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Graham v. Gagnon

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division

May 6, 2015

C. GAGNON et al., Defendants

For Lauren Graham, Plaintiff: Victor Michael Glasberg, LEAD ATTORNEY, Victor M. Glasberg & Associates, Alexandria, VA USA.

For C. Gagnon, Jannie Clipp, Defendants: Julia Bougie Judkins, LEAD ATTORNEY, Bancroft McGavin Horvath & Judkins PC, Fairfax, VA USA.


T. S. Ellis, III, United States District Judge.

At issue in this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action is whether defendants. Officer Clark Gagnon and Detective Jannie Clipp of the City of Falls Church Police Department (" FCPD" ), had probable cause to arrest plaintiff Lauren Graham for obstruction of justice, in violation of Va. Code § 18.2-469. Defendants have moved for summary judgment on the ground of qualified immunity given that defendants arrested plaintiff pursuant to a facially valid warrant. Plaintiff, for her part, argues that qualified immunity should not apply and that she is entitled to summary judgment on the issue of liability because the undisputed facts show that defendants arrested her without probable cause in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Plaintiff has also filed a motion in limine to exclude defendants' proffered expert testimony[1] focusing on whether probable cause existed to arrest plaintiff for obstruction of justice.


The parties' dispute arises out of events that occurred during the night and early morning of September 16 and 17, 2012. At approximately 10:37 p.m. on September 16, 2012, Mitchell Lee Cannon contacted the FCPD and reported that he had been assaulted by Colby Twinam, plaintiff's son, at a 7-Eleven in Falls Church. Defendant Gagnon was working as a patrol officer at the time and was dispatched to respond to this assault. Gagnon met and interviewed Cannon at the 7-Eleven and made a report of the incident. Thereafter, Gagnon obtained warrants for Twinam's arrest for assault and battery and destruction of property. Once he had the warrants, Gagnon contacted his supervisor, Corporal Alan Freed, on the radio and requested assistance in serving the warrants and arresting Twinam at 205 Grove Avenue, where Twinam resided with his mother, plaintiff Graham. Detective Clipp and Corporal Freed answered by radio that they would travel to 205 Grove Avenue and assist in Twinam's arrest.

Freed and Clipp were the first to arrive at the Twinam/Graham residence. Clipp went to the front door of the house while Freed went to the side door. There, Freed encountered Twinam sitting on the steps and told Twinam that he needed to come with the police because they had a warrant for his arrest. Twinam did not comply; instead he got up, ran into the house, and shut and locked the door. Freed overheard Twinam call out in the house words to the effect of " mom, the cops are here." Soon thereafter, Freed saw someone come to the side door. Freed told that person that the police had warrants for Twinam's arrest. This person walked away without opening the door, so Freed continued knocking. In the meantime, Clipp was knocking and ringing the doorbell at the front door of the house. The porch was dark except for a very dim porch light.

Plaintiff, apparently awakened by the noise, eventually came downstairs and opened the front door and the front storm door. Clipp told plaintiff that the police had warrants for Twinam's arrest and asked plaintiff to have Twinam step out of the house in order to be taken into custody. Some discussion between Clipp and plaintiff ensued. Clipp testified that plaintiff insisted on seeing the warrants, which Clipp did not then have as the warrants were in the possession of Gagnon, who had not yet arrived on the scene. Freed eventually joined Clipp at the front door. Both Freed and Clipp said to plaintiff several times that there were warrants for Twinam's arrest and that he needed to come to the front door.

Plaintiff told the officers that she needed to speak with her son and left the front door to go to the kitchen, where Twinam was trying to decide whether to surrender to the police or flee. Before plaintiff left to go speak with Twinam, Clipp, as was her standard practice, put her left foot on the door threshold to prevent plaintiff from closing the door. When plaintiff left the doorway, the door closed on Clipp's foot. There is a dispute as to whether plaintiff shut the door or whether the door simply closed automatically.

When Gagnon arrived at the Twinam/Graham residence, he was told by the other officers that plaintiff was inside the house speaking with Twinam out of the officers' hearing. Plaintiff returned to the front door and told the officers several times that she wanted to speak with her son.[2]

Eventually, Twinam began walking from the kitchen through the pantry area where two dog gates were located. As Twinam climbed over the second dog gate, Gagnon could see him from the front door and perceived that he was turning away from the officers. Accordingly, Gagnon and Freed crossed the threshold of the doorway, entered the house, and took Twinam into custody.

The parties dispute how long it took for these events to occur. Relying on an estimate given by Twinam in his deposition, defendants contend that about fifteen to twenty minutes elapsed between Freed's exchange with Twinam at the side door to the time of Twinam's arrest. Plaintiff contends that from the time she opened the front door in response to the officers' knocking to the time Twinam was arrested, five to seven minutes had elapsed.

After turning Twinam over to the custody of the sheriff at the Arlington County Detention Center, Gagnon appeared before a magistrate seeking a warrant to arrest plaintiff for obstruction of justice. Gagnon related the events as he observed them and what he was aware of based on radio transmissions from Clipp and Freed. Specifically, while en route to the Twinam/Graham residence, Gagnon was told by radio that Twinam had run into the house and shut and locked the door. Gagnon was also told that plaintiff was asking to see the warrants and had refused to open the front door.[3] Notably, Gagnon was not yet aware of, and thus did not disclose, the door-closing incident to the magistrate. The request for a warrant was denied.

Two days later, when Clipp and Gagnon were again together on duty, Gagnon informed Clipp that he had been denied a warrant to arrest plaintiff for obstruction of justice. In response, Clipp expressed surprise and indicated that plaintiff had tried to shut the door on her foot, but was prevented from doing so because Clipp had placed her foot in the doorway. Armed with this new information, Gagnon went to a magistrate on September 19, a magistrate different from the magistrate who had denied Gagnon's initial request for a warrant. There, Gagnon advised this magistrate that he had been denied an arrest warrant on September 17 and then disclosed to this magistrate the same information that he had given the first magistrate, but further explained that he had received new information that plaintiff had tried to shut the door on Clipp's foot. At his deposition, Gagnon could not recall the exact words he used to describe the door-closing incident, but was clear that he said ...

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