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Baptista v. Hodgson

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

January 24, 2019

NATASHA M. BAPTISTA, Individually and as a Personal Representative of the Estate of Egidio M. Batista, Plaintiff,


          Leo T. Sorokin United States District Judge

         Egidio Batista died from an injury he sustained while in a holding cell at the Ash Street Jail in New Bedford. His daughter, Natasha Baptista, [1] has brought suit against five individuals and the City of New Bedford[2] for claims arising out of Mr. Batista's death. The defendants have moved for summary judgment on all claims. For the reasons that follow, the motions for summary judgment are ALLOWED in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Facts[3]

         In July 2013, Egidio Batista lived in a first-floor apartment in New Bedford. Doc. No. 78 ¶ 25. His daughter, Natasha Baptista, and her young children lived in a second-floor unit in the same building. Id. ¶ 18. On July 20, 2013, Mr. Batista arrived home drunk and got into an argument with Ms. Baptista in the outdoor area of the apartment complex. Id. ¶¶ 6, 19. After taking her children upstairs to remove them from the situation, Ms. Baptista called 911. Id. ¶¶ 19-20. Officer Matthew Rodrigues of the New Bedford Police Department (“NBPD”)[4]arrived at the apartment building and observed Mr. Batista sitting on the ground outside the door of his apartment. Id. ¶¶ 8, 25. Officer Rodrigues observed that Mr. Batista was “highly intoxicated, was difficult to understand, was sweating and may have urinated his pants.” Id. ¶ 26. Mr. Batista told Officer Rodrigues about the verbal altercation he had with his daughter and that she called the police. Id. ¶ 27. After speaking with Ms. Baptista, Officer Rodrigues decided to take Mr. Batista into protective custody. Id. ¶¶ 28, 30, 31.

         Officer Rodrigues escorted Mr. Batista to the police cruiser without incident and transported him to the NBPD Headquarters. Id. ¶¶ 32-33. After photographing and booking Mr. Batista, Officer Rodrigues took him to the Ash Street Jail, pursuant to NBPD policy. Id. ¶ 34. Upon arrival at the Ash Street Jail,

Officer Rodrigues walked Mr. Batista to the admissions area, handed his report to a corrections officer, observed the initial medical evaluation of Mr. Batista[5] and left the Ash Street Jail once the paperwork had been signed off on by the corrections officer and Mr. Batista was placed in the custody and care of the Bristol County Sheriff's Department.

Doc. No. 78 ¶ 35. The surveillance video shows that Officer Rodrigues stayed in the booking area until Mr. Batista was placed in a temporary holding cell. Doc. No. 64-18. After leaving the Ash Street Jail, Officer Rodrigues did not have any further interaction with Mr. Batista. Doc. No. 78 ¶ 37.

         When Mr. Batista arrived at the Ash Street Jail, Officers Ronald Deschenes, Michael Goncalves, and Gina DiNucci of the BCSD were on duty in the admissions area. Id. ¶¶ 47-51. Officer Deschenes was responsible for “searching incoming detainees and placing them into a temporary holding cell pending processing and booking.” Id. ¶ 49. Officer Goncalves was responsible for completing the admissions paperwork. Id. ¶ 51. Officer DiNucci was responsible for maintaining visual supervision of the temporary holding cells through both a window and video surveillance. Id. ¶ 76. When Mr. Batista arrived, the larger of the two holding cells in the booking area was occupied by four males who had been arrested that afternoon. Id. ¶ 66. The other was occupied by a female who had been arrested. Id. ¶ 65.

         Mr. Batista was brought into the booking area by Officer Rodrigues and was then searched by Officer Deschenes. Id. ¶ 67. During this search, Mr. Batista spoke with Officer Deschenes in both English and Portuguese. Id. ¶ 68. Mr. Batista “was able to follow directions, to walk under his own power, and he was able to sit down in and get up from a seated position without assistance.” Id. ¶ 69. After Officer Deschenes searched Mr. Batista and helped him remove his shoes, he placed Mr. Batista “into the temporary holding cell in the booking area that was occupied by four other male detainees.” Id. ¶ 73. “Mr. Batista appeared reluctant to enter and be locked in the Ash Street Jail holding cell with four arrested detainees, and he tried to resist it.” Id. ¶ 113. He asked Officer Deschenes why he was being placed in the cell and stated that he did not want to go into it. Id. ¶ 115.

