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Wright v. Saint Louis Board of Police Commissioners

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

August 22, 2014



AUDREY G. FLEISSIG, District Judge.

Plaintiff Cedric Wright brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 claiming violations of his constitutional rights stemming from his August 20, 2011 arrest and subsequent incarceration in the City of St. Louis Correctional System from August 21, 2011 through October 20, 2011. Sadly, Plaintiff was incarcerated during this period based on warrants directed to another person. The matter is now before the Court on three motions for summary judgment filed by three groups of Defendants. For the reasons set forth below, summary judgment shall be granted in favor of all Defendants with the exception of Benjamin Goins, Jr.


Arrest, Booking, and Detention

On August 20, 2011, at approximately 7:00 p.m., a clerk at a Phillips 66 gas station in the City of St. Louis called 911 to report that a man had stolen an 18 pack of beer from her store. Based on the clerk's description of the perpetrator, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department ("SLMPD") dispatcher broadcast that a black male in his late 30's or early 40's wearing a white T-shirt and blue jeans had stolen an 18 pack of beer from the gas station and was last seen walking on a nearby street. Defendants Andrew Wismar and Brian Eisele, police officers with the SLMPD, responded to the call and went to a park in the area where they saw an individual, later identified as Plaintiff, who matched the suspect's description. Plaintiff was either holding an 18-pack of beer or standing next to one, and per his own testimony, took a few steps back when the officers arrived.

Wismar and Eisele approached Plaintiff, informed him that he was being stopped regarding the theft of the beer. One of the officers handcuffed him, placed him in the police car and the officers transported him to the Phillips 66 station for identification by the store clerk. Plaintiff was, according to Eisele, cooperative, but Wismar testified that while Plaintiff was not actually combative, he "pushed back" and dragged his feet as they were making their way toward the police car. Wismar further testified that he placed his left foot on the back of Plaintiff's knee to get him to sit down in the car and that he then pushed Plaintiff into the car. Plaintiff testified that he was not resisting the officers and that Wismar opened the door and threw him in the car head first and as Plaintiff tried to get his right leg inside the car, Wismar slammed the door on his right leg. Plaintiff testified that he did not really feel any pain in his right leg on that day, but on the next day he felt a throbbing pain in the leg that lasted for about 10 to 15 minutes. Thereafter, he had a "knot" on his right shin for about two weeks.

Once in the patrol car, Plaintiff told the officers that his name was Cedric Wright and gave them his ID, likely his driver's license. Using the terminal in the car, Wismar searched Plaintiff's name in the Regional Justice Information Service ("REJIS"). REJIS is a computerized network utilized by various municipal police departments to run background checks on detained individuals. REJIS links an individual's name with various identifiers such as social security numbers and date of birth, and in some cases, indicates prior use of aliases. Each individual listed in REJIS is assigned a Local Identification Number ("LID") corresponding to the person's fingerprints.

Wismar testified that his REJIS search for the name "Cedric Wright" revealed that Cedric Wright, LID number 240901, and a "Corey Leonard, " with a different LID number, [1] had in the past used each other's names as aliases; and that there were three active warrants out for Corey Leonard - for failures to appear on separate charges of felony gambling, felony stealing, and misdemeanor receiving of stolen property. Plaintiff testified that after Wismar looked Plaintiff's name up on the computer, Wismar told Plaintiff that he (Plaintiff) looked like and was Corey Leonard, and Plaintiff responded that he was not Corey Leonard but was Cedric Wright. (Doc. No. 153-23 at 6.)

Wismar and Eisele then drove Plaintiff to the Phillips 66 station where the clerk identified him as the person who stole the beer; it is uncontroverted that Plaintiff had in fact done so. The officers then told Plaintiff that he was under arrest. The officers contend that at that time, Plaintiff was under arrest for the petty larceny. Plaintiff presented the deposition testimony of an SLMPD Captain that officers had an option in the case of a petty larceny to issue a citation and release the person or to book the person on the charge, in which case the person would only be in jail for about 24 hours, and that usually the former procedure was followed. Eisele testified (consistent with the above deponent's testimony) that it is within the arresting officer's discretion to arrest an individual on a petty larceny charge and that officers might have done so at that time due to a spate of thefts in the vicinity of the Phillips 66 station. Plaintiff contends that he was taken into custody only because Wismar, when searching REJIS, had seen the outstanding warrants for Corey Leonard.

