United States District Court, D. Connecticut
WILLIAM I. GARFINKEL UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
civil rights action, plaintiffs, Fabian Edwards and his
brother Kenville Edwards, brought claims against the City of
Hartford and Harford police officers Matthew Cornell and
Christopher May. On April 27, 2017, after a jury trial, a
jury rendered a verdict for Officer Cornell on claims brought
by Fabian Edwards. The jury also returned a verdict for
Kenville Edwards on his claims against Officer
The jury found that Officer May violated Kenville's civil
rights by using excessive force against him; it awarded $135,
000.00 in compensatory damages and $275, 000.00 in punitive
damages. Now before the Court is Officer May's Motion for
Judgment as a Matter of Law [Doc. # 174] and Motion for a New
Trial [Doc. # 175].
following evidence was adduced at trial.
of Fabian Edwards
14, 2012, Fabian was living in a multi-family house owned by
his mother, Elizabeth Edwards. (Tr. 1237-38). His mother
lived on the first floor, Fabian lived on the second floor,
and Fabian's brother, Kenville Edwards, lived on the
third floor. (Tr. 1238). Paulino's Grocery Store was
across the street from the home. (Tr. 1241). On June 14,
2012, Fabian arrived home from work around 4 or 5 p.m. and at
some point that evening noticed activity going on outside of
the house. (Tr. 1249). He saw a police cruiser near
Paulino's and people outside. (Tr. 1250). He also saw
other police cars in the area. (Tr. 1251). Fabian wanted to
go into Paulino's to get a beer. (Tr. 1253). He testified
that he stopped outside of the front of the store to call his
wife when Officer May told him to “get in the fucking
store or [he would] arrest [him].” (Tr. 1258). Fabian
moved toward the store and then Officer May pushed him
inside. (Tr. 1258).
after, Fabian left the store without purchasing anything,
crossed the street, and jumped over the fence into his yard.
(Tr. 1259). Once in the yard, he yelled to the officers,
Officer May and Officer Cornell, “why did you push
me?” (Tr. 1260). The officers then entered the
Edwards's property and Elizabeth came out of the house.
(Tr. 1261). Fabian and Elizabeth were on the front porch of
the house when the officers came up and asked Fabian for his
identification. (Tr. 1262). Fabian gave his identification to
his mother and then saw Kenville come onto the porch. (Tr.
of Officer Cornell
14, 2012, Officer May and Officer Cornell were on duty,
assigned to the neighbored in which the Edwards's home
was located. (Tr. 1567). Officer Cornell noticed Fabian
Edwards when Fabian was standing at the fence in his yard.
(Tr. 1577). He recalls hearing Fabian yelling. (Tr. 1578). At
some point, he and Officer May went over to Fabian. (Tr.
1578). Officer Cornell saw Fabian walk up to the front porch
of the home and then he and Officer May went onto the
property. (Tr. 1585, 1586). Fabian's mother was standing
on the porch with Fabian. (Tr. 1587). At some point Kenville
Edwards appeared on the porch. (Tr. 1588).
of Kenville Edwards
Edwards testified that he saw two officers walking towards
the front porch of his house after he saw Fabian and his
mother walking to the front of the house. (Tr. 1438). He came
to the front of the house from around the back. (Tr. 1439).
When he arrived at the front porch, both officers were there
with Fabian and Elizabeth. (Tr. 1439). He asked the officers
what his bother did. (Tr. 1439). Officer May asked Kenville
if he lived there, and Kenville replied yes. (Tr. 1439).
Then, Officer May told Kenville to “back up off the
porch.” (Tr. 1439). Kenville again inquired about his
brother. (Tr. 1439). At that point, Officer May grabbed
Kenville's right hand and bent it behind him, and grabbed
Kenville around the throat, “choking [him].” (Tr.
