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Sesay v. Woolsey

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

February 22, 2019

OSMAN SESAY, Plaintiff,
DAVID WOOLSEY et al., Defendants.


          Paul W. Grimm United States District Judge

         In January 2018, Osman Sesay stood trial for attempted first-degree murder and use of a firearm in the commission of a violent felony. A jury acquitted him. Following his release from prison, Mr. Sesay filed this lawsuit against the Montgomery County police detective who secured the arrest warrant, accusing him of weaving false or misleading information into the warrant application. The suit also names two other members of the county police force as defendants, on the ground that they either directed the detective to apply for the warrant or assisted him in an allegedly deficient investigation.

         Mr. Sesay's Amended Complaint brings identical claims against all three policemen. Specifically, it would hold them liable for violating the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendmenss to the U.S. Constitution, as well as analogous provisions under the Maryland Declaration of Rights. It also asserts claims of false arrest and false imprisonment under Maryland common law.

         Defendants seek to dismiss all claims. First, they argue the suit must fail because the arrest was made pursuant to a facially valid warrant. Next, they argue they are entitled to qualified immunity because a reasonably objective police officer would have believed there was probable cause to arrest Mr. Sesay. Finally, they ask me to dismiss the claims against two of the policemen, Sergeant Brian Merryman and Detective Rodney Campbell, in light of the negligible roles they played in securing the arrest.

         I agree with Defendants that a number of the claims Mr. Sesay has asserted must be dismissed. To begin, I am dismissing all claims against Sergeant Merryman and Detective Campbell, as I agree that the allegations against them do not state a plausible claim for relief. I am also dismissing the two common law claims against the remaining defendant, Detective David Woolsey, as the case law makes clear that these torts do not lie against a police officer who, rather than arresting the plaintiff, merely sought a warrant for his arrest. See Humbert v. O'Malley, No. WDQ-11-0440, 2014 WL 1266673, at *15 n.51 (D. Md. Mar. 25, 2014); Montgomery Ward v. Wilson, 664 A, 2d 916, 927 (Md. 1995). I am allowing Mr. Sesay to continue litigating his claims under the federal and state constitution,, but only to the extent they allege an unreasonable seizure.


         The history of this case starts with a shooting.[1] The victim, Thierno Bah, sought treatment for a gunshot wound at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Maryland, on July 12, 2017. Am. Compl. 13, ECF NO.4. He was soon transferred to the trauma unit at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, where staff assessed his injuries as non-life-threatening. Id. 16.

         While there, a Montgomery County Police Department detective, identified in the Amended Complaint as Detective Horwitz, questioned Mr. Bah about the shooting. Id. 17. Mr. Bah explained it happened during an altercation that afternoon at the corner of Wexhall Drive and Almanac Road in Silver Spring. Id. 18-21. He was there at the request of a friend, Ricardo, who wanted "back up" while trying to collect a debt. Id. 18. The two of them drove to the intersection, where they encountered a man Mr. Bah knew as "Josh" and two other people he did not recognize, both of whom were seated in a gray sedan. Id. 19-20. When Ricardo, later identified as Ricardo Malcolm, got into an argument with Josh, a man exited the sedan and fired a shot at Mr. Bah. Id. Mr. Bah said he "could not recognize the man who shot him and that he did not know what the [gunman] looked like, but that Ricardo would be able to" identify him.

         Id. 21.

         The initial investigation did not corroborate Mr. Bah's version of events. When Montgomery County police officers promptly canvassed the area where, according to Mr. Bah's account, the shooting took place, the officers did not find any blood, shell casings, or witnesses. Id. ~ 24. There were likewise no reports of gunshots or other loud noises. Id. ~ 24.

         Detective Horwitz interviewed Mr. Malcolm the following day. Id. 26. Mr. Malcolm said he was not with Mr. Bah on July 12 and did not know anything about a shooting. Id.

         Detective Woolsey, the case's lead investigator, continued to work the case over the next few weeks, reporting to his supervisor, Sergeant Brian Merryman. Id. 28, 30. On July 25, 2017, Detective Woolsey scrawled the following note in the case file: "Sergeant wants to move on any suspects that we can. Advised him that Bah will likely not cooperate, or fake cooperation and ID a person he knows is not the suspect."[2]Case Notes 2, ECF No. 13-9 (emphasis in original).

         Despite his reservation,, Detective Woolsey and a colleague, Detective Rodney Campbel,, persuaded Mr. Bah to come to the station to participate in a photo array, which took place on August 2, 2017. See Am. CompI. 29, 34-35. Mr. Bah identified one of the individuals in the array as "Josh" (separately identified as Josh Toure), the man who had been arguing with Mr. Malcolm at the time of the shooting. See Id. 36.

         According to the Amended Complaint, Mr. Bah told Detective Campbell just before the array "that he did not know who the shooter was," but that Mr. Malcolm did, and he had directed Mr. Bah to the gunmanss Instagram page. Id. 35. Mr. Bah provided Detective Campbell with the suspectss Instagram handle and sent him a photo that had been pulled off the Instagram page. Id. ~ 35, 37. Detective Campbell later ran the photo through a facial recognition program, which identified the suspect as Mr. Sesay. Id. 37.

         Mr. Bah returned to the station two days later for a second photo array. See Id. 38. This time, the array included a photo of Mr. Sesay. See Id. Mr. Bah identified him as the shooter. See Id. ~ 42.

         Detective Woolsey applied for an arrest warrant for Mr. Sesay three days later, on August 7, 2017. Id. 40. The application recounted Mr. Bah's telling of events, then stated: "Additional investigaiion by the applicant identified the shooter as Osman Sesay, and that Sesay and Toure are known associates. On August 5th, 2017 Bah identified Sesay's photo in a photo array as the person who shot him." AppI. for Statement of Charges 2, ECF No. 13-5. A commissioner reviewed the application and issued an arrest warrant along with a statement charging Mr. Sesay with first-degree assault, conspiracy to commit first-degree assault, and use of a firearm in the commission of a crime of violence. See Arrest Warrant, ECF No. 13-7; Statement of Charges, ECF No. 13-6.

         Mr. Sesay turned himself in to the Montgomery County jail on August 11, 2017. Am. Compl. ~ 51. He faced trial on January 20, 2018, on charges of attempted first-degree murder and use ofa firearm in the commission ofa violent felony. See id; Indictmen,, ECF No. 13-10. A jury acquitted him on all counts. Am. CompI. 56.

         Mr. Sesay filed this lawsuit on June 26, 2018, naming Sergeant Merryman and Detectives Woolsey and Campbell (collectively, "Defendants") as defendants. See CompI., ECF No. .. His Amended Complaint asserts four claims against all Defendants: (1) violations of Articles 24 and 26 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights, (2) violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, (3) false arrest, and (4) false imprisonmen.. See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 57-82.

         Defendants seek to dismiss the Amended Complaint under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Mot. to Dismiss 1. They argue, first, that Mr. Sesay's claims must fail because his arrest was made pursuant to a facially valid warrant and that, anyway, it was supported by probable cause. See Defs.' Mem. 6-13. They also argue that Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity. See Id. at 16-22. Lastly, they urge me to dismiss all claims against Sergeant Merryman and Detective Campbell on the ground that the allegations against them do not state a claim for relief. See Id. at 23-24.

         The parties have fully briefed their arguments. See ECF Nos. 13, 17, 19. No. hearing is ...

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