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Rhodes v. Sanford

United States District Court, Second Circuit

July 29, 2013

MRS. VALERIE L. RHODES (Drayton), Plaintiff,
P.O. ANTHONY SANFORD, et al., Defendants.


MARIAN W. PAYSON, Magistrate Judge.


Plaintiff Valerie Rhodes ("Rhodes") has initiated this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Anthony Sanford ("Sandford") and the Village of Bath Police Department ("Police Department"). (Docket # 1). Her complaint alleges two claims arising from her arrest on December 18, 2010: the first, a claim against Sanford, an officer with the Police Department, for excessive force in effectuating the arrest; the second, a claim against the Police Department for "covering up for him." ( Id. ). Currently before the Court is defendants' motion for summary judgment on both claims. (Docket # 34).

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties have consented to have a United States magistrate judge conduct all further proceedings in this case, including the entry of final judgment. (Docket # 11).


The following facts are derived from the parties' statements of material facts submitted pursuant to Rule 56.1 of the Local Rules of Civil Procedure for the Western District of New York. (Docket # 34-4; # 38 at 4-6). They are undisputed except where otherwise noted.

On December 18, 2010, at approximately 11:30 p.m., defendant Sanford, while on patrol duty, observed a vehicle driving with defective tail lights on West Morris Street in the Village of Bath. (Docket # 34-4, ¶ 1; # 38 at 5). Sanford initiated a traffic stop and approached the driver's side of the car. (Docket # 34-4, ¶¶ 2-3; # 38 at 5). Sanford informed the driver, plaintiff Rhodes, that the reason he had pulled her over was because she was operating a car with defective tail lights. (Docket # 34-4, ¶ 5; # 38 at 5). The passenger, Aliesha Davis ("Davis"), informed Sanford that she owned the car and had planned to have the tail light repaired. (Docket # 34-4, ¶ 6; # 38 at 5).

Sanford observed that Rhodes had glassy and bloodshot eyes and smelled an odor of alcohol "emanating from her." (Docket # 34-4, ¶ 4; # 38 at 5). Sanford asked her if she had been drinking. (Docket # 34-4, ¶ 7; # 38 at 5). According to Sanford, she responded, "a few"; according to Rhodes, she responded, "yes, one beer." ( Id. ). Sanford further observed that Rhodes's speech was "slow and deliberate" and characterized by "broken sentences." (Docket # 34-4, ¶ 7). Sanford asked Rhodes for her driver's license, and Rhodes admitted that she did not have one. (Docket # 34-4, ¶ 8; # 38 at 5).

Sanford ordered Rhodes to exit the car. (Docket # 34-4, ¶ 9; # 38 at 5). Sanford claims that as she did, he heard her step on a beverage can and then observed a spilled can of beer on the driver's side floor board. (Docket # 34-4, ¶ 9). Rhodes concedes that she had an open container in the car, but disputes that she stepped on it. (Docket # 38 at 5).

Sanford administered a series of roadside sobriety tests to Rhodes, which she failed. (Docket # 34-4, ¶ 10; # 38 at 5). He also administered a blood alcohol content field test, which yielded a result of.13%, or.05% higher than the legal limit. (Docket # 34-4, ¶ 11; # 38 at 5). Rhodes disputes that her blood alcohol content was over the legal limit. (Docket # 38 at 5). At that point, Sanford advised Rhodes that she was under arrest and directed her to turn around and put her hands behind her back. (Docket # 34-4, ¶ 12; # 38 at 5). Rhodes complied. ( Id. ).

The parties' accounts of the events immediately thereafter sharply diverge. Rhodes contends that when Sanford applied the handcuffs to her left wrist, she experienced a surge of pain caused by pressure on a preexisting wrist injury. (Docket # 38 at 5, 7). As a result, her arm jerked, and she pleaded with Sanford to loosen the cuff. ( Id. ). At that point, according to Rhodes, Sanford forcefully pushed his hand into the back of her head and neck area, and slammed her into the ground face-first, causing her to fall and injure herself. ( Id. ).

Sanford admits that he caused Rhodes to fall to the ground, but disputes her version of how she ended up on the ground. He claims that when he attempted to apply the handcuffs, she jerked her right arm away from him, turned to face him and yelled, "No, Officer!" (Docket # 34-4, ¶ 13). He placed his right hand on her shoulder and pulled her right arm towards him in order to try to apply the other handcuff to her wrist. ( Id., ¶ 14). According to him, Rhodes then yelled, "You can't do this to me. I have a four month old daughter!" ( Id. ). She pulled away from him, and Sanford lost his grasp on her, but managed to grab the loose handcuff. ( Id. ). Rhodes ran approximately four steps towards the driver's side of the car, with Sanford holding onto the unapplied cuff. ( Id., ¶ 15). Sanford pushed her against the car, but Rhodes was able to push back against the car and "stepped toward the roadway." ( Id., ¶¶ 15-16). To avoid a possible struggle in the road, Sanford pulled her by her wrist toward the side of the road

and placed his right hand on her left upper arm and pulled her in a semicircular motion toward the grassy area on the side of the road[, and] then stuck his right leg in front of plaintiff and forced her to the ground, where she fell striking her chest and chin.

( Id., ¶ 16). Sanford then successfully applied the handcuffs. ( Id. ).

Rhodes sustained a broken jaw, a broken tooth, a dislocated thumb and facial abrasions and contusions. (Docket #1; # 38 at 4; # 39-2, ¶ 1). She requested an ambulance, and Sanford arranged for an ambulance to meet them at police headquarters. (Docket # 34-4, ¶ 17; # 38 at 5). Rhodes was evaluated by the emergency medical personnel and taken to the hospital for evaluation and treatment of her injuries. (Docket # 34-4, ¶¶ 18-19; # 38 at 5).

At the police station, Davis, the passenger who had been in the car with Rhodes, provided a sworn statement under penalty of perjury. She stated that after Sanford instructed Rhodes to exit the car:

[t]hey walked to the area behind my vehicle and in front of the police car that was behind us. I was busy texting on my phone at the time. I heard her counting and at one point I heard the officer tell [her] she was under arrest and to put her hands behind her back. [Rhodes] kept screaming NO and was shouting obscenities. I wasn't paying much attention and [Rhodes] is my friend. I don't want to get her into any trouble. Chief Rouse asked me if the police officer was acting inappropriately and I don't believe that. [Rhodes] was drunk and it appears that she resisted arrest.

(Docket # 34, Exhibit ("Ex.") L). Rhodes contends that Davis told her that the police coerced her statement by threatening that she would be jailed and "told her to say she did not see anything." (Docket # 38 at 6). Rhodes has not submitted an affidavit from Davis disavowing the sworn statement she provided the police on the night of Rhodes's arrest.

Rhodes was charged with driving while intoxicated, resisting arrest, consumption and possession of alcohol in a motor vehicle, operating a vehicle without functioning tail lights and operating a vehicle without a driver's license. (Docket # 34-4, ¶ 20; # 38 at 5). Rhodes pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of driving while ...

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