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Graham v. Cox

United States District Court, D. Maryland

January 14, 2019

DAVID GRAHAM, Plaintiff
v.
TROOPER MICHAEL COX, #4760, et al., Defendants

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Ellen L. Hollander United States District Judge

         In this civil rights action, plaintiff David Graham, a Maryland self-represented prisoner, filed a civil rights suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. ECF 1. He complains that Maryland State Police Officers Michael Cox, Sean Harris, and J. Justice used excessive force during his arrest, resulting in his serious injury. ECF 1. Defendants have filed a Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF 17), supported by a memorandum of law (ECF 17-1) (collectively, “Motion”) and exhibits.[1] Plaintiff has responded (ECF 20), and also filed several motions. ECF 21, ECF 22, ECF 27.

         No hearing is necessary to resolve the motions. Local Rule 105.6.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         A. Plaintiff's Complaint

         In his unsworn Complaint, plaintiff states that an individual named David Spratt identified him in a photo array conducted by law enforcement as part of an investigation into the January 27, 2015 burglary of Cooper's Market in Elkton, Maryland. ECF 1 at 5. On January 30, 2015, defendants, who were employees of the Maryland State Police, had information that “Plaintiff was operating a yellow Ford Mustang, Maryland Registration IAK6308.” Id. At some point, Defendants observed plaintiff driving the Mustang and pursued him. Id.

         Plaintiff states that after “the pursuit was ended . . . Plaintiff surrendered, and complied with all orders of defendants, i.e. (hand in the air, etc.), yet at this time defendants collectively and violently yanked this passive Plaintiff from the vehicle.” Id. at 6. After plaintiff was “forcibly and violently thrown to the pavement” and handcuffed, defendants pressed plaintiff to the ground “while others kicked, stomped Plaintiff in his face, head, back and other areas, ” despite plaintiff being “securely restrained” at the time and posing no threat of physical harm to defendants. Id.

         According to plaintiff, while he was handcuffed, defendants and other law enforcement officers who were present collectively “beat Plaintiff's ribs and stomach areas”, “unnecessarily used Tasers on Plaintiff . . . until Plaintiff layed [sic] motionless on the pavement, while blood ran down his face”, “beat Plaintiff with batons”, and physically assaulted plaintiff with their hands and feet. Id. at 6-7. Plaintiff reports that, as a consequence of this attack, he experienced

massive swelling to the left and right sides of his head, face, a broken nose, 2 swollen and closed black eyes, blood spotting in the whites of both eyes, a severed left ear lobe, busted lips, broken tooth, cuts, lacerations, and abrasions and avulsions, . . . stressed tension to the back of the neck, bruised body and back areas, and extreme pain and discomfort; . . . long term migraine headaches, neck and shoulder pain, inability to perform and complete short and long term non-complicated tasks, suffers loss of memory, and has difficulty sleeping.

Id.

         Although the Complaint does not attribute particular acts to any individual defendant, Plaintiff subsequently filed an unsworn Motion to Amend (ECF 21), in which he states that, after his car came to a stop,

Plaintiff raised both hands, and Sgt Justice came back and pulled my hands behind the back and cuffed me, then Sgt. Justice pulled me out of the car and Justice and Cpl Harris (who helped Justice handcuffed [sic] Plaintiff) [sic]; . . . After Justice and Harris handcuffed Plaintiff, Justice began kicking Plaintiff on the right side, and Harris began kicking Plaintiff on the left side of the face; . . . Tfc. Cox beat Plaintiff with his stick, striking Plaintiff in the face, shoulder, and on the right side of the body.”

Id. at 2. The Motion also attributes specific acts to particular officers who are not defendants. Id. at 3.

         Plaintiff claims defendants' vicious use of force was excessive, “completely out of proportion to any legitimate needs, ” and employed with malicious and sadistic intent. Id. at 7. In particular, he believes that defendants conspired to physically assault him “in retaliation for an unrelated hit and run that involved unrelated events, and involving an unrelated law enforcement Officer MSP Trooper Spinner.” Id. In support of this assertion, plaintiff reports that “MSP Troopers”[2] made post-attack statements such as “we got him for Spinner.” Id.

         B. Defendants' Motion & Exhibits

          Defendants' Motion (ECF 17) is supported by an affidavit from each of the three defendants. ECF 17-4; ECF 17-5; ECF 17-6. Defendants' version of events differs significantly from the allegations in Graham's Complaint.

         Each defendant avers that he was assigned to assist with the pursuit of plaintiff's vehicle after other law enforcement officers (who were not named as defendants) initiated the pursuit ECF 17-4 at 2; ECF 17-5 at 2; ECF 17-6 at 2. Defendants believed that plaintiff “was wanted for several felony warrants” and were “informed that [plaintiff] always carries a handgun.” Id.

         Plaintiff drove at high speeds and continued even after “his tires were punctured with stop sticks.” ECF 17-4 at 3. Ultimately, the pursuit ended after plaintiff's car was boxed in by law enforcement vehicles and brought to a complete stop when plaintiff “us[ed] his vehicle to ram the rear of the vehicle [defendant Cox] was riding in at the time.” Id. Cox, Harris, and Justice were all in the same vehicle, which Justice was driving. ECF 17-4 at 3.

         After the passengers in plaintiff's car were moved to safety, Cox, who possessed a “duty weapon, ” “positioned [him]self by Graham. Graham had refused to exit the vehicle, and was on the ground at that point.” Id. at 3-4. The three defendants and other officers “gave Graham verbal commands to put his hands behind his back for handcuffs. Graham failed to comply and actively resisted ...


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