United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
CHRISTINE A. MERCURIO, Plaintiff,
TOWN OF SHERBORN, DAVID BENTO, LUKE TEDSTONE, JOHN COFFEY, and MARK SCOLA. Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER ON DEFENDANTS'
MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DKT. NO. 57)
L. CABELL, U.S.M. JUDGE.
case arises from a police encounter that led to plaintiff
Christine Mercurio's (“Mercurio” or
“the plaintiff”) arrest. She contends that
Sherborn Police Department (“SPD”) officers used
excessive force and arrested her without cause and she has
brought a multi-count civil rights suit against several SPD
officers and the town of Sherborn (“the Town”).
The defendants move for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 57). The
plaintiff opposes the motion and the matter has been fully
briefed. (Dkt. No. 66). After careful consideration of the
record, the parties' submissions, and the information
adduced at a hearing on the motion, the motion for summary
judgment is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. The reasons
for this ruling are explained below.
RELEVANT FACTUAL BACKGROUND
March 15, 2012, shortly before 11:00 p.m., the plaintiff was
driving with her husband, Mohammed Kimakhe
(“Kimakhe”), on a portion of South Main Street in
Sherborn. (Concise Statement of Undisputed Facts In Support
of Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment
(“Defendants' SUF”), at ¶ 7). SPD
Officers Mark Scola (“Scola”) and David Bento
(“Bento”) were dispatched to that area at around
the same time, based on a report from a caller that a crime
had been committed or was in progress, and that the caller
could hear two individuals arguing by the side of the road.
(Defendants' SUF, at ¶¶ 14, 15);
Plaintiff's Response to Defendants' Concise Statement
of Undisputed Material Facts and Statement of Additional
Undisputed Facts In Opposition to Defendants' Motion for
Summary Judgment (“Plaintiff's SUF”), at
¶¶ 14, 15). The parties agree that neither officer
had previously met or interacted with the plaintiff.
(Defendants' SUF, at ¶ 16). The parties also agree
that an encounter took place between them when the officers
arrived on scene, but offer conflicting versions of events.
The Defendants' Version
to the defendants, when Officers Scola and Bento arrived,
Officer Scola saw the plaintiff standing outside of a car
next to a male later identified as Kimakhe. (Id., at
¶ 17). Officer Scola could hear the plaintiff yelling as
he approached. (Id., at ¶ 18). Shortly
thereafter, Officers Scola and Bento saw the plaintiff strike
Kimakhe in the face with her fist. (Id., at ¶
officers separated the couple and Officer Bento spoke with
the plaintiff while Officer Scola spoke with Kimakhe.
(Id., at ¶¶ 20, 22-23). According to
Officer Scola, Kimakhe said that he and the plaintiff began
to argue while they were driving down South Main Street.
(Id., at ¶ 24). Kimakhe subsequently pulled the
car over to the side of the road so the plaintiff could exit
the car and call her father, Frank Mercurio, to come and pick
her up. (Id.). Kimakhe admitted that the plaintiff
punched him in the face but he said that he was fine and did
not require any medical attention. (Id., at ¶
plaintiff's father arrived soon afterwards and told
Officer Scola that the plaintiff had called him for a ride
because she and her husband were arguing. (Id., at
¶ 26). Upon hearing that the plaintiff and Kimakhe were
married, Officers Scola and Bento deemed the plaintiff's
conduct to constitute domestic violence warranting an
immediate arrest under Massachusetts law, and accordingly
decided to place her under arrest. (Id., at
officers informed the plaintiff that she was under arrest and
instructed her to place her hands behind her back so they
could handcuff her wrists. (Id., at ¶¶ 29,
32). The plaintiff refused to comply; the officers attempted
to gain control of her wrists, but she continued to resist by
tightening her arms, shaking, and twisting her body.
(Id., ¶¶ 29, 32-33). The officers
subsequently brought the plaintiff to the ground and
handcuffed her in the prone position. (Id., ¶
34). The officers then asked the plaintiff to rise so she
could walk to the police cruiser. (Id., ¶ 36).
