United States District Court, D. Connecticut
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION
Bond Arterton, U.S.D.J.
April 21, 2014, Plaintiff Paticia Johnson filed suit against
New Haven police officer Jose Escobar under 42 U.S.C. §
1983 seeking redress for injuries resulting from
Defendant's use of force on her on June 4, 2011 on the
sidewalk adjacent to 821 Chapel Street, New Haven,
Connecticut, which she claimed was unreasonable in violation
of the Fourth Amendment. After Plaintiff discharged her
counsel, the case proceeded to trial over two days in which
Plaintiff and Defendant were the only witnesses to testify.
The following constitutes the findings of fact and
conclusions of law pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P 52(a)(1) based
on their testimony and the exhibits admitted.
Findings of Fact
testimony is undisputed that prior to the parties'
encounter which forms the basis of this lawsuit, Ms. Johnson
was persuaded to join two friends for a "girls'
night out" even though she feared it could put at risk
her prior rehabilitation successes. After several drinks, the
three women took a taxi to New Haven nightclub Club Karma
where Plaintiff had another drink and the three left to go to
Club Alchemy around the corner. At approximately 11:45 p.m.,
Ms. Johnson and her friends went to a nearby pizza
restaurant, the Golden Rock. There, a loud, profanity-laced
confrontation ensued with the cashier/owner, which Ms.
Johnson attributes to her friend Ranita who was "over
intoxicated at the time." Defendant Escobar, who was
working the downtown bar detail serving an extra duty shift
at Club Karma, heard this disturbance from the street,
entered the restaurant and observed Ms. Johnson loudly
swearing and using profanity. After Defendant escorted
Plaintiff and Ranita out of the restaurant, he returned to
speak to the owner who said he did not want to make a formal
charge even though Ms. Johnson had also slapped him in the
face; he just wanted them out of his place.
Escobar, who had not previously seen Ms. Johnson and her
friends at Karma, now saw them back in front of Karma where
Plaintiffs continued swearing was causing a disturbance.
While there is some dispute over who said what to whom in
front of Karma, Plaintiff was informed she was not allowed to
enter the club. Defendant attempted to speak to Plaintiff but
she walked away from him, at which point he advised her to
keep walking because she was not allowed back in the club.
Plaintiff stopped, turned around, and addressed Defendant in
terms and tone that the parties hotly dispute. She claims to
have questioned whether he was talking to her; he testified
that she was screaming profanities at him. Defendant then
walked over to her to effect an arrest, telling her to put
her hands behind her back. She did not comply. The
parties' versions of what happened next differ
dramatically. Defendant testified that Plaintiff swung her
arms in an attempt to strike him; she denied such conduct.
Defendant grabbed her arm to cuff her, a struggle ensued, he
took her to the ground using a sweeping leg technique,
yelling at her to stop resisting, and finally, he cuffed her
from the front "just to stop the struggle." She
testified that before she could ask Defendant why he was
arresting her, and as she was calling 911, Defendant had
handcuffs in his hand, and punched her in the face with his
fist. Plaintiff added that when she fell backwards on her
back, Defendant slammed her head into the gate and punched
her repeatedly in her face, threw her around on her stomach,
and dragged her on the concrete.
released from detention, Ms. Johnson promptly sought medical
treatment at Yale-New Haven Hospital. The attending physician
noted a two-inch facial abrasion and a contusion and
recommended that she "take Motrin as directed, "
"rest the injured area until the pain and swelling are
better, " and "apply ice packs every hour for 2-3
days." (June 4, 2011 Yale-New Haven Hosp. Adult Emerg.
Servs., Def.'s Ex. D [Doc. # 24-4] at 3, 5, 14, 14.) The
hospital record also noted that Ms. Johnson was
"uncooperative, " "unwilling to answer
questions, " refusing to allow x-rays to be taken,
"arguing/upset/yelling, " and that "numerous
attempts were made to convince [her] to allow
interventions." (Id. at 5.) Ms. Johnson
testified that all of the physicians and nurses who attended
to her and made these assessments were being untruthful. The
medical record reflected that Ms. Johnson was put in a
"4 pt. lock" restraint for approximately two hours
due to her "yelling and threatening" and being
"verbally assaultive." (Id. at 1).
Ms. Johnson left Yale-New Haven Hospital, she sought
additional treatment at Saint Raphael Hospital in New Haven,
Connecticut, registering there at 5:18 AM on June 4, 2011.
There, she "complain[ed] of moderate pain" after
claiming she had been "assaulted by a police officer who
hit her and forced her down to the street." (St. Raphael
Clinical R., Def.'s Ex. E [Doc. # 24-5] at 1.) Her
attending physician and nurse noted that she was not in
"acute distress" and was "alert, " and
described the injury on her forehead in terms of "mild
tenderness, moderate swelling and superficial laceration,
" also noting a decreased range of motion in her neck.
(Id. at 2-3.) When Ms. Johnson was discharged
several hours later at 11:12 a.m., the registered nurse
described her condition as "stable." (Id.
at 4.) While Ms. Johnson testified that she returned home
from Saint Raphael with her arm in a sling, the hospital
records contain no reference to such treatment. (See
days later, on June 6, 2011, Ms. Johnson sought additional
medical treatment at Saint Vincent Hospital in Bridgeport,
Connecticut. The hospital records from this visit note that
the "severity of the symptoms [were] moderate" and
that Ms. Johnson was "walking with a limp, "
"guarding her R[ight] arm" and had a "2 in
laceration on her forehead that is healing." (St.
