United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division
BENJAMIN B. BONNELL, Plaintiff,
COL. ROBERT R. BEACH, et al., Defendants.
E. PAYNE SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is before the Court on DEFENDANT WHITEHEAD'S
MOTION TO DISMISS (ECF No. 5) (the "Motion"). For
the reasons set forth below, the Motion will be denied.
case arises out of an altercation in a dormitory at Longwood
University ("Longwood") between Benjamin Bonnell
("Bonnell") and Ieuan Phillips
("Phillips"). Following this altercation and
subsequent investigation by Officer Rachel Whitehead
("Whitehead") of the Longwood Police Department,
Bonnell was charged with felony malicious wounding pursuant
to Va. Code § 18.2-51 (the "state charge").
The state charge was ultimately terminated favorably for
Bonnell by nolle prosequi. Subsequently, Bonnell
filed this action, alleging, inter alia, malicious
prosecution (by way of 42 U.S.C. § 1983) by
Whitehead. A "malicious prosecution" claim
brought pursuant to Section 1983 "is properly
'founded on a Fourth Amendment seizure that incorporates
elements of the analogous common law tort of malicious
prosecution.'" Massey v. Ojaniit, 759 F.3d
343, 356 (4th Cir. 2014) (quoting Lambert v.
Williams, 223 F.3d 257, 262 (4th Cir. 2000)); Hupp
v. Cook, __ F.3d __, 2019 WL 3330443, *9-10 (4th Cir.
July 25, 2019); Smith v. Munday, 848 F.3d 248,
252-53 (4th Cir. 2017) (same); see also Manuel v. City of
Joliet, Ill., 137 S.Ct. 911, 918-20 (2017).
background relevant to the Motion will be set out in more
detail below. The Motion is brought under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)
(6) . Hence, the Court is obligated to treat the well-pleaded
facts as true and accord Bonnell, the non-moving party, the
benefit of all reasonable inferences. See, e.g.,
Rockville Cars, LLC v. City of Rockville, 891 F.3d
141, 145 (4th Cir. 2018).
alleged in the Complaint (ECF No. 1), Bonnell, while a
student at Longwood, was a suitemate with Phillips, another
Longwood student. Compl. ¶¶ 11-12. Throughout the
day on February 2, 2018 (hereinafter, "February
2"), Bonnell and Phillips had feuded with each other,
culminating in what the Complaint describes as a "heated
argument." Id. ¶ 13-14. Bonnell alleges
that he left Phillips' presence to avoid a physical
altercation between the two. Id. ¶ 15. Another
Longwood student, Carie Sutliff ("Sutliff"),
directed Bonnell to go to her suite to "cool off from
his verbal altercation with Mr. Phillips." Id.
then alleges that, as he was walking with Sutliff to her
suite, Phillips "pursue[d] [him] and shouted several
vulgar statements" at Bonnell. Id. ¶ 17.
Sutliff denied Phillips entry to her suite, but the
"physically taller and heavier" Phillips
"forcibly pushed Ms. Sutliff out of the way, entered her
suite without permission, and confronted Mr. Bonnell."
Id. ¶¶ 18-19. Phillips then asked Bonnell
if he wanted to fight, aggressively approached Bonnell,
initiated physical contact with Bonnell by "grabbing him
around the neck," shoved him into the closet door,
causing a laceration on Bonnell's head. Id.
¶¶ 20-21. Bonnell slumped to the floor and Phillips
picked him up and "slammed him onto the ground."
Id. ¶ 22.
the Complaint alleges that, while Bonnell was "on his
back on the ground and being attacked by Mr. Phillips,"
Bonnell "picked up a glass bottle to defend himself
against Mr. Phillips." Id. ¶ 23. Bonnell
pleads that, in self-defense, he threw the bottle at
Phillips, but Phillips ducked, and the bottle struck Sutliff
in the side of the head. Id. ¶ 25. The
altercation then diffused, and Bonnell checked on Sutliff
several times, while Philips "showed no overall
concern" for Sutliff. Id. ¶ 26-28. As a
result of the altercation, Bonnell had lacerations on his
head and a minor concussion. Id. ¶ 30. Sutliff
did not seek medical treatment because her mother, who works
in the medical field, advisd her that she did not need
treatment. Id. ¶ 32.
day after the altercation, February 3, 2018, Bonnell sought
out RA Carpenter to discuss what had happened. Id.