Wismar and Eisele transported Plaintiff to the area station for booking and he was fingerprinted. Eisele completed the top portion of a Field Booking Form, identifying Plaintiff as "Cedric Maurice Wright." Eisele also entered the social security number and date of birth that Plaintiff gave him on the booking form, and the petty larceny charge. While Eisele completed these booking tasks, Wismar ran a second REJIS search. Wismar testified that this search again revealed that Plaintiff had an alias of Corey Leonard and Corey Leonard had an alias of Cedric Wright, among others. The search again showed the three warrants against Corey Leonard. The REJIS form listed several dates of birth for Corey Leonard, none of which matched Plaintiff's date of birth, although the two men were close in age, [2] and five social security numbers, none of which matched Plaintiff's.

Wismar testified that he compared the REJIS photographs of Plaintiff and of Corey Leonard (photo date of 2/12/09) and that Plaintiff and Corey Leonard both "had a bone structure around their face" that was "almost kind of a rounded triangle shape on both their eyes" and had similar noses and lips. The REJIS form described Corey Leonard as medium build. Wright was 5' 9" and weighed 165 pounds. Both men were African American with a "med." complexion, black hair, and brown eyes. Wismar testified that he believed that Plaintiff was the individual named in the warrants. Wismar handed Eisele the REJIS printouts and asked him if the two photographs were of the same person. Eisele replied that he thought they were. It is undisputed that no effort was made to match Plaintiff's fingerprints with those on file for Corey Leonard.

Wismar decided to book Plaintiff on the three charges listed in the warrants for Corey Leonard, and they were added on the Field Booking Form. Plaintiff signed both pages of the Field Booking Form without asking any questions about it, but it is not clear if he did so after or before all four charges were listed on the form. After Plaintiff was booked, Wismar called the Warrant Fugitive Section to cancel the warrants for Corey Leonard and gave the booking form and REJIS printouts to the booking clerk. The booking clerk generated an Arrest Register from the handwritten information on the Field Booking Form. The Arrest Register contained the name "Corey Leonard" in handwriting in the "aliases/nicknames" section of the form. The Watch Commander reviewed and approved the Arrest Register and Plaintiff signed it, in effect certifying that his name and all his "personal information" on the form were correct.

Plaintiff presented evidence of concerns within the SLMPD during this time period of errors being made in the identification process at Prisoner Processing. Reflective of these concerns is an email dated August 25, 2011, from a sergeant to Prisoner Processing employees, stating as follows:

Double check LID numbers. Make sure you are using the correct LID for that prisoner. There are times when the name is run and the first LIDnumber that comes up is being used. That LID number must be a CITY LID not county and must be on the correct subject. Make sure you are looking at the whole pedigree to make sure it matches the prisoner being booked.... These are simple mistakes and can be easily correct [sic] just by double checking your work and taking you [sic] time. Even though they are simple mistakes to takes a [sic] a large number of man hours to fixthem, slowing down the whole system.

After booking, Plaintiff was transferred to the St. Louis City Justice Center ("CJC") and the Sheriff's Department assumed custody of Plaintiff. There is some discrepancy in the record as to the time of this transfer of custody - it was either on August 21, 2011, or the morning of the next day, the day Plaintiff was to appear in court on the charges for Corey Leonard. He was scheduled to appear in Division 26 on Case No. 0822-CR05202-01 (misdemeanor receiving of stolen property), and in Division 25 on Case Nos. 0922-CR00381-01 and XXXX-XXXXX-X (the felony charges).

Defendant Ruthann Alberti was then the highest ranking sheriff in the Sheriff Department's Criminal Records Unit, which keeps track of Sheriff's Department prisoners moving to and from court and the CJC. Alberti testified that when Plaintiff was turned over to the custody of the Sheriff's Department, it received a copy of the warrant with Corey Leonard's name and LID number 205094[3] on it, with the three charges against Corey Leonard listed; Plaintiff's LID history, showing LID number 240901; and a custody card. The custody card did not show aliases, but according to Alberti, that was the routine. Alberti testified that after the SLMPD turns an arrestee over to the Sheriff's Department with all the required paperwork, the Sheriff's Department does not further verify the identity of the arrestee and holds the person until he or she is ordered released by the court. She testified that she never received training on how to verify the identity of a suspect in the Sheriff Department's custody, and that there are no policies or procedures that govern how to do so. She further testified that she did not recall there ever having been an error made in her office where following a judge's order to release someone, the person was not released. (Doc. No. 119-13.)

