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Johnson v. Celester

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

May 22, 2015



RYA W. ZOBEL, District Judge.

Plaintiffs, Dwayne Johnson ("Johnson"), Regina White ("Regina"), Makia White ("Makia"), and Dwayne Johnson, Jr. ("Junior") (collectively the "Plaintiffs") bring this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 12 §§ 11H and 11I) ("MCRA"), and the common law, alleging two Boston police officers, Lawrence Celester ("Celester") and Lynwood Jenkins ("Jenkins"), violated their constitutional rights by using excessive force during the course of their arrests on July 24, 2009. They also bring a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City of Boston (the "City"), alleging a policy or custom of failing to properly train or supervise its officers regarding the use of force, with deliberate indifference to the constitutional rights of citizens.

Before me now are Celester's motion for summary judgment only as to the MCRA claim, the City's motion for summary judgment, and the defendants' joint motion for bifurcation of the trial.

I. Facts

I restate those undisputed facts from the summary judgment record that are relevant to the analysis that follows, drawing all inferences in the nonmoving parties' favor.

A. The Events of July 24, 2009

Makia was approached by Celester and Jenkins while she was sitting on the stoop in front of 26 Joe L. Smith Way with her brother, Dwayne Johnson Jr., on July 24, 2009. Compl., ¶ 12. Celester asked Makia if she lived in the building and she said no. See Deposition of Makia White, Docket #58-1, 46:23-24, 47:1-2, 17-21. Celester ran Dwayne Johnson Jr.'s name in a police database and determined that he had an outstanding warrant. Id. at 54:15-24. Makia told Celester that her brother did not have a warrant and that he had never been in trouble. Id. at 55:6-10. Celester told Makia to "mind [her] business" and called her a "bitch." Id. at 60:11-24. In response, Makia called Celester a "dickhead, " told him she was going to call her mother, and walked away towards a set of stairs. Id. at 60:1-24. Makia proceeded up the stairs to a Burger King parking lot to call her mother. Id. at 62:1-15, 63:1-13. Celester followed Makia up the stairs. Exhibit 1, 62:24; 63:1-2. Without warning, Celester grabbed Makia's left arm, causing her to drop her phone. See Plaintiffs' Opposition to Celester's Motion for Summary Judgment, Docket #63, at 5; Docket #58-1 at 62:24, 63:1-2, 64:3-17. Celester then "slammed [her] to the pavement... and began grabbing at her and physically assaulting [her]." Compl. ¶ 20.

Regina arrived after receiving Makia's phone call. See Deposition of Regina White, Docket #58-2, 28:3-8. When she arrived on scene Regina observed that one of Makia's hands was in handcuffs. Id. at 33:6-10. Makia was not allowing Celester to cuff her other hand, moving it constantly and telling Celester to get off of her. Id. at 34:14-24, 35:1-10. A struggle ensued between Makia and Celester because Makia did not want to be handcuffed. Id. at 34:14-24, 35:1-5. Celester struggled with Makia for approximately ten minutes before he was able to get her other hand cuffed. Id. at 37:10-12. During that ten minute period while Makia was resisting arrest, Regina was asking Celester what was going on and why her daughter was being arrested. Id. at 39:16-24, 40:1-3. Celester did not respond to Regina's questions. Id . After Makia's other hand was cuffed, Celester "picked [her] up by her hair and the handcuffs." Id. at 55:19-24, 56:1. Regina then inserted herself into the situation by grabbing Makia's hair. Id. at 60:4-9. Regina knew that she would be arrested if she touched Celester, so she opted to pull on Makia instead. Id. at 56:12-21, 57:1-6.

Regina returned to her house after Makia was placed in the cruiser for transport. Id. at 74:7-24; 75:1-15. She remained there for two to three minutes before someone knocked on her door and told her that her husband, Dwayne Johnson, was also being arrested. Id. at 75:12-18. Regina then left her house and began walking towards one of the police cruisers. Id. at 75:18-22. While she was walking, Celester directed Regina not to approach the cruisers. Id. at 75:23-24; 76:1-2. Regina then inquired repeatedly why Dwayne Johnson was being arrested. Id. at 76:1-14. Celester did not answer, instead threatening to "lock [her] up too" if she didn't go back in the house. Id. at 76:9-17. Regina then asked Officer Celester his name, which he provided. Id. at 76:9-21. Before returning to her house she told him he would be hearing from her. Id.

B. Celester's Disciplinary Record

In his seventeen years on the force, Celester accrued at least 11 citizen complaints. Of those, only four, Citizen Complaints #14298, #12503, #27803, and # 9404, contained allegations of unnecessary physical force, and only three arose from his activities as a police officer. See Docket #56, ¶ 15.

Citizen Complaint #14298 concerns an incident that took place on September 2, 1998. Id. at ¶ 25. It grew out of a domestic dispute between Celester and his exgirlfriend, who claimed that he pushed her during an off-duty argument about his failure to return one of her pager messages. Id . As a result, Celester was charged with "respectful treatment" (Rule 102 § 9). After an internal investigation, the investigator found that the conduct alleged did occur, but that Celester's conduct was reasonable under the circumstances. Id. at ¶ 27. He was exonerated on the respectful treatment charge.

Citizen Complaint #12503 concerns an incident that took place on June 3, 2003. As a result of Citizen Complaint #12503, Celester was charged with two internal charges: "use of non-lethal force" (Rule 304 § 2) and "respectful treatment" (Rule 102 § 9). Id. at ¶ 17. The City launched an investigation, interviewed multiple witnesses, and concluded that, based on the evidence, the complaint was unfounded. Id. at ¶ 18.

Citizen Complaint #27803 concerned an incident that occurred on December 20, 2003. Id. at ¶ 22. In response to Citizen Complaint #27803, Celester was internally charged with conduct unbecoming a police officer (Rule 102 § 3) and "conformance to laws" (Rule 102 § 35). Id. at ¶ 23. The investigator determined that Celester had used unreasonable judgment when he engaged the complainant without summoning assistance and without proper equipment. Based on those findings he ...

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