         Officer Deschenes nonetheless placed Mr. Batista in the cell. Id. ¶ 73. Officer Deschenes stayed in the booking area for a few moments where he observed Mr. Batista and the others in the holding cell before returning to his desk in another room of the Ash Street Jail, where Officer Goncalves was working at his own desk. Id. ¶¶ 74, 77; Doc. No. 64-18. From these desks, neither Officer Deschenes nor Officer Goncalves could observe the temporary holding cells where Mr. Batista and others were being held, either directly or on a video monitor, id. ¶¶ 75, 78, though Officer DiNucci maintained surveillance the entire time, id. ¶ 122. In fact, Officer Goncalves did not yet know that Mr. Batista had arrived at Ash Street Jail or that he had been placed in a temporary holding cell. Id. ¶ 78.

         According to one of the other individuals held in the cell, Mr. Batista began “just walking back and forth and just swearing and stuff . . . [i]t looked like he was just trying to pick a fight with somebody.” Id. ¶ 80. He “was getting into the face of the others in the cell and questioning what the other cellmates were going to do about it.” Id. ¶ 81 (internal quotation marks omitted). Within a few minutes of being placed in the holding cell, Mr. Batista made physical contact with Luis Mojica, one of the other individuals in the cell. Id. ¶ 83. In response, Mr. Mojica shoved Mr. Batista, who “fell to the ground, striking his head.” Id. ¶ 86. Immediately thereafter, Officer DiNucci called a Code 99 which indicated to the other officers that there was an emergency in the booking area. Id. ¶ 87. Within ten seconds of Mr. Batista falling to the ground, multiple officers arrived in the booking area to respond to the situation. Id. ¶ 88.

         The officers secured the scene and removed Mr. Batista from the holding cell, where they lifted him into a chair in order to assess his injuries. Id. ¶ 89; Doc. No. 64-18 A nurse arrived in the booking area to provide medical treatment to Mr. Batista. Id. ¶ 90. Mr. Batista was transported soon thereafter to a local hospital, where he died from his injuries the following morning. Id. ¶¶ 91-92.

         B. Relevant Policies

         There are a number of NBPD and BCSD policies which the plaintiff alleges were violated by the conduct of some or all of the defendants. The Court therefore summarizes the relevant portions of each of those polices.

         The NBPD Custodial Procedures policy, pursuant to which Officer Rodrigues took Mr. Batista into protective custody, states that

[t]he Bristol County Sheriff's Department is responsible for the care and custody of all adult detainees that are not brought to court or taken to another facility. Adult individuals . . . taken into protective custody shall ultimately be transported to the Ash Street Jail in New Bedford, where they will be . . . released pursuant to M.G.L. ch. 111B . . .

         Error! Hyperlink reference not valid.. Additionally, the policy requires that upon arrival at the Ash Street Jail, “the transporting officer will remain with the detainee until the jail staff have conducted a brief medical screening prior to acceptance of the detainee.” Id. at 11.

         The Bristol County Sheriff's Office Regional Lock-up Policy (“Lock-up Policy”)[6] sets forth the procedures for admitting, searching, and booking individuals brought to facilities such as the Ash Street Jail, and it applies equally to both protective custody detainees and to arrested individuals. Doc. No. 74-4 at 20. The Lock-up Policy provides that “[t]emporary holding cells . . . shall provide a temporary holding area for newly admitted prisoners and detainees before they are booked and escorted to the Regional Lockup.” Id. at 10. The Lock-up Policy also states that

[t]ypically, during the booking process, intoxicated and/or violent prisoners or detainees shall be segregated from others and placed in a separate temporary holding cells [sic]. Once that process is completed, the Booking Officer or Watch Commander shall ensure that the individual is placed in [a] separate cell within the Regional Lockup. Under no circumstances shall a violent, intoxicated or otherwise ...

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