Defendant Benjamin Goins, Jr., a deputy sheriff, transferred Plaintiff on August 22, 2011, to the St. Louis Circuit Court for his initial appearances for all three cases. Plaintiff testified that he did not ask Goins any questions on the way to court. Plaintiff was first brought to Division No. 26 on Case No. 0822-CR05202-01, the misdemeanor. At that proceeding, the Honorable Elizabeth Hogan, Circuit Judge, ordered Plaintiff released because he was not the proper defendant in the case. For a reason that has not been unveiled, the two Division 25 felony cases were continued by the court to September 30, 2011, [4] and Plaintiff was returned to the CJC.

After receiving Judge Hogan's release order, Goins should have delivered a copy of the order to the Criminal Records Unit. Had he done so, a Sheriff's Department employee in the Unit would, in the normal course of events, have made a computer entry of the disposition in the case into the Integrated Jail Management System ("IJMS") on the same day. The record does not indicate that this was done for Case No. 0822-CR05202-01.

Plaintiff contends that had a case disposition been entered in IJMS for Case No. 0822-CR05202-01 on the day of Judge Hogan's order, the disposition of that case would have "negated" any valid judicial hold on the two Division No. 25 cases and that he would not have remained in custody on those two charges. But he offers no evidence in support of this contention. Alberti testified that even if the case disposition had been entered on August 22, 2011, Plaintiff would have remained in the Sheriff's Department's custody until further court order on the two Division No. 25 cases.

Plaintiff asserts that after being returned to the CJC and realizing that he was not going to be released, he asked Goins what he was being charged with, and Goins told him there was a felony charge against him. Plaintiff testified that he did not say anything else to Goins or to anyone else about his continued detention before he was transferred on August 24, 2011, to the City's Medium Security Institute ("MSI"). (Doc. No. 105-1 at 13-16.)

At MSI, Plaintiff was assigned a caseworker and permitted to make telephone calls. Plaintiff presented evidence that at the time, the MSI was overcrowded and understaffed, with only one staff member in charge of classification of prisoners. He testified that the first time he told a Corrections Officer at MSI about his situation was after he had been there for approximately one month. The Corrections Officer told him that he wasn't supposed to be there, and Plaintiff started to talk to the other inmates about what to do. Id. at 31-34. At oral argument, Defendants contended, and Plaintiff did not dispute, that if requested, the case worker would have had the ability to schedule a court appearance for Plaintiff. But Plaintiff never contacted his case worker.

The Sheriff's Department records do not indicate why Plaintiff did not appear in Division No. 25 on September 30, 2011, the appearance date scheduled after the August 22, 2011 continuance. On or about October 16, 2011, on advice from a fellow inmate at the MSI, Plaintiff wrote a letter to Mary Fox of the Public Defender's Office explaining his situation. On October 20, 2011, Plaintiff appeared in Division No. 16 and met Fox, who explained Plaintiff's situation to the Honorable John Garvey, Circuit Judge. That same day, Judge Garvey reviewed all three of the Corey Leonard warrants, and issued a Release Order for Plaintiff on the two remaining cases, stating that Plaintiff was not the proper defendant in any of the cases.[5] Plaintiff was immediately released from custody, after being detained for 62 days. He did not request or receive any medical treatment during his detention.

Defendant Mark Garanzini is the Office Coordinator for the SLMPD's Prisoner Processing Division. He is a civilian, not a police officer. He does not work at the station where Plaintiff's booking occurred, and does not process and book suspects or execute warrants. Defendant Andrew Crews, now retired, worked at the SLMPD Headquarters and supervised officers and civilians in the Warrant Fugitive Section, including the five warrant clerks who cancel warrants once arrests are made and "pack" warrants by adding identifying information to them. Crews had no personal involvement with the warrants at issue here, but they were packed by employees under his supervision.

Municipal Custom and Policy

In August 2011, the SLMPD had a Special Order in place that directed police officers how and when to use force appropriately. The SLMPD also had Special Orders in place setting forth the appropriate procedures for arresting, booking, and processing arrestees at area stations and at the City Justice Center. The Execution of Warrants and Other Criminal Process Special Order states that "Whenever possible, officers will verify the validity of a warrant prior to booking and attempt to reasonably guarantee the identity of the arrestee by checking identification documents." (Doc. No. 115-9 at 3.)

