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Lewis v. Benner

United States District Court, D. Maryland

October 23, 2019

LAWRENCE N. LEWIS, Plaintiff,
v.
CHARLES THOMAS BENNER Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          RICHARD D. BENNETT, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Following this Court's Memorandum Opinion and Order denying the Motion to Dismiss filed on behalf of Defendant Charles Thomas Benner, [1] Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF 14. Correspondence was sent to Plaintiff Lawrence Lewis advising him of his right to file an opposition and of the consequences of failing to do so. ECF 15. That correspondence was returned to the Court as undeliverable on two occasions. ECF 16, 17. Upon investigation, Lewis is no longer incarcerated in the Glen Burnie facility and is now confined at Roxbury Correctional Institution in Hagerstown, Maryland.[2] Despite the affirmative obligation to do so, Lewis did not provide the Court with a notice of change in address. See Local Rule 102.1 .b.iii (D. Md. 2018). For the reasons that follow, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is granted in part as unopposed.

         Background

         Lewis filed this complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in connection with a traffic stop that occurred on July 19, 2017. ECF 1 at 5. Lewis was a passenger in the car, which was stopped on Hogneck Road in Pasadena, Maryland for the driver's failure to properly use his turn indicator and failing to come to a complete stop at a stop sign. Id. The driver of the car, Tim Reed, another passenger, Kacey Kinghton, and Lewis were questioned by the police officer and removed from the car. Id.

         Lewis states he was approached by Detective Benner and asked if he had anything on him. Id. Lewis replied he had money inside a Crown Royal bag in the waistband of his shorts which he retrieved and handed it to Benner. Id. Benner then began a pat-down search of Lewis's person. Id. Lewis maintains that Benner began "to attempt... to aggressively insert his fingers between the cheeks of my butt" during the pat-down search and that he was unaware of the cause for such a search. Id. He claims that the clothing he was wearing - basketball shorts - were such that attempting to conceal a dangerous item would have been impossible. Id. When Benner asked Lewis why he was "tensing up," Lewis responded he was uncomfortable with what Benner was doing, but he claims Benner ignored his statement and continued to tell him to "loosen up." Id.

         After handcuffing Lewis, Benner escorted Lewis to the patrol car and opened the passenger side front door. Id. According to Lewis, Benner applied "enough pressure to bend [him] slightly at the waist, and with no warning took his free hand and pulled [his] shorts down far enough to expose [his] bare butt." Id. Lewis was then placed in the front passenger seat of the patrol car. Id.

         Benner drove the patrol car while Detective Rohe rode in the back seat behind Lewis. Id. During the ride Lewis asked why he had been placed under arrest and Benner responded he was being arrested for "a crack pipe." Id. at 6. Lewis claims that no crack pipe was ever found in his possession during the search. Id.

         Lewis claims he attempted to adjust his position in the seat of the car because "the handcuffs were quite painful and were digging into [his] wrists." Id. As he was doing so, Benner suddenly "reached over, grabbed [him] by the throat, and slammed [his] head into the passenger window." Id. He seeks monetary damages for the "mental anguish" caused by Benner's actions. Id. at 3 (Statement of Relief) and 6.

         In his Affidavit Benner explains that he and two other detectives were conducting surveillance of a house about which police had received numerous complaints about drugs. ECF 14-2 at 1, ¶4. The car Lewis was traveling in was seen leaving the house under surveillance with multiple occupants inside the car. Id. Benner arrived after the car was stopped and was asked by another detective who was searching the driver to conduct a search on the other occupants. Id. Benner directed Lewis to get out of the car so he could be searched. ECF 14-2 at 2, ¶5.

         When searching Lewis's pockets, Benner felt a foreign object in the back of Lewis's shorts clenched between his buttocks. ECF 14-2 at 2, ¶6. Benner could not retrieve the object and Lewis refused to comply with directions to spread his legs or to stop clenching. Id. at ¶7. Benner "could feel a hard rock like substance protruding from his buttocks" but did not pull Lewis's shorts down or expose his buttocks. Id. Benner did, however, pull the waistband of Lewis's shorts backward while looking toward the ground and waiting for the object to fall. Id.

         After Detective King, who had initiated the traffic stop, advised Benner that he had seen what appeared to be drug paraphernalia in the car, Benner placed Lewis under arrest for possession of drug paraphernalia and walked Lewis to the patrol car. ECF 14-2 at 2, ¶9. Before placing Lewis in the car, Benner "shook his shorts once more to see if the secreted object had become dislodged during the walk." Id. at ¶10. Benner states nothing fell out and the object remained hidden in . Lewis's shorts. Id. Because he was confident the object was not a weapon, Benner placed Lewis in the police car to transport him to "the Northern District Station so the object could be recovered via proper strip search." Id. Lewis was seated in the front passenger seat and Detective Rohe sat behind Lewis to maintain sight of him at all times during the transport to the police station. Id. at ¶11.

         During the drive, Lewis, who was handcuffed behind his back, began moving around in the front seat excessively. ECF 14-2 at 3, ¶12. Benner signaled to Rohe that Lewis was attempting to retrieve the object from his shorts. Id. As Benner "heard Mr. Lewis remove the object from his shorts," Rohe grabbed Lewis's handcuffed wrists to prevent him from destroying the object. Id. at ¶ 13. Benner pulled the car over and stopped, whereupon Rohe and Benner retrieved the object, which appeared to be clear bags containing crack-cocaine, from Lewis's hand. Id. at ¶14. Lewis was then taken to the police station where he was subjected to a full strip search and charged with possession of a controlled dangerous substance with intent to distribute. Id. at ¶¶ 15, 16.

         During a hearing on Lewis's motion to suppress evidence in the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County, Maryland, both Benner and Lewis testified regarding the search. ECF 14-2 at ¶17, see also ECF 14-3 at 56-102 (Benner's testimony), 103-19 (Lewis's testimony). The motion to suppress was denied, the court finding that although the initial stop of the car was pretextual, the subsequent detention and search of the occupants was lawful in light of the discovery of a crack pipe in plain view when the driver exited the car. ECF 14-3 at 122-128 (transcript of court's ruling from the bench).

         On October 25, 2018, Lewis was found guilty on an agreed statement of facts of one count of possession of a controlled dangerous substance with intent to distribute. ECF 14-4 at 1. On March 15, 2019, He was sentenced to 20 years with all but 15 years suspended followed by five years of supervised probation. Id. at 2. Lewis has appealed his conviction to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, but no decision has been issued by that court. See State v. Lewis, Crim. Case ...


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