¶ 33. Carpenter and Bonnell met on February 5, 2018 and
discussed the altercation with Phillips. Id. ¶
34. Carpenter then spoke with Phillips, Sutliff, and another
witness, Madison Lantz ("Lantz"), about the events
of February 2. Thereafter, and in reliance on those
interviews, Carpenter prepared a written incident report.
Id. ¶¶ 35-36.
performed her own investigation of the February 2
altercation, including receiving written witness statements
and Carpenter's written report. Id. ¶¶
37-42. Whitehead also wrote an incident report, which Bonnell
alleges contained "numerous 'false facts.'"
Id. ¶ 42. The pertinent details of these
reports and witness statements are set out below.
report (dated February 5, 2018), Carpenter documented that
Bonnell had told Carpenter: that Bonnell and Phillips
"had gotten into a heated discussion"; that Bonnell
had made a comment under his breath to Sutliff that prompted
Phillips to ask "in a heated manner 'what did you
say'"; that Phillips had "picked up [Bonnell]
and slammed [his] head on the door"; that Phillips
"slammed [Bonnell] on the ground"; and that
"Bonnell then attempted to use a glass bottle to defend
against [Phillips]," but that the bottle slipped from
Bonnell's hands and hit Sutliff. ECF No. 35-1 at 2.
Carpenter documented his conversation with Phillips, who
recounted: that Bonnell had said something to Phillips in the
hallway; that Phillips followed Bonnell into a suite; that
Bonnell then "challenged" Phillips by asking
"do you want to start this?"; that Bonnell
"squared up to" Phillips; that Phillips "put
[his] hands on the neck of [Bonnell] "; that Bonnell
also put his hands on Phillip's neck; that Phillips
"then picked up [Bonnell] and 'threw him on the
ground'"; and that "[Bonnell] then grabbed a
bottle and attempted to throw it at [Phillips] but [Phillips]
ducked and [Sutliff] was hit." ECF No. 35-1 at 2.
Carpenter recounted his conversation with Sutliff and Lantz,
who witnessed the altercation. According to Carpenter's
report, Sutliff and Lantz recounted: that there had been an
"exchange of words" between Phillips and Bonnell;
that Sutliff told Bonnell to "cool down" in her
room; that, while walking to Sutliffs room, Bonnell muttered
"I wish I could throw this bottle at you"; that
Phillips reacted to this statement and followed Bonnell to
Sutliffs suite; that Phillips forced his way into Sutliffs
suite; that Phillips approached Bonnell in the suite, asked
him what he had said, and "picked up [Bonnell] and
slammed [Bonnell] against the door"; that Phillips then
"slammed [Bonnell's] body and head on the
floor"; that, while Bonnell was "laying on the
floor motionless," Phillips picked him up again and
"tried to grab for his neck"; and that
"Bonnell then picked up a glass bottle to try to hit
[Phillips] with to escape," but that the bottle
"slipped" and "hit [Sutliff] instead."
ECF No. 35-1 at 3.
report was available to Whitehead when she made her incident
report. And, so too were the witness statements made by
Bonnell, Phillips, and Sutliff. See supra n.3.
Bonnell's Written Statement
her investigation of the February 2 altercation, Whitehead
received a written statement from Bonnell, dated February 6.
See ECF No. 35-2. Bonnell wrote that he and Phillips
had started arguing on that day; that Bonnell left their room
and Phillips began yelling after him; that Phillips came to
the suite where Bonnell was; that Phillips "began
pushing himself into me and [he] picked me up by the neck,
slammed me into the closet and my head hit the metal clothing
bar"; that Phillips "picked me up again by the legs
and slammed me into the ground"; and that "while 1
was trying to get up I picked up a glass bottle to defend
myself," but the bottle slipped out of his hand and hit
Phillips' Written Statement
also provided a written statement, dated February 6, 2018, to
Whitehead as part of her investigation into the February 2
altercation. See ECF No. 35-4. Phillips wrote that
Bonnell said something in the hallway; that Phillips followed
Bonnell to Sutliff s suite to determine what had been said;
that, upon entering Sutliff's suite, Phillips repeatedly
asked Bonnell what he had said; that Bonnell "came at me
and squared up and repeatedly asked me if I wanted to fight
and if I wanted to fight right now"; that, after Bonnell
repeated his comments again, Phillips pushed Bonnell
"into the locker around the neck still holding him
there"; that Bonnell then put his hands around
Phillips' neck; that Phillips then "threw [Bonnell]
to the ground; and that "when he was on the ground
[Bonnell] picked up the bottle next to him and attempted to
throw it at [Phillips]," but he ducked and the bottle
hit Sutliff in the head. Id. Phillips added that he
later found out that Bonnell "told the people in the
suit [sic] that if he was to find an empty bottle he would
smash it against my head." Id. It is not clear
from Phillips' statement when Bonnell supposedly said
Sutliff's Written Statement
gave a written statement, dated February 6, 2018, to
Whitehead during Whitehead's investigation. See
ECF No. 35-3. In her statement, Sutliff wrote that Phillips
and Bonnell had been "bickering to each other";
that Bonnell told her (as they were walking to Sutliff's
room) "sometimes I wish I could throw a bottle at
[Phillips'] head"; that Sutliff told Bonnell to go
to her suite to cool off; that Phillips stormed down the
hallway looking for Bonnell; that Sutliff tried to stop
Phillips from entering her room, but Phillips "pushed me
out of the way to get to [Bonnell]"; that a fight broke
out between Phillips and Bonnell; that Phillips "slammed
[Bonnell] and as he was getting up, in the fight, [Bonnell]
took the bottle. . .and threw the bottle to hit [Phillips]
but it came across the room to hit me instead when [Phillips]
ducked to miss it"; and that Sutliff started bleeding
from a split in her head. Id.