1140). At some point thereafter, Officer May pushed Kenville
away. (Tr. 1140). Kenville stated he stumbled and then went
inside the front door. (Tr. 1441). He did not believe, at
that time, that Officer May was attempting to place him under
arrest. (Tr. 1481). Kenville testified that if May wanted to
arrest him, “all he had to say to [him] was just, put
[his] hands behind [his] back.” (Tr. 1482). Then,
Officer May deployed pepper spray in Kenville's face.
testified that at the time the pepper sprayed was deployed he
was just inside the doorway to the house; he tried to find
the railing so that he could make his way upstairs. (Tr.
1442). He went from the first floor to his apartment on the
third floor; his apartment door was already open. (Tr. 1443).
He went up the stairs “step by step, ” but could
not run because he could not see. (Tr. 1443). Once he got
into his apartment, there was a clear space “straight
to the kitchen.” (Tr. 1443). He felt his way to the
kitchen sink, turned on the water, and tried to flush out his
eyes. (Tr. 1444). The water made the burning worse. (Tr.
1444). Then, he heard “the door beating, ” and
his friend tell him that the police were there. (Tr. 1444).
testified that he “felt something hit [him] on [the]
side of [his] head” when he was at the sink, and it was
“something hard… not a fist.” (Tr. 1444,
1447). He fell to the ground. (Tr. 1446). He testified that
he did not take a “fighting stance” while on the
third floor. (Tr. 1446). He could not even open his eyes to
see where the officers were. (Tr. 1446). While on the ground,
he was trying to block strikes from the officers, attempting
to “stop the punches from going to [his] head.”
(Tr. 1446). He felt punches to the head and hits to his body.
receiving a couple of punches, he passed out. (Tr. 1445). The
next thing Kenville recalls was waking up in the hospital
where a nurse was stitching up his ear; he had sustained a
tear to his left ear requiring five sutures. (Tr. 1445).
stated that, during the incident, he never punched or kicked
any officer. (Tr. 1447). He did not fight with any officer.
(Tr. 1459). He weighed 140 pounds on the date of the
incident. (Tr. 1497). As a result of the incident, he feels
“scared, threatened most of the time” when he
sees police officers and stays away from police. (Tr. 1460).
He moved out of state shortly after the incident. (Tr. 1461).
of Elizabeth Edwards
Edwards, mother of Kenville and Fabian, testified that she
saw the officers bringing Kenville down to the back porch.
(Tr. 1381). She stated that the officers “just dropped
him on the floor on the back porch.” (Tr. 1381).
Elizabeth Edwards further testified that she took several
photos the day after the incident, and other photos several
weeks after. (Tr. 1381). She photographed the third floor
kitchen floor, the stairs, and the back porch. (Tr. 1382-84).
of Officer May
May testified that he and Officer Cornell initially entered
the Edwards's property to investigate and “quell
the situation.” (Tr. 1752). While the officers were on
the front porch asking Fabian for his identification,
Kenville came onto the porch. (Tr. 1753). Officer May asked
Kenville if he lived there and Kenville said he did. (Tr.
1753). When he asked Kenville to step off of the porch,
Kenville said “make me” and “balled up his
fists in a, like, kind of defiant type manner.” (Tr.
1753). Officer May described this as a “pre-attack
indicator, ” a sign a suspect exhibits before engaging
in a fight or attack. (Tr. 1754). Officer May testified that,
at that point, he informed Kenville he was under arrest and
attempted to cuff him by trying to grab his left hand. (Tr.
1755). Officer May stated that Kenville pulled his hand away
and then pushed Officer May and struck him in the torso;
Officer May thought he was being attacked. (Tr. 1756). He and
Kenville were struggling with each other. (Tr. 1756). Officer
May denied putting Kenville into a choke hold, but said it
was possible that his arm went around Kenville's head or
neck because of Kenville's resistance. (Tr. 1757).
May further testified that, at some point, he released
Kenville and gave Kenville a burst of pepper spray in the
face. (Tr. 1760). He denied pushing Kenville. (Tr. 1760).
