Disabled Man Can Press Case Against DC Officers He Claims Beat Him

Courthouse News – by Britain Eakin

WASHINGTON (CN) – A D.C. man with cerebral palsy can continue to press his claim that police officers followed him home from a bus stop without  cause, and then assaulted him with a stun gun as they beat him, a federal judge ruled Friday.

U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson rejected an argument that Michael Robinson’s case should be tossed out because he failed to identify the precise actions of the 38 officers involved in the altercation, calling it an “odd proposition.”  

“The lack of any support for this quirky contention is not surprising, because this Court cannot fathom how such could possibly be the state of the law,” the 18-page opinion states. “That is, at the beginning of the case — prior to discovery and before the plaintiff has access to any information about who the allegedly offending officers are, much less statements and reports from participants and witnesses regarding what each officer has done—it is impossible to imagine that a complaint involving the allegedly wrongful conduct of a number of police officers could ever contain the specificity that Defendants here say is required.”

Pointing to case law, Jackson said that plaintiffs alleging excessive force by multiple police officers are not expected to give a “blow-by-blow recitation of who did what when.”

Dennis Corkery, with the Washington Layers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs said he is “thrilled” with the ruling.

So, too is his 28-year-old client, Corkery said.

“He’s just very excited that we can get started in discovery. We filed the complaint two years ago now, so we’re glad to get going,” the attorney said in a phone interview.

Corkery said he was not surprised with Jackson’s ruling, saying she had been skeptical of the District of Columbia, Prince Georges County, the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department and the Prince George’s County Sheriff’s Office during oral arguments on the motion to dismiss in April.

In the ruling, Jackson skewered their attempt to assert a qualified immunity defense, calling it “undeveloped” and “devoid of any relevant substance.”

“This Court need not, and will not, address undeveloped arguments for dismissal on this or any other ground,” the ruling says.

Robinson claimed in court documents that he was sitting at a bus stop to go buy garbage bags to do his laundry back on May 30, 2014, when three police cars pulled up and the officers unnerved him by fixing him with unfriendly looks.

He decided to return home on foot, but was followed by one of the officers. Robinson claim when the officer confronted him,  he cooperated fully, and showed his D.C.-issued disability card.

Robinson says the officer shouted profanities at him, threw him down the steps inside his grandmother’s apartment unit and used a stun gun on him.

His grandmother, Agnes Joyce Robinson, says she looked out her peephole and saw the officer dragging her grandson by the neck outside the building.

He somehow managed to break free, and then ran to hide in his grandmother’s bathroom, court documents say.

Robinson says despite his grandmother’s pleas, officers rushed into her apartment with their guns drawn without a search or arrest warrant, and without her permission. He says officers grabbed, hit and kicked him, before placing him under arrest.

Judge Jackson notes in her ruling that Robinson and his grandmother had described in their initial complaint back in 2015 the unauthorized entry into their home “in great detail.”

“If true, these allegations clearly would satisfy the elements of a trespass claim,” the ruling states.

It matters not that they officers say they entered the Robinsons’ home for law-enforcement purposes, because they are subject to common law trespass actions if they do so without authority.

“In this case, the Robinsons have alleged that the officers did not have the lawful authority to enter the premises, and as a result, the officers’ law-enforcement motives are no impediment to the Robinsons’ trespass claim,” the ruling states.

Jackson advanced all of Robinson’s claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the D.C. Human Rights Act, along with constitutional, trespass, and emotional distress claims.

Scott Peterson, a spokesman for the county, said “As this is ongoing litigation, Prince George’s County has no comment on this case at this time.”

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