Vincent Hosp./PreHosp. R., PL's Ex. 3 [Doc. # 24-6] at
1.) The records further note that Ms. Johnson "ha[d] a
deformity on her left forearm which is guarded, [that she]
complains of right shoulder pain and has limited range of
motion and right knee pain associated with abrasion on her
knee cap, " and that her "right arm had no grasp
when asked to squeeze [the treating physician's]
hands." (Id.) However, after taking x-rays of
Ms. Johnson's wrist, the doctor concluded:
"[d]eformity at the base of the fifth metacarpal mostly
likely represents an old healed fracture rather than an acute
fracture, but please correlate clinically in this area. There
is no other evidence of fracture, dislocation or other
significant bony abnormality." (Id.) Ms.
Johnson was then prescribed Vicodin "as needed" and
referred to an orthopaedic specialist to ascertain whether
her injured wrist was an old or new injury, as well as a
course of treatment for her. (Id. at 10, 16)
8, 2011, Ms. Johnson sought follow-up treatment for her wrist
at the Orthopedic Specialty Group, PC, in Fairfield,
Connecticut, where she was seen by Dr. Jeffrey Herman who
noted in her "History" that she claimed to have
been "assaulted by a known acquaintance" and had
"sustained injury not only to the right hand but also to
the left shoulder, right knee and forehead, " causing
her to experience "extremely severe pain in the right
hand . . . [that was] sharp, stabbing, throbbing, aching, and
burning, " causing her to awaken at night with pain.
(Orthopedic Specialty Grp., Consultation, Def.'s Ex. I at
4.) Dr. Herman's observations, however, noted "[n]o
apparent distress. Clinically stable vital signs. Alert and
oriented[, ]" and that "examination of the right
hand and wrist reveal[s] no evidence of swelling, ecchymosis
or erythema. Skin is intact. No evidence of abrasions."
this visit, Dr. Herman took three radiographs of Plaintiff s
wrist at different angles, which demonstrated "evidence
of a base of fifth metacarpal fracture along with slightly
impacted hamate fracture, " leading him to conclude:
"it appears that Patricia [sic] has sustained an injury
to the right hand. Her examination is somewhat confusing
given the fact that there is really very limited swelling or
ecchymosis given her x-rays. In addition, the acuity is
called into question by the official radiology, " and
while Ms. Johnson claims that she did not "fight back
during the assault, " her injury is "almost
universally associated with punching." (Id. at
5.) When explaining to Ms. Johnson the radiology findings,
including that they called into question the acuity she
reported, Dr. Herman noted that she "became quite
agitated, " and the office staff described her behavior
as "disruptive and antagonistic." (Id.)
Under cross examination, Ms. Johnson testified that she was
not agitated but was merely disagreeing with some of Dr.
Herman's comments. She was placed in an "ulnar
gutter cast" and returned on June 15, 2011 and July 13,
2011 for checkups. (Id.)
the hospital reports reflect the results of the physical
altercation which Ms. Johnson and Officer Escobar were
involved in on June 3, 2011, the reported medical findings do
not reflect the type or degree of injuries which reasonably
would be expected to be seen if Officer Escobar had punched
Ms. Johnson repeatedly in the face and slammed her head into
a gate as Plaintiff claims.
Conclusions of Law
prevail on her claim under § 1983, Ms. Johnson must
demonstrate that the challenged conduct (1) was committed by
a person "acting under color of state law"; and (2)
"deprived her of rights, privileges or immunities
secured by the Constitution or laws of the United
States." Hayut v. State Univ. of N.Y., 352 F.3d
733, 744 (2d Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks omitted).
There is no dispute that Officer Escobar was acting under the
color of state law when he arrested Ms. Johnson; the central
question for resolution by this trial is whether Plaintiff
has proved that he violated her Fourth Amendment rights.
well established that the Fourth Amendment protects
individuals from unreasonable use of force when being
arrested. See Jones v. Parmley,465 F.3d 46, 61 (2d
Cir. 2006). In assessing whether an officer's use of
force was "excessive" or "unreasonable"
under the Fourth Amendment, the "objective
reasonableness test" requires balancing the plaintiffs
Fourth Amendment rights against competing governmental
interests while considering the circumstances "from the
perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene."
Graham v. Connor,490 U.S. 386, 396-97 (1989). This
"balancing . . . 'requires careful attention to the
facts and circumstances of each particular case,
including'" (1) the severity of the underlying
crime; (2) "'whether the suspect poses an immediate
threat to the safety of the officers or others'";
and (3) "'whether [s]he is actively resisting arrest
or attempting to evade arrest by flight, '"
Brown v. City of New York,798 F.3d 94 (2d Cir.
2015) (quoting Graham, 490 U.S. at 396), allowing
"'for the fact that police officers are often forced
to make split-second judgments-in circumstances that are
tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving-about the amount
offeree that is necessary in a particular situation,
'" Parmley, 465 F.3d at 61 (quoting
Graham, 490 U.S. at 397). While "[o]ur Fourth
Amendment jurisprudence has long recognized that the right to
make an arrest or investigatory stop necessarily carries with
it the right to use some degree of physical coercion or