all this evidence in hand, Whitehead prepared an incident
report, dated February 6, 2018. ECF No. 35-5. The incident
report first recounts Whitehead's conversation with
Sutliff, who, according to Whitehead, stated: that Phillips
and Bonnell had been having "personal issues since
school started"; that Phillips entered Sutliff's
suite to speak with Bonnell; that, after arguing, Bonnell and
Phillips had a physical altercation; that Phillips
"shoved Bonnell off of him and Bonnell continued to get
in Phillips face"; that Phillips "slammed Bonnell
down on the floor cutting his head open"; that, as
Phillips "tried to leave the room, Bonnell picked up an
alcohol bottle and threw it missing Phillips, and striking
[Sutliff] in the back of the head"; and that Sutliff
"had a pretty large gash in her head." Id.
at 3. The Complaint alleges that this account does not
accurately reflect what Sutliff had said. And, a comparison
of the incident report and Sutliff's statement supports
also spoke with Phillips, who, according to Whitehead's
report, told her that he and Bonnell had not been getting
along. Id. On February 2, Phillips recounted: that
he "heard Bonnell talking about him in the hallway and
went out to see what he said"; that he followed Bonnell
to Sutliffs suite "to confront him"; that,
immediately upon entering the room, Bonnell "jumped in
his face hitting him with his chest saying he would fight
him"; that Bonnell took a swing at Phillips so Phillips
"picked him up and basically slammed him down on the
floor causing him to hit his head"; that Phillips tried
to leave the suite "when Bonnell threw the bottle
hitting [Sutliff] in the head"; and that he was later
told that Bonnell had stated that he "want[ed] to bash a
glass bottle over his head." Id.
Complaint alleges that the incident report does not
accurately reflect what Phillips had said. And, a comparison
of the incident report and Phillips' statement supports
according to the incident report, Bonne11 recounted the
events of February 2 to Whitehead as follows: that Bonnell
was in Sutliffs room when Phillips "came in unprovoked
and jumped in his face"; that Bonnell "tried to
back up and Phillips body slammed him twice hitting his head
on the closet"; and that Bonnell "got up, grabbed
the bottle and attempted to throw it at Phillips but hit
[Sutliff] instead." Id. The Complaint alleges
the same. Bonnell also stated that he did not recall making
any statements about hitting Phillips in the head with a
The State Charge
Whitehead's investigation into the February 2
altercation, the Complaint alleges that Whitehead took
"false facts" to Assistant Commonwealth Attorney
Wendy Hannah "to obtain approval to swear out a criminal
felony malicious wounding complaint against Mr.
Bonnell." Id. ¶¶ 42, 44. The
Complaint also alleges that Whitehead's incident report
contained key discrepancies from the written statements given
by witnesses. Id; ¶ 42. These discrepancies include that
Whitehead wrote that Sutliff said Phillips was trying to
leave the room when the bottle was thrown, when Sutliffs own
written statement does not include this detail. Id.
Complaint further alleges that Whitehead presented
"false facts" to Magistrate John Ellis, and that,
on the basis thereof, an arrest warrant was issued for
Bonnell for the felony malicious wounding of Sutliff.
Id. ¶¶ 49-52. The "false facts"
alleged to have been presented to Magistrate Ellis come from
both Whitehead's incident report, id. ¶ 42,
and from the Criminal Complaint that ...