)

         When Petion contacted the Maryland State Police and asked about filing a complaint with internal affairs he claims he was told there was no such thing and that "they would simply look into this matter." (Id. at 4.) He states that he spoke with a lieutenant who was supposed to help him file a complaint, but later that week Officer Harris of the North East barracks pulled him over and harassed Petion about filing a complaint. Petion alleges that Harris threatened that "no good would come of this." (Id.) Petion states that "as promised" Harris contacted Petion's "P.O." in Pennsylvania and had a warrant put out for his arrest. (Id.) He claims that Harris and his partner then obtained a copy of the warrant and began stalking Petion in order to get him put into custody in Chester County, Pennsylvania so that Petion could not move forward with the internal complaint. (Id.)

         Petion claims he was stopped three more times, which he states he recorded and posted to his social media account because he was afraid the officers would try to kill him., (Compl. at 5.) Petion's wife, Denise Petion, called the Maryland State Troopers' North East Barracks, presumably to complain. Petion alleges that his arrest by Pennsylvania authorities was arranged by Maryland State Troopers in order to insure his complaint would go nowhere. (Id.)

         Petion states that Officer Harris and his partner came onto his property and were looking at his cars and ATVs, writing down "useless information hoping to discover something." (Id. at 5.) Petion states he came out of his house to address the officers after seeing them on his home security monitor. He claims the officers accused him of swapping tags from an old vehicle to a new one and Petion replied it was done legally. Petion states that Harris called him a liar and warned that he "better not catch [Petion] driving this piece of shit." (Id.) Earlier that day Harris had accompanied Petion's probation officer on a routine home visit. (Id.)

         On unspecified dates Petion was stopped two more times for traffic violations. (Compl. at 6.) He claims that Harris "again stalls my life by calling my P.O. in PA and requesting] he put out a warrant for my arrest, stepping once again out of line." (Id.) Petion was arrested on the warrant and lost his job paying $25 per hour. He claims that Harris and his partner got the warrant sent to them personally "just to stalk me and make the arrest" and told Petion, "you should just get your shit and get out of Cecil County." (Id.)

         On an unspecified date Harris came to Petion's home, which was recorded on Petion's home surveillance equipment. When Petion's wife went out to confront the officers, Harris asked if Petion still had swapped tags on their vehicles. Petion's wife then presented paper work to Harris which Harris returned to her prior to leaving without further action. Petion claims that Harris continues to drive up and down their dead-end street. (Id.)

         On an unspecified date, Petion states that Harris impounded his ATV because someone had tried to steal it and it needed to be processed for fingerprint evidence. Petion argued that it was impossible to steal the vehicle since it was out of gas and Petion had the key, but the officers insisted on taking it with them. (Id. at 6-7.) They told Petion that he would be able to get it back after two to three days, but a week later when Petion called he was given excuses about why he could not get the ATV back. (Id. at 7.) When Petion went there to get his vehicle back on a date unspecified he was arrested by an Elkton Police officer on a warrant for driving without a license. He states he "returned after the commissioner deemed this ridiculous" but was still "given the run around." (Id.) When Petion called Harris's supervisor he states that the supervisor told him that Harris and his partner were "in the right" and they were investigating whether Petion had stolen the vehicle. (Id.) Petion was then told he must bring in "proof of sale" to prove the ATV was his. (Id.) He claims he kept calling "internal affairs" and going to the barracks until he got his property returned two and a half weeks later. Petion determined that the vehicle had been completely disassembled while in the custody of the State Police and it had been assembled incorrectly, with missing screws and broken brackets. He states that it cost him $200 in repairs and that the value of the ATV dropped by $670. The confiscation also kept Petion from entering a race with an award of $2000. (Id.) .

