(CN) – A woman who flashed her breasts at a cop as he refused her attempts to stop the towing of a trailer may have a case for excessive force, a federal judge ruled.
Officer Jesse Scott Ruch had stopped his patrol car outside Monica Raab’s home in Ocean City, N.J., at about 9 a.m. on May 10, 2010, to investigate a trailer with no license plate that had been abandoned on the street for about a month.
Ruch testified that he radioed for a tow truck when no one responded to his lights and siren.
Raab said she soon awoke, went outside, asked Ruch not to tow the trailer, as it belonged to her brother-in-law who lived nearby. Though Ruch told Raab she could not move the trailer, she attempted to do so by lifting the vehicle’s tongue and in doing so bumped the trailer into the officer.
Intending to call her husband at work, Raab crossed the lawn toward her front door and removed her nightgown, revealing her breasts.
Raab later testified that she had been planning to change clothes while waiting for her husband to pick up. Since the husband allegedly picked up right away, however, Raab put her nightgown back on.
With help from her daughter and a man driving past, Raab then moved the trailer into the driveway.
Raab said she answered Ruch’s demand for their names by saying “we are the Raabs,” but Ruch testified that she actually replied with a swear word and pushed him.
Though Raab said the officer grabbed right arm from behind, handcuffed her wrist, and threw her to the ground, Ruch said she started slapping him and fell to the ground on her back.
Claiming that her head hit the ground several times, Raab cried for help and asked Ruch to stop. She said Ruch pushed her daughter away into the bushes when she tried to shield her mother’s head, the Raabs claim.
Ruch countered that his imperative was to “protect my privates” from Raab’s flailing arms and to “mak[e] sure my glasses didn’t come off, or that she was going to kick me in the face.”
Believing that Raab was having a “psychological episode,” Ruch detained her and called for a supervisor, Lt. William Campbell, who then had Ruch release Raab to “give her some dignity.”
Though Campbell said Raab’s husband then arrived and said that his wife had recently returned from a stress-related hospital stay, the husband later denied having said that.
In her subsequent federal complaint against Ruch and Ocean City, Raab claimed that the ordeal left her with thoracic outlet syndrome, brachial plexopathy and ulnar neuropathy. She said she now suffers from anxiety, panic, post-traumatic stress disorder and nightmares.
U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler granted the city summary judgment on Aug. 7, finding that Ruch had probable cause to detain Monica, but did preserve excessive-force claims against the officer.
“To the extent that the suspected crime was assault by bumping Officer Ruch with the trailer, he admitted that he was not injured, and he thought it may have been accidental,” Kugler wrote. “Further, enough time had passed to suggest that an immediate display of physical force was unnecessary in response to that crime. To the extent that the crime was indecent exposure, this is a violation of a municipal ordinance that does not appear to be an especially serious crime.”
The judge later added: “While a jury might not believe plaintiff’s version of events, if it does, the court finds that such conduct would not support a mistaken, but reasonable belief that such force was necessary. No reasonable police officer would believe that it was necessary to throw a much smaller suspect to the ground who was unarmed, not posing any threat of danger to the officer or others, and who had not resisted arrest at the time she was thrown to the ground.”
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