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Culbertson v. J.P.S.O.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

November 6, 2017

WARREN EDWARD CULBERTSON
v.
J.P.S.O., ET AL.

          ORDER AND REASONS

          JANIS VAN MEERVELD, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff, Warren Edward Culbertson, a state inmate, filed this pro se civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He named as defendants the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office, the Jefferson Parish Correctional Center, Deputy Paul Dimitri, and Sergeant Mark Layrisson. The parties consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge, [1] and a bench trial was held on October 17, 2017.

         I. Plaintiff's Claims

         In this lawsuit, plaintiff claims that Deputy Paul Dimitri and Sergeant Mark Layrisson used excessive force to effect plaintiff's arrest on August 13, 2016, despite the fact that he offered no resistance. He further claims that the defendants refused him medical treatment for his wrist, which he alleges was broken during the arrest.

         II. The Evidence at Trial

         The following individuals testified at trial: Plaintiff, Deputy Chancellor Wollaston, Deputy Renoid Berthelot, Sergeant Mark Layrisson, and Deputy Paul Dimitri. The relevant testimony was as follows:[2]

         Plaintiff testified: On August 13, 2016, plaintiff was driving a vehicle which did not belong to him. While he was on the Westbank Expressway, a tire blew out. At that point, a police car following him activated its lights. Plaintiff pulled over and stopped the vehicle. When instructed to do so, he exited the vehicle, backed toward the two officers while facing in the opposite direction, and kneeled on the ground. He placed his left hand in the air as instructed but explained to the officers that, due to nerve damage, he was unable to comply with the instruction to raise his right hand. One of the officers then slammed plaintiff facedown onto the ground, placed his right hand in handcuffs, and stepped on the handcuffs. The officer then proceeded to put plaintiff's left hand in the handcuffs. After he was handcuffed, plaintiff was punched two or three times in the face by one officer and kicked once in the face by the other officer. Although plaintiff identified defendants Dimitri and Layrisson as the officers involved, he did not know which officer took which action because he was facing away from them. Plaintiff began yelling that his wrist had been broken by the officer stepping on the handcuffs. The officer told plaintiff to stop resisting; however, he was not resisting. Plaintiff was then placed into a police car. Although the police report stated that plaintiff banged his face on the cage while in that police car, he stated that was untrue and that it would have been impossible because of the way in which he was restrained. He was transported to the jail by Deputy Berthelot, who is not a defendant herein, and Dimitri and Layrisson did not accompany them or meet them at the jail. Plaintiff was not provided any medical treatment until after he was booked at the jail. He conceded that he did not actually request that either Dimitri or Layrisson arrange for medical care at the time of the arrest; however, plaintiff stated that his need for medical attention was nevertheless obvious in light of the fact that he had said his wrist was broken. He was charged with automobile theft in connection with the arrest, and he ultimately pleaded guilty to that charge.

         Chancellor Wollaston testified: Wollaston booked plaintiff into the jail after his arrest. Wollaston did not recall seeing any injuries to plaintiff's face or wrist upon plaintiff's arrival at the jail. Wollaston did not recall plaintiff saying that physical force was used to effect his arrest or that he was injured.

         Renoid Berthelot testified: Berthelot was the initial officer who responded to the call concerning a vehicle being stolen from the parking lot of a Brother's Food Mart. Based on the vehicle information obtained and distributed by Berthelot, Dimitri and Layrisson located and stopped the vehicle. Berthelot then took the victims to the scene of the stop. When they arrived, plaintiff was already restrained in the backseat of Dimitri's patrol car. The victims identified both plaintiff and the stolen vehicle. Berthelot observed no injuries to plaintiff at that time, and plaintiff did not complain of any injuries to Berthelot. Berthelot did not observe either Dimitri or Layrisson make any physical contact with plaintiff. Without his handcuffs being switched, plaintiff was removed from Dimitri's vehicle, placed into the backseat of Berthelot's vehicle, and transported by Berthelot to the Jefferson Parish Correctional Center. During the transport, plaintiff screamed profanities, kicked the back of the cage, and hit his head and body against the cage and car window. Due to plaintiff's behavior, Berthelot contacted jail officials, advised them that plaintiff was being combative, and requested that they have officers meet the car at the jail's sally port. Upon their arrival at the sally port, Berthelot first observed injuries to plaintiff's face. Plaintiff did not complain to Berthelot of any injuries or request medical attention while being transported to the jail, and Berthelot did not observe plaintiff request such attention upon arrival at the jail. Dimitri and Layrisson did not accompany Berthelot and plaintiff to the jail.

         Mark Layrisson testified: After interviewing the victim and viewing the surveillance footage at the Brother's Food Mart, Layrisson relayed information regarding the suspect and left to search for the stolen vehicle in the area. When Dimitri reported that he had located the vehicle, Layrisson went to Dimitri's location. They stopped the vehicle, and Dimitri instructed plaintiff to exit the vehicle and approach them. Plaintiff was yelling as he approached, but they could not hear what he was saying because he was facing the opposite direction. They instructed plaintiff to place his hands in the air, but he failed to raise his right hand. Dimitri instructed plaintiff to kneel, and he did so with only his left hand in the air. They then placed plaintiff in a prone position on the ground, and he explained that he could not raise his right hand due to a medical problem. The officers handcuffed plaintiff and told him that he was being arrested for stealing the vehicle. At that point, plaintiff became belligerent and started cursing the officers, who placed him in the backseat of Dimitri's vehicle. After Berthelot was notified of the arrest, he and the victims arrived at the scene, and plaintiff was transferred to Berthelot's vehicle to be transported to the jail. After Berthelot and plaintiff left, Layrisson and Dimitri stayed on the scene with the victims, replaced the tire on the stolen vehicle, and then resumed their patrols without going to the jail. Layrisson denied that either he or Dimitri punched plaintiff, kicked him, or stepped on his handcuffs. He also denied that plaintiff requested medical treatment from either himself or Dimitri. Layrisson stated that if an arrestee is injured during an arrest or requests medical treatment, standard protocol requires that the officers request that emergency medical services respond to the scene to evaluate whether immediate medical attention is required.

         Paul Dimitri testified, and his testimony was fully consistent with that of Layrisson. Specifically, Dimitri denied that either he or Layrisson punched plaintiff, kicked him, or stepped on his wrist. Dimitri also denied that plaintiff requested medical treatment, and he stated that emergency medical services would have been called if there had been such a request. Dimitri did not observe plaintiff banging his body against the police car cage or door. Dimitri also did not observe any injuries to plaintiff.

         At trial, eight exhibits were admitted into evidence, including police reports, plaintiff's medical and booking records, photographs taken after booking, and criminal records concerning plaintiff's conviction.

         III. Analysis

         A. Claims Against ...


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