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Howie v. City of Providence

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

January 24, 2019

CHARM HOWIE, Plaintiff,
CITY OF PROVIDENCE, by and through its Treasurer, James J. Lombardi, III, alias and, PATRICK POTTER, alias and, MATTHEW SHERIDAN, alias and, MICHAEL PLACE, alias, individually and in their official capacities as Providence Police officers, Defendants.



         The plaintiff in this case, Charm Howie, seeks to hold the City of Providence liable for the alleged misconduct of three Providence Police officers through a theory of municipal liability. The Defendant City of Providence has moved for judgment on the pleadings, asking the Court to dismiss Counts One through Five. ECF No. 17. Defendant's motion is DENIED for the following reasons.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Court begins with a recitation of the necessary facts pleaded by Mr. Howie in the light most favorable to him. The Court accepts as true all well-pleaded facts from Mr, Howie's Complaint (ECF No. 1) and draws all reasonable inferences in his favor. Doe v. Brown Univ., 896 F.3d. 127, 130 (1st Cir. 2018) (quoting Kando v. R.I. State Bd of Elections, 880 F.3d 53, 58 (1st Cir. 2018)). Further, the Court" supplement[s] those facts by reference to documents incorporated in the pleadings." Kando, 880 F.3d at 56 (quoting Jardin De Las Catalinas Ltd. P'Ship v. Joyner, 766 F.3d. 127, 130 (1st Cir. 2014)).

         A. Factual Allegations

         Mr. Howie attended the Providence Police Training Academy in 2014, Defendants Matthew Sheridan and Michael Place were also attending the Academy that year. ECF No. 1 at 3. During his time at the Police Academy, Defendants often made comments to Mr. Howie, criticizing him and showing they did not want Mr. Howie there, telling him, "you need to quit." Id. at 3. Following a "feedback session" wherein Officer Sheridan told him to "get out of here," Mr. Howie was dismissed from the Academy by Providence Police Major Francisco Colon with little explanation other than that it was not "working out." Id. at 4. Mr. Howie obtained other employment and had no further contact with the Defendants until the incident in question. Id.

         A year later, Mr. Howie was driving home and passed two parked Providence Police vehicles that he recognized belonged to Officers Sheridan and Place. Mr. Howie made eye contact with Officer Place, nodded, and then saw Officer Sheridan running to get into his car. Mr. Howie saw Officer Sheridan turn his car around, and both Officers began following Mr. Howie in their vehicles. Id. at 4-5. Mr. Howie continued driving with no sign that Officers Place and Sheridan intended for him to pull over. He admits he was driving with a headlight out. Id. There were other police cars with flashing lights in front of a house down the street from Mr. Howie's home, and upon passing those lights, Officers Place and Sheridan put on theirs. Believing the officers were responding to the situation down the street, Mr. Howie continued a short way to his home and parked in his driveway. Id. Mr. Howie exited his vehicle and walked to the front of his home, where Officers Sheridan and Place were parked at the end of his driveway. Id. at 5-6.

         Officers Place and Sheridan approached Mr. Howie. Officer Sheridan began swearing at Mr. Howie and told him that his headlight was out. Mr. Howie acknowledged that his headlight was out and that the police might ticket him. He asked the officers not to swear below the window where his children were sleeping. Id. Mr. Howie turned around slowly and Officer Sheridan told him, "I know you; you're all set." Id. At this point, Officers Sheridan and Place continued to make comments to Mr. Howie and discuss the possibility of him receiving a ticket for the headlight until Defendant Patrick Potter arrived. Id. Officer Potter was the supervisor of Officers Sheridan and Place. Id. at 2. When Officer Potter arrived, he told Officer Sheridan to "put [Mr. Howie] on the car," at which point Officer Sheridan pushed Mr. Howie against the car and patted him down, maintaining physical contact for an extended period while Officer Potter searched Mr. Howie's car, without consent. Id. at 7. There was no indication that the officers suspected that Mr. Howie was armed and dangerous at any time before or during the search. Id.

         Officers Sheridan and Place brought Mr. Howie to one of the police vehicles and put him inside. Id. After Mr. Howie fielded yet another series of verbal insults from Officer Sheridan, Officer Sheridan lunged at Mr. Howie and tried to choke him. Officers Place and Potter stood back and watched until Officer Potter noticed a neighbor watching and told Officer Sheridan to calm down. Id. at 8. Officer Potter told Mr. Howie to stop looking at him "violently" and asked Mr. Howie what he wanted to do next. Mr. Howie indicated he wanted to speak to a supervisor, and Officer Potter told him that he was the supervisor. Id. Mr. Howie tried to discuss the situation, but Officer Potter swore at him and told Officer Sheridan to arrest Mr. Howie. Officer Sheridan told Mr. Howie, "I was just going to give you a ticket, but my boss told me I have to arrest you." Id. Throughout this encounter, Officers Sheridan and Place both made calls to other former classmates at the Academy who had known Mr. Howie. Id. at 9. Ultimately, Mr. Howie was arrested and brought to the police station, where he was processed and released. Id. at 8.

         Following Mr. Howie's arrest, he was charged with two traffic violations and disorderly conduct, a municipal violation. Id. at 9. When Mr. Howie refused to plead guilty to the municipal charge, the City refiled the case in Rhode Island District Court, charging him with disorderly conduct, R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-45-l(a)(1), and added charges of simple assault, R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-5-3 and resisting arrest, R.I. Gen. Laws § 12-7-10. Id. at 9. Over sixteen months, Mr. Howie appeared in court twenty times. Id. Mr. Howie was found not guilty on all counts.

         Additionally, and importantly to the matter at issue in the City's motion, Mr. Howie alleges that the Providence Police Department received 200 civilian contacts in 2015, ail of which were reviewed by the Chief of Police. Id. at 10. Seventy-five of these contacts became formal complaints, and the City sustained just seven of these. Of those seven, only one officer received discipline beyond a written warning. Id.

         B. Procedural History

         Mr. Howie asserted nine Counts in his complaint. Counts One, Three, and Five allege violations of the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments actionable under 42 U.S.C. §1983. Counts Two and Four allege violations of the Rhode Island Constitution. These five Counts are alleged against all Defendants. Counts Six, Seven, Eight, and Nine are common law torts alleged only against the Defendant Officers. Both the Defendant Officers and Defendant City of Providence have filed answers. ECF No. 3 and 9. Defendant City of Providence filed this Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. ECF No. 14. It later amended the motion. ECF No. 17. Mr. Howie objects (ECF No. 16) to the motion, to which the City replied. ECF. No. 18. Mr. Howie filed a sur-reply. ECF No. 19.

         II. ...

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