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Cocroft v. Smith

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

March 26, 2015

WAKEELAH A. COCROFT, Plaintiff,
v.
JEREMY SMITH, Defendant

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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For Wakeelah A Cocroft, Plaintiff: Beverly B. Chorbajian, LEAD ATTORNEY, Worcester, MA; Carlton E. Williams, LEAD ATTORNEY, ACLUM, Boston, MA; Marina R. Matuzek, Law Office of Marina R. Matuzek, Worcester, MA; Matthew Segal, American Civil Liberties Union, Boston, MA; Michael L. Altman, Altman Riley Esher LLP, Boston, MA.

For Jeremy Smith, Defendant: Wendy L. Quinn, LEAD ATTORNEY, Kevin M. Gould, City of Worcester Law Department, Worcester, MA.

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MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER

TIMOTHY S. HILLMAN, DISTRICT JUDGE.

Background

Wakeelah A. Cocroft (" Cocroft" or " Plaintiff" ) filed a federal civil rights claims against Worcester Policer Officer Jerermy Smith (" Officer Smith" or " Defendant" ) under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of her First and Fourth Amendment rights. Cocroft also filed Massachusetts state law claims against Officer Smith for violation of the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act (" MCRA" ), Mass.Gen.L. ch. 12, § § 11H-I and tort law claims for assault and battery and false arrest. With respect to Cocroft's Section 1983 claims, the jury found that Officer Smith unlawfully seized Cocroft, but that he did not use excessive force against her or violate her First Amendment rights. Jury Verdict Form (Docket No. 112). As to her Massachusetts state law claims, the jury found that Officer Smith violated Cocroft's rights under the MCRA, but did not commit an assault and battery on her.[1] This Memorandum of Decision and Order addreesses Defendant Jeremy Smith's Renewed (Post-Judgment) Motion For Judgment As

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A Matter Of Law, And, In The Alternative For A New Trial (Docket No. 125). For the reasons set forth below, that motion is denied.

Facts

The following factual account is stated in a light most favorable to the verdict. See Howes v. Hitchcock, 66 F.Supp.2d 203, 208 (D.Mass. 1999).

On December 29, 2008, early in the morning, Cocroft was a passenger in an automobile operated by her sister, Clytheia Mwangi (" Mwangi" ), which was speeding on Park Avenue in Worcester, Massachusetts. Officer Smith stopped Mwangi's car as she turned into a gas station. As Mwangi was preparing to get out of the car to get gas, she heard the officer yell at her to get back in the car-- she complied. Officer Smith approached the vehicle and began to yell at Mwangi asking her if she knew how fast she had been going. He then thrust the radar gun up against the window. Cocroft told Officer Smith that he could not speak to Mwangi like that. Officer Smith responded that he would speak with her if he had anything to say to her.

Officer Smith obtained Mwangi's license and registration and returned to his marked police cruiser. Officer Smith ordered Mwangi to stay in the car. When Officer Smith went back to his cruiser to write the citation, Cocroft exited the vehicle went into the Mobil store and paid $5.00 for gas. She then returned to the car, put the receipt for the payment into the car and went to the gas pump and removed the nozzle. Before she could begin pumping the gas, she heard Officer Smith yelling that he told her to stay in the car. Cocroft put the nozzle back in the pump and told Officer Smith that she thought he was talking to her sister. Officer Smith approached Cocroft in an angry manner; he was yelling that he told her to get in the car. Cocroft again responded that she did not know he was speaking to her and further stated that Officer Smith had no right to speak to her in that manner. Officer Smith then told Cocroft if she said anything else, he would arrest her. Officer Smith turned toward his vehicle and Cocroft went to get back inside the car.

As Cocroft opened the door to get back inside the car, Officer Smith grabbed her from behind and pulled her away. Cocroft lost her balance. Officer Smith pulled her back and threw her forcefully to the ground and scraped her face against the cement. Cocroft repeatedly asked Officer Smith what he was doing. Officer Smith placed his knee on Cocroft's back, pulled her arms behind her back and placed handcuffs on her wrists. Cocroft felt pain in her arm when he pulled it behind her. Cocroft told her sister to call the police. Officer Smith kept his knee on Cocroft's back for several minutes. Officer Smith got off of Cocroft's back when other officers arrived, but he left her on the ground, which was dirty and wet. When a second officer arrived, Officer Smith pulled her up off the ground. Cocroft heard Officer Smith tell one of the other officers (Officer Thomas Dowd) that she had started yapping about her rights, so he arrested her. Cocroft was put in a patrol wagon and taken to the Worcester Police Station.

Cocroft suffered abrasions to her face, had an earring ripped out of her ear, bleeding, a sore back, and scrapes on her fingers. Later that night, she started experiencing pain in her shoulder. Cocroft continued to have pain in the shoulder when she returned to her home in Chicago. She went for treatment and her arm was temporarily placed in an immobilizer and she was given pain killers.

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Cocroft was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. After a jury trial, she was convicted of resisting arrest. The trial judge granted Cocroft's motion for a directed verdict on the disorderly conduct charge. Her conviction was affirmed by the Massachusetts Appeals Court (" MAC" ); the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (" SJC" ) denied further appellate review of the resisting arrest conviction.

The deposition testimony of Jacob Mitri, the owner of the gas station was read into evidence. He testified that at the time of the incident, the station was only open to sell gas. He further testified that it was cold out so the door to the station was closed. Cocroft came inside at one point and paid for gas and he turned on the pump. Sometime thereafter, he heard a woman screaming. He went outside and observed Cocroft on the ground with a police ...


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