         With regard to the Elkton Police Department, Petion relates that the first incident he can remember involved a female officer whom he does not name and who on an unspecified date pulled him over and accused him of trying to run into her car with his car. (Compl. at 8.) On another date unspecified Petion states that the Elkton Police used two cars to stop him, called a . K-9 unit to walk around his "new 2016 Dodge Mustang tearing the leather seats and breaking the glove compartment." (Id.) During the search Petion claims the officers asked him how much dope he had to sell to purchase the car. Petion claims it was one of the coldest days of the month and he was made to sit on the side of the road handcuffed while officers laughed. Nothing was found, but Petion states they gave him a ticket anyway. (Id.)

         On another unspecified date, Petiton states that he was on his way home when "an unmarked car and several marked ones came to a screeching hault [sic] directly in front of me." (Compl. at 8.) Officers exited the cars with guns drawn and told Petion they would shoot if he moved; Petion and the passenger in his car had their hands up. He states that first officer came to the driver's side door and shouted "Don't fucking move," and held a gun to Petion's face. (Id. at 9.) Petion noticed the gun was ready to fire and was not "on safety." (Id.) A second officer came to the passenger side door with his gun drawn and commanded that the car be put into park and the key removed from the ignition. (Id.) Petion claims that at least five officers were all screaming orders and he was reaching for the key as ordered when the officer at the driver's side door pushed his gun through the window and said he was going to shoot Petion, but the officer on the opposite side of the car said he had told Petion to hand him the keys. (Id.) Petion states his wife and kids and his neighbors watched as police dragged Petion and his passenger from the car across the ground, handcuffed them, and threw them into the police cars. (Id.) He states this was done after the officers found less than a gram of marijuana in the car. During the search Petion claims that officers ripped the carpet and cut the seats in the car, broke the turn signal switch, broke the passenger side visor, and broke the glove compartment. The officers claimed there had been a call about Petion pointing or brandishing a gun. After the search of Petion's car did not locate a gun, he states he and his female passenger were taken to the police station where they were strip-searched. Again, nothing was located and Petion was given a citation for marijuana possession and allowed to leave. (Id.)

         Petion was stopped on two more occasions (dates of those stops not provided) on the street where he resides. (Compl. at 10.) He claims that although the officers who stopped him had stopped him before, they asked him why he was in the area despite the fact that Petion had told them multiple times he lived there. (Id.)

         Petion claims that the Elkton Police drive around the town recklessly and that he had been documenting this practice for an article he intended to publish on his blog. Unnamed officers from both the Elkton Police and the Maryland State Police told Petion he was not allowed to record police and made attempts to stop him from doing so by taking his phone or recording device. (Id.) Petion states this continued "even after [he] advised them [he] was a public figure and only interested in public safety and my own [safety]." (Id.)

         On a date unknown, Petion states he spoke with a female lieutenant with the Elkton Police, who was dismissive of his claims that officers harassed him. (Id.) He claims she told him that all of the officers indicated they would stop him because he did not have a license. When Petion asked if she would "call them off if he could prove he had a license, he claims she said it was more complicated than that. (Id.) The officer then informed Petion that there was no such thing as "internal affairs," that she was the final stop for a complaint, and she had determined that all the stops in which Petion was involved in were legitimate. (Id. at 11.) Petion adds that before disconnecting the call he told the officer that Officer LaSalsa said that his '"kind wasn't wanted around here[, ]' with a racial undertone." (Id.)

         Petion states that "two weeks later" on a date he does not specify, his father-in-law's house was raided by Elkton and State Police in execution of a warrant which Petion alleges was not supported by any "real information." (Compl. at 11.) He states the home was not his legal residence, but was staying there and his name was the only name on the warrant. He further alleges that the search turned up a legal handgun and drug paraphernalia located in a different room from his, but the police charged him with it. Following his arrest, he claims police used the newspaper and social media to claim he was drug kingpin supplying drugs to Cecil County so that the jury pool would be poisoned. (Id.) He claims he was told if he didn't "take these charges" his "wife, children, and sick father-in-law would be dragged into this." (Id.) Petion "took the misdemeanor charges and agreed to assist the DA ...

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