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Helms v. Ryder

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

April 12, 2017

JESSE B. HELMS, Plaintiff,

          Thomas McKay, III, Esq. Leigh Ann Benson, Esq. COZEN O'CONNOR Attorneys for Plaintiff

          John Michael Palm, Esq. LAW OFFICE OF JOHN M. PALM, LLC

          Howard C. Long, Jr., Esq. WADE LONG WOOD & KENNEDY, P.A. Attorneys for Defendants




         This matter comes before the Court upon the motion of Defendants Patrolman Timothy Ryder (hereinafter, “Patrolman Ryder”) and Patrolman Keith Wall (hereinafter “Patrolman Wall”)(collectively, “Defendants”) for summary judgment on Plaintiff Jesse Helms' (hereinafter “Plaintiff”) § 1983 excessive force claims against them. Plaintiff, who was driving a stolen vehicle and fled the police, was found hiding facedown under a truck in the neighborhood and was subsequently arrested. He alleges that after he was handcuffed and submitted to Defendants' orders, he was punched several times in the side and the back of his head. For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny Defendants' motion for summary judgment.


         A. Factual Background[1]

         On November 29, 2013, Patrolman Ryder, while on routine patrol, completed a registration check of the vehicle being driven by Plaintiff, and he learned that the vehicle was reported as a stolen vehicle. (Defendants' Statement of Material Facts (“SMF”) at ¶ 12.) Patrolman Ryder activated his lights and siren but Plaintiff did not stop; instead, he drove through several stop signs until he arrived at a dead end street. (Id.) At that point, Plaintiff exited his vehicle and began to run, despite Patrolman Ryder commanding him to stop and to get on the ground. (Id.) Patrolman Ryder called for backup, and eventually found Plaintiff hiding underneath a nearby truck. (Id.)

         After Plaintiff was found under the vehicle, he was told by Patrolman Ryder to place his hands out or he would be shot. (Id. at ¶ 3.) Patrolman Ryder, Patrolman Wall and a K-9 handler, Officer Kerner pulled him out, handcuffed and arrested him. (Id. at ¶ 12.) While Defendants were handcuffing Plaintiff as he laid on the ground, they held him down with one of them kneeling on him so that he would not run away. (Id. at ¶ 15.) Plaintiff claims that once he was handcuffed, Patrolman Ryder and then Patrolman Wall punched him multiple times in the side and back of his head, while Defendants deny that any punches were thrown.

         Plaintiff was photographed that night at the Gloucester City Police Department while being booked, and the booking photograph does not show any bruising or punching marks. (Id. at ¶ 10, 13.) As a result of this incident, Plaintiff has claimed various physical injuries, color flashes, forgetfulness, decline in his right eye vision, and now having to wear eyeglasses. (Id. at ¶ 2.) Plaintiff submitted a medical report from Dr. Scott Sharetts, and he opined that as a result of the event, Plaintiff sustained a “mild/grade 1 concussion without documented loss of consciousness, vomiting, seizure activity, etc.” (Id. at ¶ 5; Ex. C. to Def. Br. at 3.) Plaintiff admits that there is nothing today that cannot do that he could do before this incident and that his only limitation after the incident is reading without glasses. (Id. at ¶ 9.)

         Defendants' expert Dr. Bernard Kaplan reviewed Plaintiff's extensive medical chart of prior and subsequent medical and eye care records and examined the booking photographs on the date of the incident from the Gloucester City Police and Camden County Jail. (Id. at ¶ 7.) He opined that it was “extraordinary unlikely” that the incident between Plaintiff and Defendants would be responsible for his change in vision and his need for eye glasses. (Ex. E to Def. Br. at 2.)

         Plaintiff was charged with numerous offenses including resisting arrest by flight, eluding police, receiving stolen property, trespassing and numerous motor vehicle tickets. (Id. at ¶ 16.) He eventually pled guilty to eluding the police and third degree burglary. (Id. at ¶ 18.)

         B. Procedural history

         Plaintiff initially filed his complaint pro se on April 14, 2014, asserting § 1983 excessive force claims against the City of Gloucester, the Chief of Police and Patrolman Ryder. [Docket Item 1.] After the appointment of pro bono counsel, Plaintiff filed his Amended Complaint against only Patrolman Ryder and Patrolman Wall on November 23, 2015. [Docket Item 38.] Count One is a § 1983 violation against Patrolman Ryder, and Count Two is a § 1983 violation against Patrolman Wall. Plaintiff seeks compensatory ...

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