After the pepper spray was used, Kenville went upstairs into
the apartment. (Tr. 1761). Officer May went to assist Officer
Cornell, who was restraining Fabian Edwards, and then went
upstairs after Kenville. (Tr. 1762). He took a back stairway
to the third floor and found the rear door to the third floor
apartment to be open. (Tr. 1766). Officer May entered the
third floor apartment and observed Kenville by the sink with
the water running. (Tr. 1766). He testified that Kenville
“step[ped] back from the sink kind of like in a
fighting stance.” (Tr. 1767). Officer May perceived
this as another “pre-attack indicator.” (Tr.
1767). Officer May then grabbed Kenville around the waist and
brought him to the ground. (Tr. 1768). He tried to control
Kenville's hands to handcuff him. (Tr. 1768). Officer
Baumgarten, who had recently arrived on the scene, was behind
Officer May trying to control Kenville's legs. (Tr.
1768). Officer May testified that because Kenville was
resisting being handcuffed, he “administer[ed] two
punches to his head in [a] controlled pain compliance
technique.” (Tr. 1768). While Kenville was
“temporarily stunned, ” the officers were able to
get him into handcuffs. (Tr. 1768). The officers then carried
Kenville downstairs to an ambulance. (Tr. 1770). Officer May
stated that he held Kenville's torso and Officer
Baumgarten held Kenville's feet. (Tr. 1704). They carried
him from the third floor to the first floor, face down. (Tr.
1704). They carried him down the back stairwell, but did not
drop him on the back porch. (Tr. 1771). Officer May did note
that Kenville had a laceration to his ear but did not observe
any dripping blood. (Tr. 1703, 1772).
of Officer Baumgarten
Officer Baumgarten arrived on the scene, he went up the
stairs to the third floor apartment. (Tr. 1780). When he got
to the third floor, the first thing he observed was Officer
May bringing Kenville to the ground. (Tr. 1781). He did not
see Kenville take a “fighting stance.” (Tr.
1781). At no point on the third floor did he see Kenville
punch or kick an officer. (Tr. 1782). Officer Baumgarten
testified that he saw that Kenville was bleeding from the ear
but did not observe blood on the floor. (Tr. 1783). He
testified that four officers carried Kenville down the
stairs, and did not drop him on the back porch. (Tr. 1784).
The officers brought Kenville to a police car to secure him
and then notified emergency medical services that Kenville
needed medical attention. (Tr. 1785).
of Gerardo Paulino
Paulino testified that he works in his father's store,
Paulino's Grocery Store. (Tr. 1328). He knows of Kenville
and Fabian Edwards as customers. (Tr. 1329, 1330). On June
14, 2012, he recalled seeing Fabian almost falling as he came
into the store, but did not actually see if Fabian was
pushed. (Tr. 1332, 1334). He did see a police officer behind
Fabian. (Tr. 1334).
records from June 14, 2012 indicate that Kenville was found
lying on the porch. (Ex. 38). He was alert to verbal stimuli
and was disoriented with incoherent speech. (Ex. 38). There
was bleeding from the head/face. (Ex. 38). There was swelling
to the face and head and a small laceration to the left
earlobe. (Ex. 38).
was admitted to Hartford Hospital on June 14, 2012. (Ex. 39).
Emergency medical services stated that the patient was
unresponsive upon their arrival to the scene. (Ex. 39). His
diagnoses were laceration and closed head injury. (Ex. 39).
Kenville was given five sutures to close a laceration on his
left ear. (Ex. 39).
had a follow up visit to Hartford Hospital on June 19, 2012.
(Ex. 41). He was diagnosed with post-concussive syndrome and
a closed head injury. (Ex. 41).
