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Smith v. Maryland State Police Department

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 30, 2019

IKIEM SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
MARYLAND STATE POLICE DEPARTMENT, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          George L. Russell, III United States District Judge.

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendants Maryland State Police Department (“MPD”), Sergeant Sean Harris, Corporal Michael Cox, Trooper First Class Ryan Boyce, Trooper First Class James Pettit, and former Trooper First Class Justin Hohner's[1] (collectively, “Officer Defendants”) Motion to Dismiss, or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 11). Plaintiff Ikiem Smith, a self-represented Maryland prisoner, filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (2018), alleging Defendants subjected him to an unlawful traffic stop and used excessive force against him during his arrest. The Motion is ripe for disposition, and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D.Md. 2018). For the reasons outlined below, the Court will grant Defendants' Motion in part and deny it in part.

         I. BACKGROUND [2]

         On February 16, 2017, around 10:15 p.m., Cox and Harris encountered Smith as he was driving southbound on Route 272 in North East, Maryland. (Compl. ¶ 8, ECF No. 1). On or before that date, Cox and Harris had been investigating Smith, and there was a felony warrant for Smith's arrest. (Cox Decl. ¶¶ 3-4, ECF No. 11-4; Harris Decl. ¶ 3, ECF No. 11-5; see Defs.' Reply Mot. Dismiss Fail. State Claim Alt. Mot. Summ. J. [“Defs.' Reply”] Ex. 1 [“Feb. 2, 2017 Arrest Warrant”], ECF No. 17-1). Cox and Harris, who were working undercover in plain clothes and driving an unmarked police car, (Compl. ¶ 9), turned on their lights and sirens, and Smith pulled over, (Cox Decl. ¶¶ 5-6; Harris Decl. ¶ 5).

         Cox directed Smith to shut off his engine and exit the car. (Cox Decl. ¶ 6; Compl. ¶ 10). According to Smith, Cox and Harris would not answer Smith's questions regarding the reason for the stop. (Compl. ¶¶ 11-12). Smith failed to obey Cox's orders and instead restarted the engine. (Cox Decl. ¶ 7). Cox reached into the car to disengage the ignition, but Smith put the car in drive. (Id.). As Cox felt the car move forward, he “disengaged for fear of being dragged by the vehicle.” (Id.). Smith then sped away. (Id.; Compl. ¶ 13).

         Smith led Officer Defendants and other law enforcement officers on a high-speed chase for approximately three miles. (Id.; Cox Decl. ¶ 8; Harris Decl. ¶ 8; Pettit Decl. ¶ 7, ECF No. 11-6; Hohner Decl. ¶ 6, ECF No. 11-7; Boyce Decl. ¶¶ 7-8, ECF No. 11-8). Smith then abruptly pulled his car on to the shoulder of Interstate 95, causing Cox and Harris to collide with other police vehicles involved in the pursuit. (Cox Decl. ¶ 9; Harris Decl. ¶ 9; Pettit Decl. ¶ 8; Hohner Decl. ¶ 7; Boyce Decl. ¶ 8). According to Cox and Harris, due to the collision, they were not present at the scene when other Officer Defendants extracted Smith from his vehicle and handcuffed him, or when the police dog bit Smith. (Cox Decl. ¶¶ 10-13; Harris Decl. ¶¶ 10-12).

         After Smith pulled over, Pettit and Hohner, who were also involved in the chase, approached Smith's vehicle. (Compl. ¶ 14; Pettit Decl. ¶ 9; Hohner Decl. ¶¶ 7-8; Boyce Decl. ¶¶ 9-10). Pettit directed Smith to show his hands and to open his door slowly. (Pettit Decl. ¶ 9). Smith did not comply. (Id.). Another officer then used his baton to break the driver's side window of Smith's car. (Id.; Compl. ¶ 14). Once the window was broken, Pettit reached into the vehicle and attempted to remove Smith from the vehicle. (Pettit Decl. ¶ 10; Hohner Decl. ¶ 8; Compl. ¶ 14). Smith resisted and attempted to push Pettit away. (Pettit Decl. ¶ 10). Seeing the struggle between Pettit and Smith, Hohner then assisted Pettit in extracting Smith from the car. (Id.; Hohner Decl. ¶ 8).

