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Wilson v. Prince George's County, Maryland

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

June 18, 2018

DAMON WILSON, Plaintiff - Appellant,
v.
PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, MARYLAND; PFC GILL, ID #3361, Prince George's County Police, Defendants - Appellees.

          Argued: March 22, 2018

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, at Greenbelt. William Connelly, Magistrate Judge. (8:16-cv-00425-WGC)

         ARGUED:

          George Aubrey Harper, LAW OFFICES OF GEORGE HARPER, Upper Marlboro, Maryland, for Appellant.

          Gessesse Teferi, PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY OFFICE OF LAW, Upper Marlboro, Maryland, for Appellees.

         ON BRIEF:

          Jared M. McCarthy, County Attorney, Andrew J. Murray, Deputy County Attorney, PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY OFFICE OF LAW, Upper Marlboro, Maryland, for Appellees.

          Before GREGORY, Chief Judge, and KEENAN and FLOYD, Circuit Judges.

          BARBARA MILANO KEENAN, CIRCUIT JUDGE

         Damon Wilson was shot several times during an encounter with Officer Brendan Gill, a Prince George's County, Maryland, police officer. The incident occurred while Officer Gill was investigating an emergency call that Wilson had committed a burglary of his former girlfriend's dwelling and had assaulted her.

         Wilson filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Officer Gill and Prince George's County (collectively, the defendants), alleging excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Wilson also alleged in his complaint that Officer Gill's conduct violated certain provisions of Maryland state law. The district court awarded summary judgment in the defendants' favor, holding that Officer Gill was entitled to qualified immunity, and that the County was not liable because no constitutional violation occurred.[1]

         Upon our review, we hold that the district court erred in determining that Officer Gill's conduct did not violate Wilson's Fourth Amendment rights. Nevertheless, we affirm the district court's determination that Officer Gill is entitled to qualified immunity, because we hold that the constitutional violation was not clearly established when the incident occurred. We also affirm the court's judgment on the common law intentional infliction of emotional distress claim against Officer Gill and on the respondeat superior claim asserted against the County. However, because questions of immunity under state law remain, we vacate the court's award of summary judgment on Wilson's remaining state-law claims against Officer Gill, and remand those claims to the district court for further proceedings.

         I.

         The parties largely agree on the events that occurred from the moment that Officer Gill first saw Wilson until the time that Officer Gill fired his weapon. We note any disputes of fact below.

         On October 7, 2012, late in the afternoon, Wilson walked to the home of his former girlfriend, Mynia Johnson, because he wanted to see his two daughters who were in Johnson's care. After "knocking" and "banging" on Johnson's apartment door and receiving no response, Wilson began shouting that he wanted to see his children. As his anger increased, Wilson "kicked down" the front door of Johnson's apartment and walked inside, cursing and yelling at Johnson and one of her male guests.

         After greeting one daughter, Wilson left the apartment. Johnson followed him outside and, during an argument that ensued, Wilson slapped Johnson. When Johnson threatened to call the police, Wilson attempted to take her phone, which fell into a drain.

         Wilson left the area and walked to his brother's home. Because his brother was preoccupied with other matters, Wilson once again became angry, seized a pocket knife, and left his brother's home. Wilson walked back toward Johnson's apartment, intending to commit suicide in front of her so that she would blame herself for his death.

         Meanwhile, Johnson had placed a telephone call to a 911 operator and had informed the operator that her ex-boyfriend had broken into her apartment and had assaulted her. Officer Gill arrived at the apartment in response to the 911 call. Johnson showed Officer Gill the damaged apartment door, and informed him that Wilson had assaulted her after breaking into the apartment. Johnson later accompanied Officer Gill outside the building. As Officer Gill and Johnson were leaving the building, Johnson observed Wilson some distance away and identified him to Officer Gill, who directed Johnson to return to her apartment.[2]

         Officer Gill began walking toward Wilson, attempting to engage him in a dialogue. Moments later, Wilson pulled a shiny object out of his pocket.[3] However, due to the distance between him and Wilson, Officer Gill was unable to identify the object.

         Because Wilson continued walking in Officer Gill's direction, Officer Gill drew his service weapon and commanded Wilson between ten and fifteen times to drop the object in his hands, which object Officer Gill later identified as a knife. After Wilson failed to drop the knife, Officer Gill called for assistance on his radio. Wilson told Officer Gill to leave so that Wilson could "do what [he] wan[ted to] do." Wilson ignored Officer Gill's repeated command that Wilson drop the knife.

         Instead, Wilson began directing obscene remarks at Johnson. Rather than drop the knife, Wilson took some steps forward, started "poking" himself with the knife, and "slit his throat." He then took a few more steps toward Officer Gill, and began "stab[bing]" and "poking" himself in the chest, which he testified caused ...


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