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Ramirez v. The City of Worcester

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

May 11, 2017

RICARDO RAMIREZ, Plaintiff,
v.
THE CITY OF WORCESTER, WORCESTER CITY MANAGER MICHAEL V. O'BRIEN, WORCESTER CHIEF OF POLICE GARY J. GEMME, DETECTIVE LARRY T. WILLIAMS, and DETECTIVE DANA RANDALL, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S PARTIAL MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DOCKET NO. 47)

          TIMOTHY S. HILLMAN DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Ricardo Ramirez filed the present action after he sustained injuries including a fractured jaw and broken teeth during his arrest by defendants Worcester Police Detectives Larry Williams and Dana Randall. Ramirez alleges violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count I), False Arrest (Count III), Malicious Prosecution (Count IV), Civil Conspiracy (Count V), Assault and Battery (Count VI), violations of the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act, Mass. Gen. L. ch. 112 (Count VII), and Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (Count VIII) against Williams and Randall, as well as violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Monell claims) against the City of Worcester, Worcester City Manager Michael V. O'Brien, and Worcester Chief of Police Gary Gemme (Count II).

         Defendants City of Worcester, O'Brien, Gemme, and Detectives Williams and Randall jointly move for partial summary judgment of Counts II, III, and V. For the reasons outlined below, the motion for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part.

         Background

         On the morning of July 19, 2011, plaintiff Ricardo Ramirez was approached by Worcester Vice Squad Detectives Larry Williams and Dana Randall on Murray Avenue in Worcester, MA. Williams and Randall had been surveilling the area, known for drug dealing, from an unmarked Worcester Police vehicle in the parking lot of Compare Foods, near the Murray Avenue Apartments. The officers noticed a Hispanic male driving a vehic le while talking on a cell phone and looking furtively, apparently searching for someone. The car pulled in and parked in the Compare Foods parking lot, and the driver, later identified as Angel Aponte, continued scanning the area, apparently looking for someone.

         Shortly thereafter, Williams and Randall saw Ramirez exit 50 Murray Ave., pick up his phone, and cross Murray Street into the parking lot of Compare Foods, also apparently searching for someone. Aponte and Ramirez noticed each other and waved, and Ramirez climbed into the passenger seat of the vehicle. In his Police Report, Randall alleges that he saw Aponte hand something to Ramirez, and believed that Ramirez took something from his pocket and handed it to Aponte. Aponte and Ramirez then drove out of the parking lot, and took a left turn into the YMCA parking lot, approximately 200 yards away. Ramirez got out of the car and began walking back toward 50 Murray Ave. Randall believed that he had seen an illegal narcotics exchange, and radioed two fellow Worcester police officers in the area to pursue Aponte in the vehicle, while he and Detective Williams made contact with Ramirez. Detectives Williams and Randall were both wearing plain clothes, not police uniforms, when they approached Ramirez.

         The parties dispute the events that transpired when Williams and Randall confronted Ramirez. According to Randall's police report, both detectives clearly displayed their badges and identified themselves as Worcester Police while walking toward Ramirez, and asked to speak with him. Randall's report claims that Ramirez immediately took an “aggressive fighting stance, ” hit Detective Williams in the collar bone area, then attempted to flee. Docket No. 49-1, p. 5. Randall's police report then alleges that Ramirez pulled his arm back to strike again, and that Randall loudly announced “Worcester Police, your [sic] under arrest!” Id. Randall claims he delivered two strikes to Ramirez's “center region” to stop the attack and create distance, but that Ramirez continued to fight violently. Id. Randall's police report states that both detectives then attempted a “standing arm bar take down, ” Ramirez lost his footing, and fell to the ground, where he “continued to fight violently hitting his mouth on the sidewalk.” Id. Once on the sidewalk, Ramirez was handcuffed. A search of his person turned up an empty plastic container, cell phone, and $60.

         Detective Williams did not file his police report of the incident until April 29, 2014, about two-years and eight months after the arrest occurred, and after this lawsuit was filed. Williams claims in his report that he had his badge displayed on his chest when he and Randall approached Ramirez, and that Williams announced “Police, ” and reached for Ramirez's arm “to prevent the destruction of any evidence…or an attempt to flee our stop, ” because “[s]uspects routinely flee or resist us….” Docket No. 49-1, p.6. Williams' Report states that Ramirez pulled away and became combative, “raising and swinging his fists to strike me somewhere in the upper body, ” and tha t Williams “swung back at Ramirez striking him in the face once.” Id. Williams' Report claims that Ramirez continued to fight and resist as they “yelled for him to stop, attempting to control his arms next to a fence then [] forced him to the ground.” Id. Williams' Report further states that the detectives struggled to control Ramirez on the ground, and he was eventually handcuffed.

         For his part, Ramirez admits getting into the car with Aponte, but claims that Aponte only wanted Ramirez to accompany him to the Registry of Motor Vehicles to serve as a translator. When Ramirez refused, Aponte pulled over and dropped him off at the YMCA, one block away, and he began walking back to 50 Murray Ave. Ramirez alleges Williams and Randall were on the staircase of a nearby building dressed in shorts and T-shirts, and one of the two was wearing a grey bandana on his head. As Ramirez was passing, he alleges Williams grabbed him by his right tricep, and said “[y]o stop, something like that.” Docket No. 50-1, ¶16. Ramirez alleges that his first instinct was that the men were planning to mug him, as he was in a “high crime area.” Id. at ¶16. Ramirez pulled his arm away, said “[w]hat the f---, ” and then immediately felt a blow to the right side of his face, followed by a blow to the left side of his face. Id. at ¶18-19. He denies ever hitting Randall or Williams.

         Ramirez claims neither detective had a badge visible at the time, and that they did not identify themselves as police until after he had been struck twice in the face. Ramirez alleges he told the officers that he didn't know they were police, and thought he was being mugged. He claimed one of the detectives “helped him come down to the ground.” Id. at ¶22. Ramirez claims that his face did touch the ground, but “it wasn't that I hit myself or anything.” Id. at ¶24. He claims the officers then searched his pockets and found an empty canister that he used for vitamins and heartburn medication. Ramirez denied any wrongdoing and told Williams and Randall that they had not identified themselves as police. It was at that point, according to Ramirez, that Williams removed a police badge from under his shirt.

         Other Worcester police detectives had arrested Aponte, searched his vehicle, and recovered Suboxone tablets. Suboxone contains bupenorphrine and naloxone. Bupenorphrine is a Class III controlled substance. Ramirez alleges that Randall asked Ramirez to take responsibility for the drugs recovered in Aponte's vehicle, or he would be charged with assault on a police officer and resisting arrest. Ramirez denied any wrongdoing, told the officers he was injured, and requested an ambulance. Ramirez had visible injuries, was bleeding from his mouth, and says that he showed the officers that his teeth had been broken, but they did nothing.

         Both officers testified in their depositions that they did not notice that Ramirez was injured. Randall testified that he did not see Williams strike Ramirez in the face, and was surprised that Williams had stated he had done so. Williams testified that he did not see Randall strike Ramirez, and did not know how or why Ramirez broke his jaw and teeth.

         Ramirez suffered a broken jaw and broken teeth, had to have his jaw wired, and underwent two surgeries, including insertion of metal plate to repair the damage. He continues to suffer pain and difficulty eating as a result of his injuries.

         Standard ...


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