Officer May's Motion for Judgment as a Matter of
50(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows for the
entry of judgment as a matter of law if a jury returns a
verdict for which there is no legally sufficient evidentiary
basis. Fed.R.Civ.P. 50. “A district court may not grant
a motion for judgment as a matter of law unless the evidence
is such that, without weighing the credibility of the
witnesses or otherwise considering the weight of the
evidence, there can be but one conclusion as to the verdict
that reasonable [persons] could have reached.” This
Is Me, Inc. v. Taylor, 157 F.3d 139, 142 (2d Cir. 1998)
(internal quotations marks omitted). The standard under Rule
50(b) is not one of strength or weakness of the evidence;
rather, “the evidence must be such that a reasonable
juror would have been compelled to accept the view
of the moving party.” Id. (internal quotation
marks omitted) (emphasis added). Thus, Officer May's
motion may not be granted unless he can demonstrate
(1) there is such a complete absence of evidence supporting
the verdict that the jury's findings could only have been
the result of sheer surmise and conjecture, or
(2) there is such an overwhelming amount of evidence in favor
of the movant that reasonable and fair minded [persons] could
not arrive at a verdict against [him].
Galdieri-Ambrosini v. Nat'l Realty & Dev.
Corp., 136 F.3d 276, 289 (2d Cir. 1998). In determining
whether judgment as a matter of law is appropriate,
“the court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor
of the nonmoving party,  and it may not make credibility
determinations or weigh the evidence.” Reeves v.
Sanderson Plumbing Prod., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150
May's motion raises numerous arguments, which the Court
will address in turn.
The jury's finding that Officer May used excessive
May first argues that the jury could not have reasonably
found that he used excessive force against Kenville Edwards.
In making this argument, Officer May's brief breaks down
the incident into a series of events. The Court, however,
declines to take such an approach. What is critical here is
not whether one act or another constituted excessive force,
but that the jury found that the force used under the
circumstances was unreasonable. See Rasmussen v. City of
New York, 766 F.Supp.2d 399, 404 (E.D.N.Y. 2011)
(declining to grant summary judgment on one act in an
excessive force case, explaining that “the jury will be
required to determine whether excessive force was used to
effectuate the arrest in the whole context in which it
happened; it will not be asked to slice it into individual
pieces to determine whether any of those pieces standing
alone constituted excessive force.”). Further, as
explained more fully below, in this particular case it is not
necessary to divide the interaction into separate components
in order to decide whether Officer May is entitled to
qualified immunity. Accordingly, the Court will consider the
incident as a whole when determining whether the jury's
liability finding has a sufficient evidentiary basis.
Fourth Amendment prohibits the use of excessive force by a
police officer in effecting an arrest. The determination of
whether an officer's use of force is reasonable
Fed.App'x 17 (2d Cir. 2004) (where the Second Circuit
noted that counsel's brief in support of appeal of the
district court's denial of it motion for summary judgment
was “glaringly replete with [their] own versions of the
events.”). Perhaps, after a second reminder, the
message will stick. “requires a careful balancing of
the nature and quality of the intrusion on the
individual's Fourth Amendment interests against the
countervailing governmental interests at stake.”
Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 396 (1989). The law
is clear that some degree of force is permitted in
effectuating a lawful arrest; thus, “not every push or
shove, even if it may later seem unnecessary in the peace of
a judge's chambers, violates the Fourth Amendment.”
Id. (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).
The question is whether the officer's use of force was
objectively reasonable. Id. at 397. The
reasonableness test “requires careful attention to the
facts and circumstances of each particular case, including
the severity of the crime at issue, whether the suspect poses
an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others,
and whether he is actively resisting arrest or attempting to
evade arrest by flight.” Id. at 396. The
officers' actions must be objectively reasonable
“in light of the facts and circumstances confronting
them, without regard to their underlying intent or
motivation.” Id. at 397. “In sum, the
‘standard' to be applied in determining whether
‘the amount of force' used exceeded the amount that
was ‘necessary' in the particular circumstances is
‘reasonableness at the moment.'” Rogoz v.
City of Hartford, 796 F.3d 236, 247 (2d Cir. 2015)
(citing Graham, 490 U.S. at 396-97).
explained above, in excessive force cases, the jury need not
“dissect a police encounter into its separate
components… or view each specific act taken by police
officers in isolation.” Rickettes v. Turton,
No. 12-CV-6427(SMG), 2015 WL 3868070, at *6 (E.D.N.Y. June
23, 2015) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
What the jury must do is “pay careful attention to the
facts and circumstances of the incident and determine
whether, in ...