The plaintiff refused to get into the cruiser and continued
to resist by moving sporadically, squirming, flailing her
feet, and kicking. (Id., at ¶¶ 37, 38). At
some point, the plaintiff struck Officer Scola in the face
with a shoe. (Id., ¶ 39).
Bento and Scola were eventually able to place the plaintiff
in the cruiser and close the door. (Id., ¶ 55).
Still, the plaintiff continued to be recalcitrant, and
attempted to kick out the rear window of the police cruiser.
(Id., ¶ 56). The officers chose not to secure
the plaintiff in the back seat with a seatbelt in light of
the difficulties they encountered in arresting her in the
first place. (Id., ¶ 58).
The Plaintiff's Version
plaintiff avers that she and her husband were driving home
when she asked him to pull over to the side of the road so
she could get out and smoke a cigarette. (Id., at
¶ 24). Kimakhe pulled over and they both stood outside
the car while the plaintiff smoked a cigarette.
(Id., at ¶¶ 17, 24). The plaintiff and
Kimakhe were conversing normally when Officers Bento and
Scola arrived. (Id., at ¶ 18). The plaintiff
denies that she punched Kimakhe in the face. (Id.,
at ¶ 19). Kimakhe also testified in his deposition that,
contrary to Officer Scola's report, the plaintiff never
struck him, and he did not have any apparent injuries.
(Id., at ¶ 23). Nonetheless, Officers Scola and
Bento separated the plaintiff and Kimakhe and questioned each
of them separately. While the officers were doing so, Frank
Mercurio arrived and in due course told Officer Scola that
the plaintiff and Kimakhe were married. (Id., at
¶¶ 20, 26).
this exchange with Frank Mercurio, Officers Scola and Bento
accused the plaintiff of striking Kimakhe in the face and
suddenly threw her to the ground without warning or an
opportunity to respond to the accusation. (Id., at
¶¶ 29, 32). Prior to throwing her to the ground,
neither officer tried to handcuff the plaintiff or ever
informed her that she was under arrest. (Id.,
¶¶ 33, 34). The plaintiff did not struggle or
otherwise resist arrest prior to being taken to the ground.
(Id., at ¶ 35).
they brought her to the ground, Officers Bento and Scola
placed their knees on the plaintiff's back in an effort
to hold her down, handcuffed her, and then
“dragged” her to the police cruiser, where she
was “thrown” into it “like a duffle
bag.” (Id., at ¶¶ 32, 36, 37). And,
because the officers failed to secure the plaintiff with a
seat belt, she was “thrown around the back of the
police car” as the car moved. (Id., at
¶¶ 56, 58).
to Frank Mercurio, the plaintiff was initially
“squirming around” but she never resisted arrest
and she did not hit Officer Scola in the face with a shoe.
(Id., at ¶¶ 39, 40, 55, 57).
The Booking Process
parties agree that when the officers brought the plaintiff to
the Sherborn police station for booking, she complained of
pain in her thumb and was given an ice pack. (Plaintiff's
SUF, at ¶ 59). Officer Scola, however, did not observe
any physical injuries on the plaintiff. (Defendants' SUF,
at ¶ 59). Officers then handcuffed the plaintiff to a
“Murphy bar” and instructed her to sit in a
rolling chair and answer questions through a glass window.
