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Watson v. Perez

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

March 11, 2016




Kimberly Espino and Karim Watson (collectively, Plaintiffs) brought this civil rights action against various Worcester County court officers, as well as the Regional Security Director and a former First Assistant District Attorney, following a physical altercation between Watson and various officers at the Worcester District Court. The Defendants move to dismiss in part and to stay any remaining claims until the resolution of related criminal charges that are currently pending against the Plaintiffs in state court. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants’ motion (Docket No. 31) is granted in part and denied in part. The remaining claims are stayed pending resolution of the state criminal charges.


The following facts are taken from Plaintiffs’ First Amended Complaint and assumed true for the purposes of this motion. Karim Watson and Kimberly Espino are married. On January 26, 2012, they were sitting in the gallery of Courtroom 24 of the Worcester District Court. Watson was using an electronic tablet. Luis Perez, a court officer, told him he would have to leave the courtroom unless he put the tablet away. Although Watson started to put the tablet away, Perez told him to leave the courtroom anyway. Watson placed the tablet and his other belongings on the bench where he was sitting, got up, and walked toward the doors to exit the courtroom. Espino picked up Watson’s belongings and followed him. Watson exited the first set of doors, which led to an anteroom attached to two side conference rooms. The door at the other side of the anteroom led to the courthouse’s common hallway. Perez and another court officer, Daniel DiStefano, followed Watson through the first set of doors.

As Watson reached to open the door to exit into the common hallway, Perez, without provocation, sharply shoved Watson’s right side with his elbow. Watson lost his balance and fell to the ground. Perez punched him on his side with a closed fist. DiStefano and another court officer, Stephen Donovan, roughly grabbed Watson’s arms and legs and dragged him into one of the side conference rooms. Perez continued to punch Watson with a closed fist as he was being moved. DiStefano and Donovan then held Watson face-down on the floor and wrenched his hands behind his back, while Perez repeatedly struck Watson’s side, head, and back. Watson did not resist the officers. Watson has only one lung, and he was suffocating because his face was pressed into the carpet. He yelled, “I can’t breathe, ” and “you’re hurting me.” Perez, DiStefano, and Donovan continued to restrain and assault him. Watson was crying in pain, bleeding, and unable to breathe. Two other officers, Timothy O’Leary and David Deignan, “assisted by restraining Watson in a rough and physically harmful manner” and “failed to intervene to terminate the assault and excessive force.” (Docket No. 25 at ¶ 28.) Watson suffered a laceration to his forehead that was bleeding freely down the side of his face, as well as abrasions on his face and body, and emotional injury. His glasses were broken and bloodied.

Espino, who was visibly pregnant, was standing near the other conference room while Watson was being beaten and suffocated. She was out of the way of the court officers but close enough that she could see what was happening and hear Watson’s cries of pain and his inability to breathe. She begged the officers to stop beating him, but they ignored her. She began to record the event on her cell phone. She held the phone up in an open and obvious manner and said to the officers that she was “recording this brutality; the beating that you guys are doing to my husband.” (Docket No. 25 at ¶ 33.) Espino made the recording on a phone that had been issued to her by her workplace. She recorded for approximately two minutes.

Another court officer, Sherri Glenn, arrived on the scene while Espino was recording. Glenn, seeing that Espino was holding her phone so as to suggest that she was recording the scene, told Espino to leave the area. Espino did not want to leave because she was concerned about Watson’s safety. Glenn grabbed Espino’s arm, causing her pain, and forced her out of the area. Glenn ordered Espino to sit on a bench next to the courtroom. While she was sitting on the bench, Espino reviewed the contents of her phone and confirmed that the recording had been preserved.

The Regional Security Director, Robin Yancey, arrived, and Glenn told her that Espino had recorded the beating of Watson. Espino announced that she was leaving, that she had recorded Watson’s beating, and that she would return with a lawyer. Yancey told Glenn to arrest Espino. Espino was charged with Disrupting Court Proceedings, Resisting Arrest, and Disorderly Conduct. She was held in custody and arraigned later that day in Worcester District Court. As a result of these criminal charges, Espino lost her job as a bus driver, which she had held for three years. Espino was later indicted[1] on the same three misdemeanor offenses.

Watson was also arrested and charged with Disrupting Court Proceedings, Assault and Battery on a Public Employee, Resisting Arrest, and Disorderly Conduct. He was incarcerated for three weeks and then released on bail.

After Espino was arrested, her cell phone and other personal items were taken from her by Worcester County court officers and given to Yancey. On or about the day of Espino’s arrest, then-First Assistant District Attorney Daniel Bennett was informed of the incident. He directed Yancey to take custody of Espino’s cell phones, including the phone that she had used to record the assault and battery.[2] At Bennett’s direction, Yancey held Espino’s phone in her office for approximately three months. During this time, Yancey and Bennett had several communications regarding the phone. The Worcester County District Attorneys’ Office did not apply for a warrant to search the phone’s contents.

Then, without explanation, Bennett authorized Yancey to coordinate with Espino, Espino’s attorney, and the prosecuting attorney to return the phone to Espino in her counsel’s presence. Espino had made frequent requests for the return of her phone, to no avail, during the three months when Yancey was holding it. During the arranged meeting, the phone was powered up, and Espino saw that its entire contents had been erased. This phone had been in her possession for approximately three years. It contained contacts and photos, as well as the video footage of Watson’s beating.

On January 24, 2015, Plaintiffs brought the instant lawsuit in this Court. They filed their First Amended Complaint (the complaint) on October 1, 2015, alleging the following counts: excessive force in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments by Perez, DiStefano, Donovan, Glenn, O’Leary, and Deignan (count I); failure to intervene to stop the assault on Watson by Donovan, Glenn, O’Leary, and Deignan (count II); assault of Watson by Perez, DiStefano, Donovan, O’Leary, and Deignan, and assault of Espino by Glenn (count III); battery of Watson by Perez, DiStefano, Donovan, O’Leary, and Deignan, and battery of Espino by Glenn (count IV); false/wrongful arrest by Perez, DiStefano, Donovan, Glenn, O’Leary, Diegnan, and Yancey (count V); intentional infliction of emotional distress by Perez, DiStefano, Donovan, Glenn, O’Leary, and Deignan (count VI); conspiracy to conceal and/or cover up civil rights violations by Yancey and Bennett (count VII).

On November 13, 2015, all eight Defendants moved to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Defendants further request that any remaining claims be stayed until the termination of the pending state criminal charges.

Standard of Review

To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint must allege “a plausible entitlement to relief.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 559 (2007). Although detailed factual allegations are not necessary to survive a motion to dismiss, the standard “requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Id. at 555. “The relevant inquiry focuses on the reasonableness of the inference of liability that the plaintiff is ...

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