         After being removed from the car, Pettit and Hohner placed Smith face down on the ground. (Pettit Decl. ¶ 11; Hohner Decl. ¶ 9; Compl. ¶ 15). Pettit and Hohner put Smith in handcuffs, “scream[ed] profanities” at Smith, and searched his person, while Cox and Harris grabbed Smith's right leg, taking off Smith's right sneaker and sock. (Compl. ¶ 15). Smith alleges that Cox and Harris ordered Boyce, who was present at the scene with his K-9 police dog (the “K-9”), (Boyce Decl. ¶¶ 9-12), to command the K-9 to attack Smith, (Compl. ¶ 15). Smith asserts that Boyce then commanded the K-9 to attack and bite Smith's right foot, which was bare. (Id. ¶¶ 16-17).

         As a result of the attack from the K-9, Smith suffered torn tendons, “ripped flesh, ” puncture wounds, nerve damage, swelling, and permanent impairment of the function of two toes. (Compl. ¶ 18). Smith also reports suffering severe mental anguish and emotional distress resulting from the incident. (Id. ¶ 19).

         Smith was charged in the Circuit Court for Cecil County in two separate cases: C-07-CR-000230 and C-07-17-000945. (Defs.' Mot. Dismiss Fail. State Claim Alter. Mot. Summ. J. [“Defs.' Mot.”] Ex. F [“C-07-CR-000230 Docket”], ECF No. 11-9; id. Ex. G [“C-07-CR-17-000945 Docket”], ECF No. 11-10). On June 15, 2018, Smith was found guilty of felony possession with intent to distribute. (C-07-CR-17-000945 Docket at 4-5). On June 27, 2018, after a bench trial, Smith was found guilty of the first-degree assault of Cox, second degree assault, resisting arrest, attempting to elude uniformed police by failing to stop, attempting to elude police in official vehicle by failing to stop, and reckless and negligent driving. (C-07-CR-000230 Docket at 5-7).

         Testimony at Smith's criminal trial for case C-07-CR-000230 closely tracked the evidence produced by Defendants in this case. (See Defs.' Supp. Mot. Dismiss Fail. State Claim Alter. Mot. Summ. J. [“Supp.”] Ex. 2 [“C-07-CR-000230 Bench Trial Tr.”] at 2-6, ECF No. 19-2). After listening to the testimony and evidence, the trial judge concluded:

The Court believes that at the time that Corporal Cox's body was in the vehicle, [Smith] had engaged the ignition, placed the vehicle in gear to allow the vehicle to move forward. The Court believes that but for the actions of Corporal Cox, if he had not been able to get out of the vehicle, that [Smith] would have driven off without Corporal Cox getting out of the vehicle. The Court believes that [Smith] did in fact attempt to cause serious physical injury to . . . Corporal Cox. . . .
The Court is also convinced beyond a reasonable doubt and to a moral certainty that [Smith] assaulted in the second degree Corporal Cox. The testimony was that he elbowed him, struck at him at the first motor vehicle stop, and so this Court is convinced. . . .
[Further, ] the State has proven beyond reasonable doubt and to a moral certainty that Smith knew that a law enforcement officer was attempting to arrest him, that he refused to submit that arrest, and that that arrest was lawful. So the Court is convinced beyond a reasonable doubt and to moral certainty that he committed the offense of resisting arrest . . . .

C-07-CR-000230 Bench Trial Tr. at 6-7. Smith's convictions were later upheld by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals. (Supp. Ex. 1 [“Aug. 8, 2019 Court of Special Appeals Mem. Op.”] at 5, ECF No. 19-1).

         On September 12, 2018, Smith brought suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants in their individual and official capacities, alleging that they subjected him to an unlawful traffic stop and used excessive force against him during his arrest in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. (ECF No. 1).[3] Smith seeks compensatory and punitive damages. (Compl. ¶¶ 22-26). Smith filed a Supplemental to his Complaint on October 9, 2018. (ECF No. 4).

         On February 1, 2019, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim, or, in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 11). Smith filed an Opposition to Defendants' Motion on February 26, 2019. (ECF No. 13). Defendants filed a Reply on April 2, 2019, (ECF No. 17), and Smith filed a Surreply on April 23, 2019, (ECF No. 18). Defendants filed a Supplemental Argument in Support of their Motion on August 14, 2019. (ECF No. 19). Smith filed an Opposition to the Supplemental Argument on August 26, 2019. (ECF No. 22).

         II. ...


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