Due to the use of aliases and other incorrect personal identifiers, as well as the possibility of mistakes during the booking process, it is the practice of the SLMPD to verify booking information by matching LID numbers and fingerprints on file with the fingerprints taken of the person arrested at the time of booking. This verification process is not employed in every case, and if used occurs after, rather than concurrent with, booking and often takes several days to a week to complete. If necessary, an error identification report ("EIR") is generated indicating that the fingerprints associated in REJIS with the LID number used for the booking do not match the fingerprints of the arrested individual. The EIR would alert the SLMPD, the Sheriff's Department, and the Department of Corrections to the error. The Board, however, did not have written policies about how to properly identify arrestees who claimed they were not the person named in the warrant upon which they had been arrested or booked.

Incidence of Arrestee Misidentification

Plaintiff offers records obtained in discovery reflecting that between August 2001 and mid-2013, the SLMPD misidentified 81 arrestees. Of these, 16 were arrested after Plaintiff. In 2011, there were 13 arrests due to misidentification. (Doc. No. 116-1 at 1-21.) In 22 of the 81 arrests, individuals were served warrants that did not reflect their LID numbers and the arresting officer and other SLMPD officials received an Alias Notification and/or Correct LID message, but failed to immediately release the improper subject.

The record does not reflect the total number of arrests by the SLMPD during this period. But Plaintiff has presented evidence that the SLMPD received between 50-75 new warrants from the Circuit Court each day that must be packed by a warrant fugitive clerk. (Doc. No. 121-17). The Court notes that this range of numbers is consistent with reported statistics that show that in 2011, a year in which, as noted above, Plaintiff's evidence indicates there were 13 arrests by the SLMPD due to misidentification, there were a total of approximately 35, 000 arrests in the City of St. Louis. See Missouri Statistical Analysis Center of the Missouri State Highway Patrol report, "Crime in Missouri 2011."

Between 2008 and the end of 2012, in addition to the 81 individuals noted above, the Sheriff's Deputy in Division Nos. 25 and 26 recorded 10 individuals as either the "wrong person, " "wrong defendant, " or "arrested in error." The record does not reflect the total number of arrestees brought before the court in these Divisions during this period. In addition, for the period between January 1, 2007, and August 20, 2011, another 65 individuals were identified in the Division of Corrections database using the search terms "wrong defendant, " "wrong person, " "misidentified, " or "misidentification."

Defendants offer documentary evidence and affidavits indicating that in the five years prior to 2011, the SLMPD's Internal Affairs Division received no complaints regarding the failure or alleged failure of SLMPD officers to properly identify individuals in their custody. Defendant Richard Gray, who had been on the Board since May 2010 and President of the Board since the fall of 2010, testified that prior to the filing of Plaintiff's lawsuit, the Board was not aware of any allegations regarding misidentification of arrestees by SLMPD officers and became aware of the circumstances surrounding Plaintiff's arrest only after this lawsuit was filed. He further testified that after the lawsuit was filed, the Board discussed the issue of misidentification of arrestees during a closed, executive session with their attorney present.

In 2012, after Plaintiff's release, a St. Louis City government initiative known as PIVOT was initiated for the study of misidentification of arrestees as an area of concern for the City.

Wismar's Training

Wismar's nine month training program in the SLMPD's Police Academy included classroom instruction on topics such as constitutional law and the use of force, as well as classroom and field training on a wide range of other topics. Wismar also received annual training related to use of force and defensive tactics. At all times relevant to this suit, the SLMPD had special orders in place setting forth the procedures for the use of force by police officers. In addition, Wismar was certified to use REJIS and was required to renew his certification every three years.


Plaintiff initiated this action on January 19, 2012, for declaratory judgment and damages against numerous Defendants from the SLMPD, the St. Louis Sherriff's Office, and the St. Louis Division of Corrections, as follows: the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners ("the Board"); four members of the Board, in their official capacities (Francis Slay, Jr., Thomas Irwin, Bettye Battle-Turner, and Gray); Daniel Isom, in his official capacity as (former) Chief of Police of the SLMPD; Gerald Leyshock, in his official capacity as (former) Captain and Commander of the Third District of the SLMPD; Wismar and Eisele, in their official capacities as police officers and in their individual capacities; Dale Glass in his official capacity as Commissioner of Corrections for the City of St. Louis; the St. Louis City Sheriff's Department; James W. Murphy, in his official capacity as St. Louis City Sheriff; the St. Louis City Division of Corrections; Charles Bryson in his official capacity as interim Commissioner of the Division of Corrections; Goins in his official capacity as a deputy sheriff and in his individual capacity; Crews, in his official and individual capacity; Alberti, in her official and individual capacity; and Garanzini, in his official capacity as a police booking officer and in his individual capacity.[6]

In ruling on motions to dismiss filed by various Defendants, the Court dismissed several claims and Doe ...

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