(Defendant's SUF, at ¶¶ 62, 68; Plaintiff's
SUF, at ¶¶ 62, 68).
defendants claim that the plaintiff was uncooperative and
continued to resist and kick at the officers but the
plaintiff disputes this assertion and maintains that she was
initially cooperative and answered the booking questions
asked of her. (Defendants' SUF, at ¶ 69;
Plaintiff's SUF, at ¶¶ 69, 84). Still, both
parties agree that at some point during the booking process
the plaintiff began hitting the glass window in an effort to
get the officers' attention. (Defendants' SUF, at
¶ 63; Plaintiff's SUF, at ¶ 63). The plaintiff
also made several remarks to the effect that she was
contemplating suicide and would take her own life by any
means necessary. (Defendants' SUF, at ¶¶ 70,
85).Based on these remarks, the defendants
called for an ambulance to transport the plaintiff to the
hospital for a psychiatric evaluation. (Defendants' SUF,
at ¶¶ 71, 86, 88; Plaintiff's SUF, at ¶
to the defendants, the plaintiff became increasingly agitated
once the ambulance arrived and threatened to
“fight” any officer who attempted to move her
onto the stretcher. (Defendants' SUF, at ¶¶ 74,
96, 98). The plaintiff disputes this contention and maintains
that she sat calmly with her head down on the Murphy bar, and
at no point indicated that she would resist being transported
to the hospital. (Plaintiff's SUF, at ¶¶ 74,
81, 96, 98).
the parties agree that SPD Officer Tedstone pulled the chair
from under the plaintiff while she was still handcuffed to
the Murphy bar, causing her to fall to the ground.
(Defendants' SUF, at ¶¶ 73, 75, 102;
Plaintiff's SUF, at ¶¶ 73, 102, 104). The
parties also agree that once the plaintiff fell to the
ground, she became increasingly combative with the officers
attempting to move her onto the stretcher, by flailing her
arms and legs, biting, spitting, scratching, and kicking at
those around her. (Defendants' SUF, at ¶¶ 77,
78, 90; Plaintiff's SUF, at ¶¶ 77, 78, 90). The
plaintiff ultimately was placed in a four point restraint on
the stretcher and transported to a local hospital.
(Defendants' SUF, at ¶¶ 79, 93; Plaintiff's
SUF, at ¶¶ 79, 93).
State Court Proceedings
plaintiff was subsequently charged in state court with
several criminal offenses. (Defendants' SUF, at ¶
113; Plaintiff's SUF, at ¶ 113). The criminal case
was dismissed based on an opinion from the plaintiff's
psychiatrist that the plaintiff was suffering from an acute
psychotic episode at the time of the incident and was
therefore not criminally responsible for her actions.
(Defendants' SUF, at ¶¶ 108, 110;
Plaintiff's SUF, at ¶¶ 108, 110).
The Plaintiff's Mental Health History
early 2002 the plaintiff was diagnosed with major depression
with psychotic features; she has attempted suicide at least
four times since then. (Defendants' SUF, at ¶¶
2, 4; Plaintiff's SUF, at ¶¶ 2, 4). The
plaintiff's condition causes her to experience psychotic
episodes during unpleasant or traumatic events.
(Defendants' SUF, at ¶ 6; Plaintiff's SUF, at
¶ 6). During such episodes, the plaintiff hallucinates a
male figure that unleashes an army of cockroaches that will
bite and ultimately kill her. (Defendants' SUF, at ¶
5; Plaintiff's SUF, at ¶ 5).
parties disagree as to when SPD officers first learned that
the plaintiff suffers from a mental illness. The plaintiff
maintains that Frank Mercurio told Officers Scola and Bento
immediately prior to her arrest that the plaintiff suffers
from a mental illness, and pleaded with them to allow him to
transport her to a nearby hospital for an evaluation.
(Plaintiff's SUF, at ¶ 41). The defendants state
that they did not learn of the plaintiff's mental illness
until sometime after arresting her. (Defendants' SUF, at
the plaintiff claims that she experienced a psychotic episode
when Officer Scola and Bento threw her to the ground so they
could handcuff her wrists. (Defendants' SUF, at ¶
43; Plaintiff's SUF, at ¶ 43). As a consequence, the
plaintiff was “in and out of reality” for the
remainder of the evening and could not remember portions of
that evening. (Defendants' SUF, at ¶¶ 44, 45;
Plaintiff's SUF, at ¶¶ 44, 45, 53).